Designing Change for Student Success

November
2013
Beth Smith, President

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
- Steve Jobs

The best way for our colleges to be successful as we move forward is for faculty to be intentional about what we want to see as results. We have seen success in the past as we bounce from one idea to the next or from one trendy idea to legislative action. But as we move forward at this time, we must be more focused on owning and designing the future of our colleges. Committing to our responsibilities in participatory governance and making difficult decisions about which courses to offer mean that faculty must be purposeful about all the actions we take. In our classes, we are deliberate about each assignment and experience we plan for our students, and we must use those same skills and intentionality to help our colleges make good decisions for our students. Designing the future for our students’ success requires focus, determination, courage, and vision.

What does intentionality look like? It means we have a vision of where to go and expectations for each person helping to fulfill the design. Any vision we create is only as strong as the human resources needed to implement strategies to achieve it. With a target and plan that everyone agrees to, each person can understand how his or her individual contributions are necessary to bringing the vision to fruition, leading to unity among the faculty and other colleagues focused on student success. Faculty in every classroom, office, lab, or virtual classroom should understand how their work contributes to student success, as well as recognizing that this can include contributions beyond their immediate work with students. Serving on committees, participating in governance, and taking a turn as chair of a committee or department all contribute to student success and bring greater educational opportunities to the overall communities we serve. As Walt Disney said, “You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.”

We need courage to be able to determine our design or plan and stick to it as we implement our strategies to realize our vision. Courage is not required to evolve, but it is required when we are intentional about making a change or devising a plan to achieve to goal. Distractions are everywhere these days, and we know that there will be another shiny object to tempt us off our path or legislative action to direct our energies elsewhere. Faculty must remain focused on the goal and learn how to embed or integrate the distracting elements into our plan. We can help our colleges stay the course because we do exactly the same thing for our students. We help them learn to stay on target in our classes, to concentrate and not lose focus, and ultimately to keep their eyes on the prize. Courage is not an easy skill or characteristic to demonstrate and sustain, but it is clearly important as we try to direct rather than simply respond to change.

You will know if your college is taking ownership of its vision if it is designing its plan for student success using data and faculty expertise to inform decision making. Both quantitative and qualitative data are crucial to determining the path to the goal. More and more data are available for college constituent groups to review and analyze, leading to important decisions about how to achieve our goals. Faculty expertise provides the context for understanding the data and for developing the college response to indicators that access or success can be approved. Data and faculty involvement are both necessary to have well-formed plans designed to meet the needs of students.

Planning is intentional. Without planning, change occurs based solely on external forces and not internal ones. All constituent groups must participate and contribute to planning, with faculty taking a lead to ensure that high quality instruction and programs continue at their colleges. If faculty abdicate their role in planning, then disorder may result and a less desirable product may be created at the college. Luckily, the academic senate provides the structure to allow faculty to be intentional about the future of the college and take the lead in determining the goals and strategies needed to achieve the goals.

Being intentional and purposeful in changing our colleges helps to anticipate challenges too. Planning gives everyone a chance to comment on the design, giving people an opportunity to identify flaws or obstacles in the plan. By previewing the plan and providing edits, the implementation phase can be easier too, as everyone begins to come to the table with solutions and ideas already aligned to the plan.

Governance is also intentional and requires vision and doesn’t happen by chance, but by constant communication and effort to partner with other constituent groups. Governance requires that we listen to concerns from faculty as well as others at the college and seek to find solutions to the challenges facing us. Knowing the 10+1 and how collegial consultation work are only the first steps toward successful governance processes. Faculty also need to know how their local senate functions and how to engage in its processes in order for faculty voices to be heard.

Evaluation is another method by which we design processes and means to reflect on our work. We should evaluate our programs, our courses, our services, governance structures, and every step we take to achieve student success to ensure we’re on the right track. Adjustments and modifications can take place along the way, like a GPS in your car “recalculating” the next turn, when the plan does not move the college in the desired direction or efforts are not producing the results we want. We take a slightly different path to get there, but we still make progress toward our vision. The new path may be better than the original one, and by evaluating it, we can use our successes and failures along the way to ensure that we can ultimately reach our goals.

With the budget forecast looking somewhat less stormy over the next few years, now is the ideal time to become more intentional about providing greater access to classes for our students and improving their overall success. By mustering the courage to create a vision and design a plan to get there, the next trendy idea in education will not distract us or deter us from our goal, but instead be integrated intentionally into our plan if appropriate. Faculty are the designers behind student success, and we must choose to be intentional in changing our colleges.

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”
– Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol

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