I’ve been teaching part-time and now full-time as an online university instructor since 2002. This work aligns well with my coaching and consulting work, and has, in fact, included coaching of learners and now faculty. Recently, with the turmoil surrounding online, mostly for-profit institutions and their open enrollment policies, I’ve been thinking about what works best with learners who may have excellent preparation for graduate work as well as with learners who have no preparation for graduate work–in the same courseroom.
Robbin Parry, who is pictured here, is one of my colleagues at Capella University. She is a masterful appreciative teacher. With bright, curious, and sometimes agressive learners, she is curious, calm, and wants to know what works best for them in a learning environment. With learners who have had less opportunity to prepare, or have come from environments where the challenge and stimulation may be less rich, she is curious, calm and–you guessed it, wanting to know what works best for them in a learning environment.
It is one thing, I find, to be consistently positive and curious about what works for learners when they are within a fairly narrow range of ability. It is another to be so when each learner presents a very different challenge and opportunity.
One thing that seems to work well for me is to picture a learner as someone who really wants to get the most out of each class. As I get to know something about their background I am able to suggest readings, videos, and podcasts that are geared to their level of experience and help them to raise their own bar to the level of the course materials. For those who could get into Michigan State or Cal Poly I try to find similar materials to enrich their experience beyond the level of the course materials.
I went to nursery school (now pre-school) and public elementary school with boys. I have two brothers who are younger siblings. I was taller than my brothers and my male classmates until I was 14 or 15. I was smarter than most of them, too. I like men. I like the stimulation of a different mindset and a different kind of energy. I admire the “get it done and get on with it” approach to business, and most other administration. I have worked all my adult life and have been married (not to one person) for that period as well. So, I’ve spent all of my life in close proximity to men.
Nevertheless, I appreciated going to a girl’s private school for my last three years of high school and my first two years of college. There was something about being able to focus on academic performance without the daily distraction of hormones that served me well. I was struck by a similar thought as I was reviewing an article about the theory and design of women’s leadership development programs. While hormones might play less of a factor in women’s success at the highest corporate levels, the assumption that a woman must follow a male model of leadership–assertive/aggressive, competitive, without emotion or demonstrative emotion–in order to succeed in organizational life, undoubtedly contributes to the low percentages of women CEOs, board members and corporate officers of the largest U.S. and global companies.
It was with great interest that I read that a woman’s “self-view as a leader bolsters self-confidence” and in turn increases her desire to lead. While I grant you that this is a blinding glimpse of the obvious, many of us find that our self-view is overshadowed by the culture’s and the organization’s view of who we should be. Our sense of purpose may collide with the organization’s sense of who we are capable of being. To top these challenges off, at least in my own corporate career, the worst places to look for affirmation were in other women. I hope this has changed.
In the weeks that follow I want to continue to think about how we as a nation could lead the world in creating supportive environments for bright capable women who want to lead. Any ideas you’d like to contribute?
Ely, R.J., Ibarra, H., & Kolb, D.M. (2011). Taking gender into account: Theory and design for women’s leadership development programs. Academy of Management Learning & Education. 10(3), 474-493
I love my grandson, Lachlan. He is 7. Since he was 2 he has come to California from Minnesota for two weeks in the summer. He is an only child and used to getting all of his Aunt Blake (who lives nearby) and his grandma’s attention. I love to listen to him talk to my husband and love to hear him laugh. I love to watch him run on his awkward, 7-year-old legs. When his father or mother, my husband or my other daughter disciplines him, I have to turn away because it breaks my heart. He is mostly such a good boy and so precious to me. I love him wholeheartedly and unconditionally, as my grandmother loved me, and as my mother loves Lachlan’s mother, her first grandchild.
I loved my cat Solomon. I never intended to have a cat. I was a dog person. But my second husband was a cat person and we had his and her cats. When I left him, he asked me to take my cat, Solomon. No one but me loved Solomon. He had no personality. He was a 16 pound, long-haired, black cat. But he loved me, and I loved him. When I was sick or sad, Solomon would curl up between my collar bone and my chin and purr. When I traveled, even though I would have someone visit and feed him, he’d pay me back for leaving him by pooping all over my house. As I said, no one but me loved Solomon. My present (las) husband does not like or understand pets. Yet he was smart enough to know that if he wanted me, Solomon was part of the deal. He never complained and drove me to the vets with Solomon when Solomon had to leave this world.
I love my husband, and my daughters and step-daughter. I love my step-sons, my brothers and my mother. These are more complicated relastionships, though. Even so, I consider myself very, very fortunate to have been able to love each of these someones, or beings, and know that they are the major reason I flourish.
I’ve been a chef and a stockbroker, a non-profit director, and a bank vice president. I am now a teacher and a writer. For as long as I made decisions because I wished to please someone else, or wished to make more money, or wished to have more control, I was happy or satisfied in my life and career for as long as it took for me to realize that whoever I wished to please didn’t really care about my “gift” to them.
About 9 months ago I went through a program called Living Your Vision with wonderful facilitator and friend Eydie Watts. In the course of a weekend with six wonderful colleagues, I realized that I was driving myself to insanity with too many commitments. Each of my commitments was to or with someone or something I deeply cared about. Yet I could not give my full energy and time to any of these because there were just too many of them. I had two full-time jobs having upped my hours in one and accepted a core faculty position in the other. I had two board positions in addition to these paid jobs. And, I hesitate to say it, but I am no spring chicken. I am in the wisdom years of my life acting like I’m building a career!
Thanks in large part to this program, I decided to make better decisions for myself. What did I most want to do? Who did I most want to be at this stage of my life? Who is most important to me and how would these people know they are important to me? On the basis of these questions, I shed one job and the two board positions.
I feel so much more peaceful. I feel like I can give my full attention to both the work and the people who are important to me. Oh, occasionally I wish I saw more of my colleagues at my other job. But that is a wish and I know that if I decided to return to that job, all of the balance and joy I feel now would be diminished.
In many areas of my life, I haven’t been one to go with the flow. I’m more the dam builder type. When I go on vacation, alone or with someone else, I want to plan most every minute. If driving across the country, I want to reserve a motel room for each night before I leave. You can see that I don’t like to leave much to chance or the unexpected.
Yet, in other areas of my life, I am quite content to have things change. I have always done presentation work collaboratively and if one of us two or three wants to change what we are going to present or the way we are going to present it, I can hang loose and turn on a dime. In fact, in this realm, I like unpredictability.
My husband is not a planner and I’ve adapted quite happily to his preference for choosing our activities at the last minute (weekend plans usually). This has its downside. We end up doing the same things most weekends, but we enjoy our dinner and movies on Friday night, and family gatherings on Sunday.
There is another, more serious meaning to this rule, however. What this asks us to do is not only to value the unexpected when it comes along, but to actively seek it. This morning I was reading a book review in The New York Times about the education crisis in this country. The reviewer said of the author that his reformist colleagues could be accused of the same kind of “groupthink” of which they accuse their avowed enemy, the Teachers Union. We must not only be open to others’ points of view (something few of us seem to be these days), but we must approach these points of view and the people who hold them with curiosity and appreciation.