“How did you accomplish all of these pieces at your institution?”
That’s the question posed at a workshop on data disaggregation I was doing for another institution. While I’d been facilitating conversation, leading activities, and making recommendations based on their circumstances, this question about my institutional activity gave me pause.
“To be honest, we haven’t. We aren’t where we should be on this topic, but here’s the progress we’ve made so far…”
I thought it important to be honest with them. After all, they’re a local institution and may even know people at my institution. I also wanted to point out the necessity for collaboration on such work. In other words, just because I knew what steps to take doesn’t mean I can simply will change or action into reality.
As the conversation continued, we identified some common cultural elements (strengths, opportunities, challenges) and we refocused on their institution. After all, even if my institution was excelling in this domain, we have a different assessment system, processes, resources, and infrastructure of people involved in the work. Successful practices at one institution don’t automatically translate to another.
Why share this story?
Acknowledgment of perspective is important. We know positive and negative thinking can impact our internal and external environments. We also know that one’s beliefs can shape their reality, as well as the reality of those around them. Given the power for potential change we possess within us, self-awareness seems warranted in order to be most effective in carrying yourself, as well as acting for (and with) others.
I seem to find a way to underestimate the power of reflection. I’ve written about it before and have been working more of it into my regular routine. While only required to report on these pieces annually, I’ve been checking my progress against departmental and strategic goals monthly and quarterly reflecting on my personal goals.
Nevertheless, the story I shared was an instance of topic-specific reflection.
Here I was, advising another institution how to move forward in this work, telling them the exact steps to take, and reiterating its feasibility. And yet, I didn’t have my own success story to share.
To be fair, I was following my own advice and ensuring a solid foundation to then expand practice at my institution, enabling a culture to examine against strategic priorities or dig deeper into how all students are learning across the university.
Nevertheless, it was a sign I may not be reflecting enough on the congruence between values, priorities, and actions. Such knowledge could have been helpful as preparation or to best equip me when entering spaces or engaging with respective topics.
Same message, different voice.
In preparation for the workshop, my contact at the institution confirmed they’d communicated similar messages before but it just wasn’t sinking in. It’s interesting how someone saying the same thing as you can elicit a different reaction in people.
As we look to engage different voices to share common messages, we should recognize this doesn’t have to be an external voice. I regularly invite faculty and staff to share information or speak to their colleagues on topics we’ve already discussed. In almost every case, the message is heard differently and the audience is more likely to engage in questions with their peer.
Incorporating different voices and perspectives here has an advantage for those individuals.
It can validate their experience and further empower them to speak or lead on the topic. It allows them to put their own stamp on what might be a familiar message, customizing the message to both engage the audience and reflect their approach or style. If they have previously shared or been part of conversations on the topic, they also have the opportunity to approach it differently or share lessons learned.
Utilizing other people and incorporating more perspectives helps me, too. As the one typically presenting or leading development efforts, I can miss nuances in how the audience is reacting to or engaging on the topic. It can also be tricky to observe and reflect simultaneously while presenting. By turning over at least one of those responsibilities, it creates more space for the others.
Reflection helps inform and increase perspective, even on its own – let alone when you invite others to join in the process. Because you may not be in a position to will others to collaborate, here are some recommendations for individual reflection which can expand your perspective and lead to action:
Reflect on skills, knowledge areas, or processes which have been areas of focus for your improvement. Are you developing at the pace you’d like? What could inform or assist your efforts? And if you’ve not already identified such areas for development, look to identify those and develop an action plan which includes check-in or reflection points to gauge progress.
Considering your area, reflect on how your role and area contributes and is aligned to institutional strategies. How might your efforts better contribute to institutional strategy? Or, if efforts are already aligned, examine how you are sharing and communicating your results. Could those efforts be better placed in a context of institutional strategy?
Knowing your goals, growth areas, and how your area contributes to institutional strategies, reflect on how your area is situated within the institutional infrastructure. What areas might you seek to engage in working towards collaborative goals? Identify perspectives of stakeholders relevant to you work and whether you are incorporating those voices appropriately.
Each of the above items (and more) are actions I’m taking right now. As mentioned, I’ve already incorporated some reflection into my work, but much more is needed given the expanded circumstances of my role. As a manager, I need to consider not only my efforts, but also those of my direct reports as individuals, collaborative team members, and contributing members of the institutional community.
I’ve already begun setting up monthly team meetings to start socializing our functions and formally articulating our area’s mission, vision, and goals. I plan to more intentionally invite their thoughts and perspectives on area goals related to their functions, while also giving updates team-wide to keep everyone aware of our collective efforts.
Thankfully, I’ve already built in some natural feedback and reflection points in our work with different areas (e.g., including prompts for process feedback in assessment reports, surveying support and training needs of faculty/staff, including reflection to bridge annual reporting and planning for next year). However, I’ve been the main facilitator for these efforts.
I want to intentionally utilize my team when inviting reflection and feedback from our stakeholders.
This can accomplish four things.
- Expand our perspectives by inviting feedback from those we serve and collaborate.
- Allow me to assume a different role in those conversations. I can let one of my teammates facilitate the conversation so I can more actively listen and synthesize what’s being shared in relation to larger strategy.
- Create opportunities for my team members to occupy a different perspective in meetings and conversations.
- Afford an opportunity for stakeholders to engage differently with members of my team, hopefully strengthening relationships and increasing their perspective of how we operate.
On top of the perspective I look to gain from these efforts, I’ll look to be more intentional incorporating reflection into aspects of my practice — reflecting on both my actions and those of the people around me. To hold myself accountable, I can look to share back on progress and (hopefully positive) impact or changes experienced in a future post.
While this was largely a personal reflection, I hope some of this information resonated with you and you were able to find some useful nuggets of information to apply to your life.