Avoiding Initiative Overload

Ann M. Pearson

Initiatives are a way of life in education. In institutions run by thinkers and creative types, we jump at the chance to experiment and try new things. We’re the ones who liked playing school so much we stayed in as long as they would let us and then came back to spend our professional lives on a campus. It’s in our blood, and the constant movement of new faces, eager minds, and fascinating disciplines keep us charged up. At San Jacinto College, we realize that these are exciting times to be in education. We’re also careful not to over-extend our people. The possibility of initiative overload is very real.

New programs or innovative directions for old programs take a lot of energy. So many details need to be ironed out as processes, theories, and even individual documents come under scrutiny in an environment of continuous improvement. Proponents see amazing potential that will result in more and better ways for our students to succeed. Remember—these are great thinkers who come up with these ideas. Concepts such as restructuring the new student on-boarding process, proactively and intrusively advising students about transfer paths, or maybe even just rearranging the bookstore so the flow of students isn’t frustrating during peak traffic times.

The same people who come up with these innovations are the ones coming up with different ways to make the periodic table of elements memorable and relatable, the ones who show skeptical math students how to combine numbers and letters to build bridges, and the ones who explain to students how dots and squiggles on the page translate into spellbinding concerts, poems, or genomes. These folks are busy. So we have to be careful not to task the best and brightest (and busiest) to take on so much that they become overwhelmed and less effective all around. That doesn’t create student success at all.

The way we ensure all faculty have an opportunity to engage in innovative and creative thinking but not overload them starts with communication. We make sure we inform all concerned parties about all available resources, the College’s expectations for the project, and any external constraints the group may face. We never convene meetings merrily for the sake of compiling minutes in a file. Respecting the time and schedules of team members goes a long way to translating the behind-the-scenes reflection and strategizing into student success.

Helping our students achieve their goals is the only reason we undertake any initiative. And the unbridled potential becomes tangible when the first strains of Pomp and Circumstance echo through the stands at graduation ceremonies.

Dr. Ann M. Pearson is Assistant Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at San Jacinto College (TX), where she’s currently working with Accreditation & Assessment. She was an English faculty member for 25 years, with 7 of those at SJC. She occasionally returns to the SJC English Department as an adjunct faculty member.

Originally published as a Faculty Voices Project blog post on August 2, 2017.