Published on 2015/01/28
The EvoLLLution | Are We Doing Our Best? Becoming Education Change Agents
Collegial sharing of best practices and ideas is critical to the future strength and growth of American higher education.

“I get the impression that this is a sector that does innovation well, but doesn’t learn from each other well,” Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said during a panel discussion at the Second White House Summit on College Opportunity at the end of last year.

Sometimes your colleagues share content that’s newsworthy; sometimes they post cat videos, and sometimes they make you think. Recently, The EvoLLLution shared its video from The EvoLLLution Symposium on Higher Ed and the Workforce, and I was inspired to some intense thought. I strongly encourage you to carve out a few minutes and watch it as well.

My first thought was, “Soft skills—hurray!” For the last few years I’ve been writing about, talking about, teaching and championing soft skills in the workplace and on campuses. Soft skills are the make or break of many careers, and for our students they mean the difference between frustrating struggles and successful program completion. However, teaching and training for soft skills is a tough sell at many colleges and universities. Problems range from the assumption that students have learned, or will learn, these skills somewhere else to the reluctance or even hostility of faculty who are asked to incorporate this additional dimension to their instruction. Meanwhile champions of soft skills training are told that we are asking too much of our colleagues, students or institutional budgets. I’m hoping this symposium video will help squash this resistance.

Nothing validates an argument for educational changes like hearing it echoed by an employer. When that employer is one with the global influence of Google, it becomes impossible (I hope) to ignore. Maggie Johnson and her clear discussion of the importance to Google of communications and leadership skills glued me to my screen to watch this video. Here was a representative of one of the most influential employers and forces of change in the world, and she was talking about the need to develop fully rounded people. These same soft skills were clearly on display in the following talk by non-traditional student and new graduate Heather Adams. Her abilities to manage her life and schooling as well as interact with other students clearly paved the pathway to her program completion. Ms. Adams’ ability to speak in public and share these experiences no doubt played a role in her selection as a presenter.

After I finished with the video, my next thought was, “How do I get invited to speak at this thing next time?” Admit it; some of you had the same idea. The third speaker, Ed Abeyta, touched on one key ingredient: Being a true lifelong learner. So, if you want to be seen as an education change agent, here are some tips:

Get Out Of The 70’s, Dude

Or escape the 1980’s, 90’s or anything else that’s keeping your ideas calcified. It’s not just a matter of saying, “I’m a lifelong learner.” You must be willing to actually incorporate new ideas, materials and methods into your teaching. Warning signs you might be stuck:

  • You haven’t updated your required reading list or syllabus for two or more years
  • Your favorite text goes out of print and you resort to photo-copied handouts rather than seek new material
  • Students can use the term papers, study notes or projects from previous students and ace your class—nothing ever changes

Go Out Into The World

One of the biggest complaints of students and the business world about academics is that we don’t understand the “real world.” Expand your professional network to include people who do not work in education, and listen to what they have to say. Whenever possible incorporate real world examples into your instruction.

Share Best Practices

The opening quote from Cecilia Munoz would be a scathing indictment of any profession, but since we’re in the business of learning it’s especially painful for the community of educators. So in addition to watching and sharing the video, I invite you to use the comments section here to share some of your best practices or those you’ve seen executed by colleagues.

Let’s Get Started!

To get the ball rolling, I’d like to introduce the daily participation evaluation courtesy of Jill Burns at Bellingham Technical College. Over the last few months I’ve been assisting with and observing several sections of College Success Skills classes. One of the best practices, which I intend to use the next time I’m a lead instructor, is Jill’s daily written check in with students on what they experienced and learned in class. She utilized 3×5 index cards as this was a face-to-face class, but I believe the dynamic could be duplicated in other ways for online and hybrid courses. This structured exercise helped Jill’s students to really examine what they were getting accomplished in her course, and learn to express these thoughts quickly and concisely in writing. Both are valuable and transferable skills. At the end of two quarters of observation I noticed a real difference in the students who attended the section that required this daily (graded) reflection. Combined with Jill’s tightly planned lessons and high expectations for classroom performance, the daily reflection encouraged students to think deeply and noticeably elevated the level of their comments in class.

We need to fill more education conferences with colleagues sharing best practices. More importantly, we need to, as a community, be taught by one another and walk the talk of lifelong learning. I know the readers here are some of the most innovative people in higher education. Please take a few moments and share your best with us, so we call all do a better job.

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