It is the end of the spring semester and for the first time in ten years I am enjoying the wrap up of teaching a class. It has been fun to have the immediacy of contact with students for a change. Although I do participate in student events, the routine conversations that faculty can have in class, are outside of my usual experiences. It is just a matter of hours in the day, not a lack of interest. Serving as a last-minute replacement has allowed me to re-engage those routine conversations. I’ve learned a lot from the students in my class. I always do.
Now we’re up to final presentations and final grades. As I take on the evaluation of the students, I know I am really evaluating myself. What could I have done better? How might I have structured my assignments for a more thorough development of the key concepts in the course? How might I have changed my behavior to better inspire punctuality and commitment to the material? What assignments or readings might have better conveyed the value of what the students are learning? Should I have considered a few applications outside of class to build commitment to the quality of work? The list goes on.
Yes, final grades matter to students and their futures, but for me they have always been about reflective teaching. As tedious as the last round of grading can be, it has always inspired me to think about how I might do better work. This is when I build a summer reading list focused on the discipline and on pedagogy. People are always surprised that those readings are a source of relaxation for me, but they are. They always inspire.
This semester’s visit to the classroom has reminded me how much excitement I feel by the endings each year. I don’t want to let that pass unnoticed, so, I am wondering how to capture it in my administrative duties.
Well, in some ways I always do. This is the season of annual reports and evaluations. I have the pleasure of reading about so many accomplishments each year – new programs, new awards, new research – and they never fail to inspire. I also read about the less wonderful stuff – enrollment challenges, retention challenges, or gaps in funding that might keep a good idea from moving forward. Those are less fun to read about. Still, they are an opportunity for me to think about how I can do better. In that spirit, I am transforming the questions I ask of my teaching as follows:
- How do I better communicate the value of the initiatives that start in Academic Affairs? Do I need more data? Do I need to distribute readings? Do we need more workshops? Do I need to visit all governance bodies to discuss each initiative? Do I need to visit all departments?
- How do I better support and coordinate the initiatives that do not start in Academic Affairs? The majority of the efforts that I have been involved in over the years did not actually start with me. Teaching faculty, administrative faculty, student leaders, governance bodies, and the facilities team, are usually the inspiration for projects of all kinds. Sometimes they come to me directly, sometimes I learn about them later. This gap in timing may be an indication of a coordination problem that can undermine a perfectly good idea. How do I help these initiatives thrive?
- How do I structure our activities in ways that better connect the university community to each other? To the community? Can I find a way to help strengthen those connections and inspire more follow through on the activities we host and the next steps they inspire?
- What might I eliminate from our long list of priorities to allow for greater attention to the most important things? It is easy to keep adding to a syllabus or a list of goals, but that always leads to too many tasks, initiatives, and ideas. How do I shrink the to-do list so we can focus our efforts productively? How do I prioritize effectively?
- How do I set deadlines that are achievable?
Yes, it is the end of the semester and I will grade final projects and evaluate the work of all that we do in the academic programs. The pile of things to read is tall (metaphorically, of course, things are all digital now) and the learning opportunities are vast. I am excited to get started because I always end up feeling inspired by the work completed, and, yes, a little worried about what did not get done. But inspired wins every time.
I love the endings. They bear a tinge of sadness and a feeling of loss as another year ends and another group of students graduates. But endings also inspire hope for the future, providing a perfect opportunity for reflection, and a chance to do better next year. I am grateful that education is built on this cycle. It is a cycle that builds optimism, and optimism is the best foundation for beginnings.