Marya G. Withers, VP of Academic Affairs, Lincoln Educational Services
We see you, campus educators! academic deans, education supervisors, program directors, or similarly titled professionals – you wear many hats, juggle countless tasks, show up with enthusiasm, encourage the discouraged, seek answers for all who come knocking on your door, come in early and frequently stay late, and at the close of the day, you carry a concern for all tasks left undone that await your attention tomorrow. You are seen, you are immensely admired because you know keenly the work will never actually be complete. Even still, you stay the course out of an abundance of compassion for your students as they strive to shape their futures, despite resource limitations and amidst a flurry of distractions. If a school culture is palatably student-centered and educational quality is evident in the measured outcomes – you can bet there is a knowledgeable, resourceful, scrappy, and kind Educational Leader on-site with tremendous influence.
So, what if you are new to an educational leadership role? Good news. Typically, an onboarding mentor is assigned; however, let’s assume not in your case. Since you aspire to do great things quickly, make your mark, and “hit the ground running” – you are hungry to digest any ‘carrots of knowledge’ needed. Navigating your acclimation period, getting on solid footing and a place of influence, requires you to chew on at least these few ‘carrots’!
Carrot 1: Slow Your Role/Roll. You will do great things, but no need to “hit the ground running”. We all know that hitting and running are against school policies anyway. Better to listen, observe, ask questions, take notes, and study. Read the school mission, campus catalog, addendum, enrollment agreement, internal policies, syllabi, website, marketing material, recent meeting minutes, student and faculty performance reports, and any recent correspondence with internal or auditors/accreditors. After you have done your due diligence, you can couple what is learned with your refreshing and energized thoughts. Soon, you will be a valued contributor to enhancing school practices and culture.
Carrot 2: Relationship Banking. Humans are your most valuable resource. Invest in your people with your time and genuine interest in service. Notice when you are wasting time versus investing time. Arrange in-person time with your manager, staff, faculty, colleagues, and assigned or sought-out mentors. Remain fully present and demonstrate your commitment to theirs and your success. Use their names, connect with their eyes, listen closely to what matters to them, take notes, read the clues when they may be overtaxed or distracted, and offer help. When you show up for your humans they will show up for you. You will need them– not as tools but as teammates. Just like banking, more deposits than withdrawals will grow your relationship bank account. So, get into that faculty lounge, arrange your one-on-ones, and walk through those busy halls. During an acclimation period, you will need to say “I am uncertain about that, but will look into it and get back to you quickly”. No, you don’t know everything, but you are committed to learning (that was Carrot 1) and reliably being in service to those you have come to know.
Carrot 3: Routines. Successful leaders have efficient and effective routines. Your prior work routines may be a fit for your new school environment; however, there are new routines to settle into. Identify quickly the daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual cycles of your school workflow. As tasks come your way, inquire about the frequency in which these tasks are required. Your handwritten checklists may do the trick, but remember you are managing your own work and the work of many. Mastering the use of Outlook calendaring is strongly recommended. Add every meeting and task to your calendar and set the required reoccurrence setting to each. Do not worry, you can always move things around. Prioritize faculty time - meetings, class observations, development, and recruiting. Of course, you will have an open-door policy but post your office hours anyway to help others organize into a routine in grabbing some time with you uninterrupted. Decide quickly on an organizational system. Whether electronic or hard copy, your system must be accessible to your management. You will save countless hours having established a place for all records. Should you feel overwhelmed by any aspect of your responsibility, and you are saying to yourself “this is a bear, there must be a better way,” this is the time to seek mentorship or advice from management. There possibly is a better way that someone somewhere has figured out, or a technological solution that can be a time saver. Do yourself a favor and tap into one of those relationships you have established (that was Carrot 2).
Whether you are a seasoned educational leader or newer to the responsibility, know that you are in a get-rich position. Rich in opportunities to learn, grow personally and professionally, enjoy meaningful relationships, and have massive influence over countless lives. Your work matters, do it well and know you are admired for your great service and the measurable and immeasurable contributions to your students, direct reports, and the overall school culture.
Jonathan Daitch, Associate Provost for Online Education, Western University of Health Sciences and Jonathan Labovitz, DPM, FACFAS, CHCQM, Associate Dean, Clinical Education and Graduate Placement Professor, College of Podiatric Medicine at Western University of Health Sciences