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Feb 1, 2013

Peripheral awareness

I don’t know much about most of the things that are going on in our School. Each course is a little novel, with its plot and character development; every faculty committee is a think-tank or a management team, with its own dynamics. We have many projects, big and small, successful and so-so, long and short. I cannot know about all of this, and this is just fine. The only problem with not knowing –I cannot thank and recognize everyone and learn from their work. 

There is a class of things I am directly involved with, know many details, and sometimes help plan and execute. It is not always a rational choice, and I should definitely learn to be better at delegation. Sometimes there is simply no choice, because no one else can do it, or there is no time to delegate.

And then there is a vast area in between – things that I am peripherally aware of. That means I simply know the story, but not in any detail. It is an incredibly important sort of knowledge. What it allows me to do is to match various people’s interests, resources, experiences, precedents to problems we are trying to address. And this belongs to the core function of academic leadership – the ability to match problems with solutions. The trick is to know enough to see a possible connection, but not too much to be overwhelmed by the information. The half-way, vague awareness of what people are doing or are capable of doing has its own specific nature, probably its own laws of memory we do not quite understand.

Here is a small example: last night I was at the School Support network fair RIDE put together for turn-around schools. We were offering just three packages: TESL, Ed. Leadership, and the Restorative Practices course. However, a principal asked if we have something for parent support. I said no, nothing in a form that we can offer. However, a couple of hours later I finally was able to remember – yes, we have a PD project proposal Andres submitted on last year, which is about a workshop for Latino parents. Now I can reach out to them and make a match. And things like that happen quite frequently. If I can’t make a connection, I will reach out to A-Deans, chairs – people who are also aware and peripherally aware of many things.

People tried to solve this problem with the help of technology, and in some cases, it can be done. However, a problem and a solution often do not recognize each other even when they meet; they describe themselves in mutually incomprehensible terms, and the potential link is lost to a computer. A human brain is still the best machine for identifying loosely defined patterns, or for connecting seemingly dissimilar things. I wish I knew a way to get better at peripheral awareness. I would also like to get more essential updates from people. Like anyone else, I hate being copied on messages where people discuss something that is their business. However, I always truly appreciate “I think you should know what we’re doing” messages; I’d like to have more of them, even though it is a little more work to summarize what happens than to forward me a 20-page long e-mail string (of which I am also guilty of, with respect to my superiors). But ultimately, it is my job to be aware of many things, if only vaguely.

1 comment:

  1. I certainly don't make the connections nearly well enough either...nor do I thank my amazing team (or partners like you) nearly enough. Thanks for the reminder - and thanks for being a great partner!