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Mar 22, 2013

Don’t worry, you will be fine

Over the course of the last couple of weeks, many greetings and best wishes came my way. Many thanks to all! Sometimes a little worry would be mixed into these greetings. Although I am very flattered by it, I also know that the School will be just fine, and will move forward without me. The institution is just so much larger and stronger than one individual. If I was able to steer it a little to one or another side, it is only because it has its own tremendous power. Think of it as surfing: it may look like the surfing is controlling the wave, but he is only riding it. His skill is in staying atop, not in telling the waive what to do. Of course, I have my opinions on what should be done to stay on course, and I will lay it on you, in the best tradition of the lame duck advice.

First, try to keep all the things that have been working so far. Most fundamentally, the culture of attention to teaching and to student needs is worth defending and developing. It is the School’s and RIC’s largest asset. Several traditions should just keep going – the Promising practices, the Writing Project Conference, the faculty retreats, and now the Spring Conference, the Education Day at McCoy Stadium, the Special Olympics training day and the Admission Accomplished celebration of teaching …. I am probably missing a few. Departments have their own traditional events, celebrations and habits. The worst thing to do is to let go things that work. RIC as a whole has a strong tradition of faculty governance. It is important to maintain, to keep the rules explicit, and change them when they become obstacles. Faculty taken together present the most important power center on campus, and if you want something changed, all you need to do is get together. DLC has been an effective leadership center, where issues are honestly discussed, and collective decisions are made.

Second, we are a professional school, and you all should keep one foot in the respective professional community. It is important to be engaged – either in the local, or the regional or the national level, but we need to show up, know what’s going on, and involve ourselves whenever possible. Try to maintain and cultivate the myriad of existing partnerships and connections. The new Central Falls partnership may bring much more - and different - opportunities. It will be probably not one unified project, but a serious of smaller partnerships, which is just fine. Actually, a more flexible, more agile organizational structure will ensure the project’s adaptability and long-term sustainability. Engagement is difficult to do, for it requires additional effort without any additional compensation. But in the long run it is hard to imagine something more important. We cannot afford to fall behind in our fields.

And third, continue to tweak curriculum and programs. This has to become a habit – every year something needs to move, change, improve, and get reconsidered. I think it is extremely important to keep moving. And next to these incremental improvements, you should keep at least one or two more radically innovative things going, just to hedge your bets. We have built significant expertise in marketing of our programs, recruitment, off-campus and online delivery; these should be shared more widely, and become a part of every-day work. Again the CF project may be used as a lab for innovation. And we have a number of very good structures for free, open, innovative thinking – the professional learning communities, TEIL, informal reading and writing groups. It really does not take much to put one together, but those conversations may as well be the most enjoyable parts of our jobs. Undergraduate enrollments should probably bounce a little back, but will not be at the highest levels any time soon. And it is probably a good thing. The graduate programming is a lot more open question. If going to cohort model and off-campus is not going to save them, then online would be the next logical move. To be prepared for it, you will need to keep working on the right skills and experiences.

There are some decisions to be made in the next few years. One of the most important depends on the outcomes of the program approval process by RIDE. Depending on how well it is integrated with NCATE, you all will have to make a call on whether to stay with NCATE accreditation. It is a difficult conversation, for we have benefited, but also spent a tremendous amount of resources on it. Of course, NCATE (now CAPE) is also changing its standards and review practices, in some cases very significantly. So this is not going to be a simple call, and I would encourage you to spend some time mulling over it, weighing all pros and cons. But once it is made one way or another, it will lead to reconsidering the assessment system, perhaps the entire curriculum. Anyway, this can be a very long blog indeed. All I wanted to say is – FSEHD is a strong organization, perhaps stronger than you imagine; you all will be just fine.

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