Things I Learned (TIL) Part One

I tend to not have New Year’s Resolutions, since I live my life by the academic calendar and have thought of the new year starting in September. But, 2019 is about change and I don’t have any big resolutions beyond continuing to be more mindful of my health. This post will speak to things I learned in my five years as an Academic Administrator and this is part one of likely a few posts.

At the university where I have worked, Academic Administrators (AA) are faculty and protected under the collective agreement; however, I learned that many of faculty colleagues did not know this and assumed that an AA was one of them. You know, the big, bad administration. I don’t like the us vs them discussion, but I realize why this tension exists. There are tensions on university campuses and in some departments the tensions are thick in the air. That said, for brevity I will number the TIL.

1. Human Resources (HR) staff are indispensable. I found the consultants, workshops, and array of resources critical. If you are managing people, you need to confer with the HR professionals for assistance. Faculty normally do not get trained on people management and this needs correction. Managing teams is hard work and you need to be thoughtful and strategic.

2. Collaboration is key. If you are serving a department, parts of campus or the entire campus in your AA role, you are going to collaborate with lots of people and you will need to get out of your former silo and be prepared for this new environment. Embrace it!

3. Listening. In my faculty role, I was used to being the guide on the side or sage on the stage. As an AA my role was completely different. I was part of the team and had to learn to hone my listening skills. During my tenure as an AA, I got a tattoo on my arm that reads: Listen Learn Lead. It was my mantra as a middle management leader on campus.

4. Leadership. I tried to be the kind of leader that I wanted to work for and that took work. Again, listening is key as well as the humility to learn. For instance, I learned that it is critical to support your staff. I have had to make tough decisions around staff that included firing, hiring, and writing staff up for their performance or lack thereof. I had to participate in an investigation of a staff member’s terrible mistakes and also guide and support other staff upon their return to work. Empathy is an important part of leadership as well as good communication.

5. Managing up. I have worked for two provosts and a few vice presidents and learned that there is a revolving door with upper administration. Managing up is hard work. There are strong leaders, weak leaders, and terrible leaders and I have had the pleasure in departments and as an AA working for all of the types. The worst ones are the poor communicators, who lack people skills. Trust me–they exist and managing up is exhausting with those type of leaders. Here is where HR is again helpful.

6. Save your emails and/or get things in writing. Unfortunately, this is a reality of the job. You do need to protect yourself and at times will need the proof regarding a statement. It could be great news or a colleague’s angry email. If you don’t have emails, then write things down after an interesting meeting.

7. If you’re unionized–seek counsel from your union. I learned the hard way that I should have had my first contract reviewed by our nascent union. But, now I know my union representative and President quite well and they have helped me lots during the last two years. I learned that at times new leaders will not refer to the collective agreement and make mistakes. It’s key to protect yourself and not feel like you’re a problem when you point out that they are in contradiction to the collective agreement. You are protecting your rights as an employee!

8. I also learned that the upper leadership is homogenous. As a feminist, woman of color, in middle management and upper management there are few people who look like me or come from a working class background. This is a problem. We can do better in terms of equity, diversity and representation. I am not saying that the upper management needs more Latinas; however we need more than words on paper or holding events. And, sure, we could use more wise Latinas! Mentoring is important, but that is for another post.

I am no longer an AA, as this particular category was disestablished and all of us have been transferred or re-classified as Faculty Exempt, Management Exempt or Regular Faculty. I will miss my former department–of which I was the founding director–however, going back to teaching full-time is no hardship! There is more to come and my story continues.

I finished Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming, last week and then my best friend sent me this shirt. It fits. Go high!

Planning: Not Painful

Planning requires that you’re organized. Planning is not painful, yet we often see lots of mocking around planning. Well, maybe I do. Let’s get to it. I am referring to strategic planning, which is important to any unit, department, faculty, campus or business for that matter. However, it is also helpful for personal goal setting. I believe in lists and planning. I have different journals or online tools for work and projects.

I have a special, leather journal for a book that I’m writing. I only handwrite in this journal, given the book’s topic. I keep the handwriting for important projects where good notes are needed. How do you plan? Which tools do you use to help you, as you plan and organized? I like coffee or tea, while I think. And, I’m a big fan of Silk Road Tea. I include a photo from their store.

Exhausted with the News

I'm finding that reading, watching, and listening to the news is at times exhausting. Exhausting in a way that is personally taxing and I am not used to this. I can usually consume the news and compartmentalize well. This is not the case. I find that I am playing with the kitten and cat more so and watching videos with lots of cuteness. Right now, I have gone to re-watching television shows for a few minutes after I consume news. The news feels raw. It hurts. I've included some cuteness here, Arwen and Buffy.

Relax

If you’re anything like me, you don’t really like having someone tell you that you need to relax. So, I will not tell you to relax, but I will say that I am still in a post-vacation bliss. I took a family vacation last week and am almost through the first week back at work. What did I learn? 

I like vacations. And, I need to take more occasional tech detoxes. I had an unplanned tech detox thanks to problems with my Smart Keyboard. I was able to read Twitter posts, but not reply or type. That pretty much meant that I wasn’t on Twitter that much. I didn’t travel with my laptop and I ended up reading several books and caught up on some magazines and Netflix series. I also made lots of memories with my family and had ample opportunity to sleep in and do very little. It was perfect. 

It’s great to be back at work. And, I am looking forward to my next vacation, which will be more of a staycation. I have included a photo from my vacation. I had my first cup of coffee most mornings on this deck. 

Busy is Hard to Unlearn: Having It All

An article in the Globe and Mail that discussed how students today don’t really take a Summer break gave me pause. If you search the Globe and Mail’s site for students + busy lots of articles are found–including the one that I shared. While the article is dated, the sentiment is important as we get through the first month of a new year.

Once I was in high school I found a love for running and spent my Summers training for Cross Country and Track Seasons, but I also took the occasional Summer School class up at Mt. SAC. I was also enrolled in some Honors and Advanced Placement courses, so by the time I graduated I had more than the first term of college courses completed. While in university I also took Summer School and ultimately graduated with my BA in Women’s Studies and Minor in Political Science in 3.5 years. Yes, you read that right.

I was a first generation college student and the eldest of 5 kids. College wasn’t really about having the time of my life and finding myself (well, I did a little of this), but was about being  busy and serious to get it done. I had my family to think of and how they would help all five of their kids go to college or university. Three of us have degrees and the two others took some coursework, but never completed to earn the four year degree. Two of us have multiple advanced degrees.

The crux of this post, though, is the article about teenagers not having Summers today. I can recall being in middle school and getting bored after one month and I was ready to return to my school schedule. I was a good, focused student. Today, though, I am a workaholic and not saying this out of pride, but just sheer honesty. I work hard and I love my job, but I have to remind myself that I am not my job. I say this, as I want to be a good example to my own teen and her little sister. I want them to have a Summer and decompress from the busy school term that is filled with classes, competitive swimming, piano lessons, and more.

What does it mean to be so busy? What does it mean to have it all? Yes, I’ve linked to the now infamous NYT and Atlantic articles. What some of this means is that it’s getting harder to relax. I’ve blogged previously about the electronic umbilicus between me and my gadgets. I’ve also blogged about Breaking Up with Foursquare. I’m mindful of my work balance issues and trying hard for better balance. But, I also know that my Type A personality is at work, and I work in a field where my job is not the traditional 9-5 gig. I always have a project to work on, a chapter to revise, or journal article to write. And, I need to say “no” more.

It’s no wonder that during my first week of vacation I was at the office three days for meetings. Meetings planned months in advance with four or more people and our busy schedules meant that we could only find time in July–my month off. The second week of my vacation I was also at work three times. Each time I came into work the wonderful, Graduate Secretary smiled and me and said, “Now, I thought you were on vacation?” I love her to death for her humor and support! It’s work for me to relax and I’m trying to get better, as I don’t want to pass on this attribute to my daughters.

This third week, on Monday I met with some mentees and I’m finally ready to get to my own projects and writing! But, as any of us working in higher education knows, there is still work to be done on courses and other work related stuff during the month off. This post is the first in a series thinking about what it means to be busy or attempt to have it all. I think I just about have it all, but it means that I’m busy. Cue the big sigh.

The Way You Work: Revisited

Academic work requires so much solitary work and this makes it flexible and at times impossible. Work always beckons and the to do list can become burdensome. We are at the start of Summer term at the campus where I work, and it is the perfect time to think about how you can re-focus on the way you work. What works for you?
Right about now academics are thinking about the long list of things to accomplish during the Summer. Honestly, though, how do you work?

I find that I need some white noise when I am doing certain tasks and other tasks requires quiet or music at a low volume. At the day’s end when I am completely alone this is the time that I listen to music set high. I like to chunk out as many tasks as I can during these evenings alone at work. My job requires lots of meetings and this means that I have to catch up from the meetings. I am an early riser and tend to get lots completed before anyone else in my family wakes up.

I have blogged previously about the importance of having good work and life balance and boundaries. I know that this is extremely important, but the reality of work is that some months are more busy than others. I am also trying to think about the way I work and what keeps me organized and able to get things done. I love coffee and the entire process of making and savoring it. This ritual is part of my morning and reading the papers. I also realize that the caffeine is necessary most days.

I need desk time to plan and think, and I need to walk around and will find myself in walking meetings. <They are awesome!>  . I will talk into my phone and dictate notes from a meeting or send myself emails to update. I also use this time to clear my head and plan for the next meeting, task, or day. I need some alone time to organize my day. I use Todoist to organize my tasks and I have found this tool works well for me. While this is not a feminist rant, I was thinking about this quote and feel it fits.

Aragon Rant_Twitter

 

Don’t Blame Technology

The acceptance letters are going out to all the Grade 12 students. I am reading lots of books about teaching and technology, and reflecting on the ways in which we talk about first year students and technology. I felt it was worth continuing this conversation.

The New York Times article “Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction” made the rounds, but since there have been other similar articles. It is to easy to blame technology on the disconnect that educators find with the current cohort of students in our first year courses. I am going to speak to this notion that the Net Gen are artful multi-taskers and think differently. Instead, what we really have is a cohort of young people who are used to using technology all of the time for gaming, fun, communicating, research, school work, and for making connections with others. Of course, some are using technology merely for gaming or social networking, but you get my point.

Part of my job is to acculturate students to the environment of higher education. This is why my course syllabus states that students should be taking notes or checking the course Moodle site, but not gaming during lecture. It’s distracting to those around them and frankly, if you want to game, download music–do that outside of the classroom. This notion of the Net Gen being better at multi-tasking has been disputed on several occasions this year with new research that states that the Net Gen are no better at multi-tasking than previous generations.

I am not a tech Luddite. I have an iPhone and have often been an early adopter of different technology or applications. However, I tire at the sheer number of articles that extol only the virtues of technology in reference to youth. This New York Times article doesn’t do this, but it opens up the door to excuse making for rude behavior in the classroom and in communication. If the Net Gen wasn’t spending hours online gaming or connected to Facebook, they most likely would be on the phone for hours with friends. Technology has replaced other great time vacuums that previous generations used. Here, all of this conversation is directed toward youth who have access to technology. These are really first world concerns and conversations.

We need to remember that ultimately lots of business and human interaction takes place face to face. This is where we need to remind the Net Gen about classroom etiquette and communication etiquette online and offline. In much the same way, though, educators need to be realistic about their teaching and make sure that the material and means of presentation of the information is engaging. And, we need to equip are students with skills to use the technology well. We are all in this together.

internet button

Sassy Button