Doing the Ordinary Extraordinarily Well

For three years I helped to lead a project to assist community colleges with integrated planning. With so many initiatives and priorities injected into the system, the project team I was a part of was tasked to help find and create agnostic integrated planning tools and resources to help educators make better sense of how initiatives and priorities align (or don’t), and how to better implement them in a coherent and cohesive manner. This was no small feat. Nonetheless, a key finding from this project is that sometimes it takes campuses doing the ordinary extraordinarily well to achieve positive outcomes.

As I began to introduce tools and resources in the field through regional convenings, I made it a point to share the concept of a setting with participants. Simply, a setting is a time and a place for educators to get important work done. Participants appreciated the tools and resources shared, but when I posed the question, “What is your setting for integrated planning?” more often than not I saw deer-in-the-head-light looks. Most people didn’t stop to think about what setting was necessary to ensure that their organization implements integrated planning. Often, it’s the smallest things that can escape us. My question forced many participants to think about what existing settings could be modified or how to create a new setting for integrated planning (who’s involved, meeting frequency, process used, who leads it, etc.). Without an established setting, all of the integrated tools and resources in the world would not make a significant difference because the institution would lack a structure to continually test and refine the work.

Another important area is to implement a collaborative inquiry process. Convening participants were encouraged to explore iterative processes such as Appreciative Inquiry or Plan, Do, Check, Act. We also developed a process for them composed of five components each with a set of tools and resources: Discover, Develop, Implement, Evaluate, Report (see below). Again, participants appreciated the resource, but without a setting, a collaborative inquiry process goes nowhere.

However, simply establishing a setting isn’t enough. These settings need to be as highly productive as possible so that educators meaningfully engage in the work on a consistent basis. One of the challenges I’ve heard from educators frequently is that their campus lacks the culture to engage in integrated planning (i.e., change). Changing the culture of an organization is no small task, but it often starts with making sure people feel the work is productive. Through productive work, people’s attitudes can begin to change in a positive direction. This means making sure that these settings have an agenda with the meeting starting and ending on time, a facilitator who genuinely values everyone’s opinions and can champion and lead a collaborative inquiry process, incorporates data, and effectively follows through on any issues. Also, external coaching or facilitation can often play a key role when the institution struggles to get off the ground, is "stuck," or wants to take their meaningful work to another level.

It's worth noting that the government agencies tasked with injecting mandates into the system should also have clear settings with a collaborative inquiry process. It's critical that this structure have highly productive meetings, ensuring that one person does not dominate the conversation. When government agencies lack clarity and coherence as a result of not doing the ordinary extraordinarily well (i.e., integrated planning), what do you think campuses will experience when the mandates are issued? That's right...A lack of clarity and coherence, which results in confusion and a lack of consensus at campuses. A government agency can and should espouse a vision for success (i.e., end) for the institutions it oversees, but if the roll out of initiatives (i.e., means) are poorly executed, we can't exactly lay blame on the colleges exclusively. If government agencies effectively mandate that colleges create a culture of continuous improvement, then the agency demanding it should serve as the example. To be clear, I don't express my criticism with a malice heart. Quite the opposite. Government agencies tend to have severe capacity issues. Therefore, agency personnel are some of the hardest working people I've come across. They're also good, well-intentioned people! I propose that they learn to work smarter, not harder, given the environment they inherited. How well initiatives are rolled out to the system has a significant impact on the colleges' ability to implement and get results.

Establishing and maintaining a setting (or a series of supporting settings) can often be about doing the ordinary extraordinarily well, but don’t underestimate its implementation. Leadership is key. A leader is, in a way, the “oil” that keeps these settings running like high performing engines.

What settings are available at your institution to get important work done? Given that Guided Pathways is a flexible framework that allows institutions to plan and implement equity within their context, how are you leveraging Guided Pathways settings to deepen and broaden the equity work even more? For government agencies, given that the legislature injects mandates into your organization, what settings will you create to foster a greater sense of clarity, coherence, and consensus?


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Dr. Al's collaborative and inclusive leadership style is highly effective. His facilitation of our 3-day Guided Pathways summit was highly engaging. It propelled our work and his continued coaching support has ensured that we maintain a steady momentum. Marie Vicario-Fisher, Southwestern College Faculty, Health Science & Environmental Technology, Former Acting Special Assistant to the President, Guided Pathways

We continue to renew Dr. Al's services because we appreciate his value. He understands and genuinely appreciates shared governance and the critical roll faculty play in shaping Guided Pathways. He brings an array of tools, resources, and coaching skills that are tremendously valuable to our work. We engage with him extensively and he makes himself available at a moment's notice. The level of communication is unparalleled. Dr. Martha McDonald, Citrus College Vice-President, Student Services

Dr. Al helped secure two NSF grants that support our STEM meta-major. He listens to our needs and is an effective communicator and consensus builder. Dr. Par Mohammadian, Los Angeles Mission College Faculty, Life Science Vice Chair/Allied Health Director/NSF PI

Dr. Al provided us with exceptionally well-received customized trainings based on our needs. Our "why, what, how" of Guided Pathways session helped us create the planning structure that best suited us to move forward. In addition, he helped plan and conduct a student panel that helped to give additional meaning to the subsequent meta-major sorting activity with faculty and staff that he facilitated. We appreciate his approach of planning and executing with us instead of to us. Dr. Mary-Jo Apigo, West Los Angeles College, Dean of Teaching & Learning

We were recently awarded a 2.7M Title V STEM grant and have experienced a smooth transition from proposal to implementation. Dr. Al took us through a highly collaborative process to ensure all voices were heard. I highly recommend him for any project. He knows how to help campuses build clarity, coherence, and consensus.
Dr. Erik Bender, Orange Coast College Faculty, Geology & Title V Project Director

Our campus participated in a regional integrated planning workshop that Dr. Al led. We were so impressed with the session that we invited him to Diablo Valley College to assist us with integrated planning and Guided Pathways trainings. He didn't disappoint! Don't expect a "sit and get" session with him. He'll facilitate groups to do productive and meaningful work. It says a lot about his abilities when he can keep a group motivated and engaged from morning until the end of the day! Dr. Mark Akiyama, Diablo Valley College Faculty, Psychology & Chair, Student Equity Committee

(A. Solano)

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