Managing People

Occasionally in higher education faculty will manage or supervise undergraduates or graduate students. Particular to my position, I am pretty darn lucky to have a team of Teaching Assistants reporting to me. I also have two undergraduates doing work for me, as well. Today’s Friday Fun Facts are about things I have learned about managing or supervising people.

For the last three years I have had ample opportunity to manage more than one dozen people and this short list is a start.

1. Clarity. Make sure that your directions are painfully clear. I provide the Teaching Assistants with a dossier that includes a one page statement and copies of graded work from the previous term.

2. Deadlines. This is related to the above point. You must make sure that you give clear deadlines for graded work or deliverables. If they are not met, then you can deal with it effectively.

3. Communication. I have found that the best thing that I can do is chat periodically via email or face to face and check in with the student. Likewise, the check in can prevent any issues.

4. Transparency. I find that occasionally a Teaching Assistant will not understand the logic behind an assignment or opportunity. And, I remember that this person is learning and I am mentoring him/her. For instance, I had an extra credit opportunity two weeks ago and one Teaching Assistant felt that awarding of 1-5 points was arbitrary. I explained that students who submitted strong work on time would beg to differ. You have to explain your reasoning and most times you’ll hear, “Oh, I didn’t think about that.” And, that is when you smile.

5. Professionalism. Establish the boundaries to the working relationship. Some will not understand that they can pop by for non-office hour consultations. If you have an open door policy with the students who are working with you–you need to tell them.

6. Mentor. Remember that for all intents and purposes what you are doing really comes down to mentoring. Mentoring undergraduates with how to plan events, do research, and more (just some of the tasks that the two students are currently undertaking). While the graduate students are facilitating discussion, grading, meeting with students, coming to class, and learning their own pedagogical strategies.

7. Supervising. Another important aspect of managing people is also dealing with any problems. In terms of the graduate students, it’s rather easy. You speak to the student and if you must make sure that the Graduate Advisor is in the loop. We have mid-term evaluations of our Teaching Assistants and this is the perfect time to share concerns or progress with the students, as well as with the Graduate Advisor. I have had no problem writing an unsatisfactory evaluation of a Teaching Assistant. You will save the next instructor the headache. However, I do suggest that you let the Teaching Assistant know that you have given an honest assessment.

Overall, these points are a start to the list and certainly not exhaustive. I would like to add that it’s extremely important to keep to performance reviews and give constructive feedback. One question that I have often asked is, “How can I help you be successful with your position?” This question is a simple one and more useful than, “What can I do for you?” My point is that you have to ask questions. What sort of questions do you ask?


Collegiality on Campus

Today’s Friday Fun Facts is a reminder. A reminder for me and others that when you work on a college campus–all the other employees are your colleagues.
  • At times the environment we work in on a college campus is stressful. The students’ stress vibrates off their bodies during certain points in the term. It’s always wise to confer with colleagues about student needs.
  • When conferring with colleagues across campus, remember that you are on the same side or the same team. We are all working together on this microcosm. And, this microcosm is ultimately smaller than you think.
  • Never say something via email that you would not say to someone’s face. Likewise, never say something on a voice mail or via a phone call that you would not say to someone’s face. I remember this instance a few years ago when a colleague across campus raised her voice at me, when she had incomplete information. I finished the phone conversation and assumed that she was having a bad day. Later, though, I wondered if I should follow up with a memo. I did not–I let it go.
  • Remember that while this is the students’ campus–it is your workplace, so act accordingly. A campus might seem really “chill” and laid back, but it is still your where you work.
  • Get out of your department or silo and meet people across campus. Yes, get out of your comfort zone and network. It’s healthy and you’ll make new friends.
I look forward to you comments about this post.

Managing the Workplace

This post is not so much about teaching and higher education or even popular culture. Those are common themes in my blog. Instead this post is more of a commentary on working with interesting and difficult people in the workplace. As I work with more people across campus I’ve learned many things these over the years. And, I’m going to place these in numbered points and respond to them.

1. Never send an email when you are frustrated, tired or mad. You might regret that email later. This is really important advice and I know that there are moments when you just want to respond and fire off your response. Instead, forward the email to yourself and say what you would like or open a Word document and vent. Then, respond to the email later.

2. Never send an email that you are not prepared for other people to forward. While forwarding colleagues’ emails without permission is unprofessional, note that some people will not blink at forwarding emails to share some funny or juicy information. But occasionally there is the colleague who might use the forwarded email as an attempt to get you in trouble. Now, I use the word trouble loosely, as it could refer to someone sharing something embarrassing or something innocuous. So, always be careful with emails. A colleague in the Law Faculty had once told me to take special careful with using specific names in emails due to Freedom of Information Act. And, I took her advice to heart. I use phrases like: our esteemed colleague, the interesting person in emails, in these few instances.

3. Be honest and fair. I have found that it is much easier to think before I say something and offer what I feel is my honest opinion. I might weigh what I am going to say more carefully if a meeting has already had some awkward or tense moments. But, I think it is more important for me to start from a place of honesty.

4. If you have a difficult colleague, try and document the interactions in case you have to report him/her. When things are documented it will make things easier.

5. Make allies. This is not about Empire Building, but instead is a suggestion to try and meet like minded people across units. You can get more done if you network and know more people across campus or your workplace. Likewise, it is good to have a colleague who is not in your unit or immediate division to chat with about plans or policies. It’s also very important to network for the sake of community building.

6. For those of us working in higher education, it’s an interesting place. A place of higher learning; however, all the pettiness of any workplace exists. Patience is important. Things do not change quickly.

I imagine that this sort of post will evolve. I was ruminating over some of these points the other day and thought I would share them. Hopefully, you have some other points to add or thoughts on what I’ve shared. Last thing—this post is not responding to recent event or person! ;-0