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2015 March 16 - 11:34 pm

Faculty of the 21st Century: Embrace, Entangle, Amplify

The Most Significant Change in Education Must Happen From Within the Community College Structure.


At a conference almost a year ago, Jon Landis from Apple, Inc. shared a story that caught my attention. I paraphrase: “Imagine a man falls asleep for 100 years. He wakes up in 2115 in New York City’s Times Square. He sees things he has never seen before. People talking on these strange devices — not phones. People interacting in new and peculiar ways. Buildings lighting up in a manner he is unfamiliar with experiencing. The man is utterly confused. He runs. He runs away from all the chaos and strangeness. He runs until he cannot run any longer. The man looking for an escape, barges into a building and is instantly relieved. What building has he run into so hurriedly?” “The man has run into a college. The college and its classrooms look and feel exactly the way he remembered them looking 100 years ago. He is relieved to see an instructor at the front of the room and students reticently waiting to be taught at their desks.”

What do you notice about this story? I notice the field of education excels at maintaining the status quo. I notice the shifting roles in society don’t apply to the student-instructor relationship. I notice an uneasiness and downheartedness brewing inside me. Will this really be what college in 2115 looks like?

Looking back at past headlines from the Community College Week words like transform, redesign, reform, expand and sharpen stand out to me. Those words ensue changing the status quo. Those words inspire a shift. Those words arouse curiosity and wonderment.

After serving on the 21st Century Commission, contributing to the report “Reclaiming the American Dream — Community Colleges and the Nation’s Future,” and co-chairing an implementation team on faculty engagement for the companion implementation guide “Empowering Community Colleges to Build the Nation’s Future,” I am certain the most significant change in education must happen from within the community college structure. I am certain, within that structure, the most significant change must happen with the people who spend the most time interacting and engaging with students. I am certain the linchpin to change is fulltime and part-time faculty.

To make change a reality, three elements are necessary for faculty, full and part-time, of the 21st Century.

Element #1: Embrace a Growth Mindset In Carol Dweck’s groundbreaking research, she discusses the impact of mindset on achievement. When humans embrace a growth mindset, versus a fixed mindset, they overwhelmingly experience greater successes. A growth mindset is characterized by open-mindedness, curiosity, tenacity and resilience. For faculty to meet the needs of the diverse student population at our community colleges, they need to be open to feedback, creative in their instructional delivery and willing to see beyond the status quo. The naysayer or fixed mindsets have no place in community colleges of today nor of the future. Embracing a growth mindset is necessary and essential to ignite bold conversations, create real change, and escalate student success and completion rates.

Element #2: Entangle Students In “Students Speak, Are We Listening?” (McClenney & Arnsparger, 2012), the authors survey community college students across the nation. In four well-regarded surveys, the authors distill students’ voices into critical themes for community colleges. Though faculty, according to their data collection, think students leave our institutions because of family responsibilities and financial issues, students say they leave our institutions mainly because they do not feel connected — to their instructors, the content, their majors or to each other.

With that in mind, faculty job descriptions of this century must include this descriptor: Faculty must be able and willing to cultivate strong, professional and impactful relationships with students. In this high tech, high touch age characterized in Daniel Pink’s “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future,” connection with students on all levels — student to student, student to faculty member, student to content, student to major, student to community — is paramount to student success and completion.

In these urgent times of dismal completion rates, connection, however, is not enough. It is time to entangle students in a web of engagement. This entanglement led by faculty, and strengthened by the entire college community, includes all forms of connection listed above, but also entangles students in student support services, advising and career counseling, well-being coaching, fine arts and cultural offerings, and transfer services.

Capitalizing on John Maxwell’s quote, “Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” faculty of this century must be empathetic entanglement masters both inside and outside the classroom, on-ground and online.

Element #3: Amplify Your Actions Change and disrupting the status quo are not easily acceptable concepts for most faculty. Faculty members, like most humans, tend to be creatures of habit and teach in ways in which we have been taught. We often do not embrace the Q-TIP Philosophy (Quit Taking It Personally) and thus, we find ourselves running fervently away from the growth mindset, holding the torch for our lessons of yesteryear. But, what if we did not need to run away? What if we could take the good parts of our engagement and instruction and amplify them? What if we could agree to leave the not-so-good parts behind — such as keeping students in their seats to learn for 75 minutes or more or insisting on using traditionally dry, unengaging textbooks?

Students’ needs in the 21st Century are diverse and, in many instances, complex. To be better prepared to meet those diverse needs, faculty need talent development to hone their 21st Century engagement skills, understand diversity’s impact on learning and completion, and amplify effective instructional practices.

As demonstrated in ”Empowering Community Colleges to Build the Nation’s Future,” community colleges across the nation have some of the most innovative and effective programs for students at-risk, veterans, senior citizens, and high school students. It is time to amplify those boutique programs to “big box programs” (think Costco size) and scale them to meet the population and demographics of our bustling community colleges.

Conclusion The 21st Century Commission’s Reclaiming the American Dream report explicitly says it is time to move from “individual faculty prerogative to collective responsibility for student success.” Knowing that faculty — full and part-time — are engaged with students on a daily and weekly basis and thus, spend the most time with students, faculty are pivotal in increasing student success in partnership with the college community.

Though some of my faculty brethren might disagree, cling to the fixed mindset, and place blame on the quality of students in their classroom, I believe the former superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools said it best: “Our job is to teach the students we have. Not the ones we would like to have. Not the ones we used to have. Those we have right now. All of them.”

All faculty at college communities are invited to join me. Embrace a growth mindset. Entangle students. Amplify your actions.

Jen Lara is a professor of teacher education at Anne Arundel Community College. She is currently writing a book, “Grow: Championing the Growth of Others.”

This article is the continuation of a series authored by principals involved in National American University’s Roueche Graduate Center, and other national experts identified by the Center. John E. Roueche and Margaretta B. Mathis serve as editors of the monthly column, a partnership between NAU’s Roueche Graduate Center and Community College Week. For additional information send emails to mbmathis@national.edu or, call 512-813-2300.

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