From Idea to Action: Building a Team for Student Success

Marcia Pfeiffer

Student Success is certainly on our collective mind these days.

On community college campuses we have long been concerned about our students and working with them to achieve their goals. I expect that nearly all colleges have specific efforts underway, falling under the big category of Student Success. Faculty are definitely critical to the execution of these efforts and thankfully many have stepped up to provide leadership in the work.

As a faculty leader on your campus focusing on students and improving their success—including their staying around to complete a degree or certificate—engaging with other staff and college administrators is part of the job. Operating in this kind of leadership role requires all the types of skills that we expect of our institutional leaders: demonstrating the ability to collaborate with others, communicating with your team and those who are not, and considering appropriate resource management.

Let’s say that you have an idea for a new approach in your college tutoring center. How would you begin to float that idea? How would you put together a plan to get your idea moving forward with approval and resource support? I don’t know that everyone would follow the same defined steps, but for me a few principles are particularly helpful.

As you are developing your idea, invite others to the dialogue and planning early on. It is easy to include those who are already of a similar mindset, but bringing in different points of view and even naysayers will contribute to building a stronger proposal in the end. Expanding the group of thinkers also begins to develop the team who will join in pushing forward the idea, giving their time to make it work. As I say this, I am reminded of Jim Collins and of the principles in Good to Great; getting the right people on the bus is the most important first thing to do.

Furthermore, this is also a critical point to include campus decision makers. Give your campus leaders a chance to hear about ideas floating forward and see where their interests may lie before you put a funding proposal in front of them. Give people a chance to ask questions and to think out loud. All too often, we regard questioning as a challenge to our thinking and become defensive; try to reframe that thinking to recognize questioning as information or clarification seeking. See it as a positive and as a way to refine the ultimate proposal coming forward.

When you are ready to make a presentation about the idea and proposal, be sure to include the rationale for this direction, a realistic look at the resources that will be necessary. This includes not just the money needed but also how much time it will take on the part of faculty and staff. It also includes a feedback and review plan, and finally expected results. This is a great time to talk about who will be on the team to implement the tutoring plan and to have them present as a show of commitment. Make a clear statement of what you want and need from college administrators.

As a campus president, I valued proposals from faculty and staff that were well thought through. I appreciated the opportunity to hear about ideas as they were developing, which gave me time to consider my own questions and think about resource allocation. Clear and consistent communication throughout the process of developing strategies for student success keeps everyone focused on the goal. Every one of us wants our students to move through their community college experience successfully and be on the list of those who finish. Our positions at the college give us different views of what that means. One thing is clear: This work takes all of us.

Marcia Pfeiffer has been a community college faculty member, administrator, and president. Now retired, she is serving as a facilitator in the League’s Faculty Voices Project.

Originally published as a Faculty Voices Project blog post on January 13, 2016.