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OUR ADAPTIVE CHALLENGE: CREATING A LEARNING CENTERED INSTITUTION

by Faith Breen, Business Management

Seven-thirty a.m. is not the best time for me to learn.  However, for four Tuesdays in October and early November, along with Harvard alumni from London, New York, Cambridge, and Washington, D.C., I attended a series of interactive lectures jointly conducted by Professors Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky of Harvard University, that  were based on their recently published book Leadership on the Line.

The authors identify the need for leaders to recognize that they are called upon to orchestrate the resolution of two types of challenges. The first and most common is a technical challenge requiring a technical solution.  For example, the renovation of Bladen Hall is a technical challenge.  The second and more difficult is an adaptive challenge.  Adaptive challenges are more difficult to solve because the people who have the solution are often part of the problem.  And, in order for them to move towards resolution, they must often change deeply held values, beliefs or patterns of behavior.  Adaptive challenges require effective leaders to build trust and create a vision that is consistent with the members' overarching values. In order to successfully mobilize people, effective leaders must also educate them about the need to change, and then manage the pace of change by maintaining the creative tension and holding steady.

Unfortunately, the evolution of Prince George's Community College into a learning-centered institution is not a technical challenge that can be orchestrated by a series of evaluations and increased accountability. In my estimation, the evolution of Prince George's Community College into a learning-centered institution can be best characterized as an adaptive challenge that will require each of us to reassess our deeply held beliefs about why we became educators; how we see our role as administrators; and, most importantly, how we can best meet the needs of our increasingly diverse students.

As a way of initiating a more meaningful dialogue, I would like to share the results of the research that was funded by a grant from Cathy S. Bernard.  During the fall 2001 semester, a questionnaire was designed to determine the level of emotional intelligence (EI) among our students.  The questionnaire was distributed to Human Resource Management  (MGT 160) students by Professors Lorraine Pratt Bassette, Jennifer Yang, and me.  The questionnaire had three parts.  The first part provided a brief explanation of emotional intelligence (EI).  The second part invited students to comment on an EI experience, preferably at the college. The third part invited them to decide whether their experience was negative or positive and to briefly explain why.  The students were not given the option of evaluating it as being "neutral."  Students were allowed to submit this self-assessment anonymously.

POSITIVE REPONSES: Qualitative Analysis
After separating the questionnaires by negative or positive experiences, I then read the students' explanations. Of the positive responses, I used cluster analysis and identified three major categories. The three categories were:

  • Quality of services, especially faculty
  • College's diversity and networking climate
  • Individual student's ability to manage personal relationships

Positive Responses: Qualitative Analysis

Category

Responses

Percentage

Quality of Services

21

68

Diversity and Networking Climate

6

19

Mgt. of Interpersonal Relationships

4

13

Total

31

100

The positive responses were interesting.  For example, the Quality of Services category dealt primarily with faculty-student relationships. For example, a student wrote:

Recently I met with my Speech teacher. He was a very nice and helpful man.  He explained to me personally the requirements of his course.  I felt relief after his explanation.  Now I am taking his course.

This was very positive move for me.  Since this is the first time I am taking a talking course in this Speech 101 course.  I really have confidence in this course.

Because the faculty-student relationship accounted for almost 70 percent of the responses, it appears that it is important for faculty to realize that they are being assessed not just for the quality of their academic courses, but also for the quality of their interpersonal student interactions.

The second category, Diversity and Networking Climate, referred to the diversity of the college's student body and the opportunities for cross-cultural interactions and networking.  For example, a student wrote:

Having gone to college in Nigeria, I saw how different students from different backgrounds attained their college education.  I felt very comfortable to mix with different people.  In fact, that was a very challenging thing for me because of my background.

This experience became positive for me because at first I found it difficult to mix with people because of my accent.  But after some time, I got used to the system and accepted the fact that there are thousands of students from different backgrounds with accents just like mine.

Thus, these respondents saw the multicultural nature of our student body  as positive.

The third category, Management of Interpersonal Relationships, included experiences that could have had a negative result but which the respondents felt they had handled in a manner that resulted in a positive outcome.

When I had taken a speech communication class, me and the professor could not get along.  Whatever I said he would dispute it.  When I had done my presentation, everyone said I did an exceptional job.  Even the cameraman complimented me on the job I had done, but my professor gave me a `C-' for my grade.  I was outraged, because I knew that I deserved better.  So I went to him after the class to discuss my grade.  A few words went back and forth, but I [did not] lose my control.  After the meeting he changed my grade to a `B-.'  Although I deserved an `A,' to keep peace I took the `B-.'

I believe it was a positive because I stood up for what I believed in and as a result of standing up, he changed my grade.  Although the experience had a negative connotation to it, it actually worked out for my good.  After the meeting we both had a little more respect for each other.  I believe that I demonstrated good self-management skills during a difficulty time.

This previous experience is very common.  What is interesting is how the student perceived this experience and the student's response to it.  The opportunity for us to gain mutual respect in a situation where grades are being disputed is often mishandled or too easily dismissed.

NEGATIVE RESPONSES: Qualitative Analysis
Of the negative responses, I identified the following three categories:

  • Quality of Services, especially faculty
  • Campus Climate
  • Previous Negative College Experiences

Negative Responses: qualitative Analysis

Category

Responses

Percentage

Quality of Services

12

80

Campus Climate

2

13

Previous Negative College Experiences

1

7

Total

15

100

The negative responses were insightful. The first category, Quality of Services, could be subdivided into the following four categories: Faculty; Financial Aid/Cashier; Registration; Departmental Administrative Support.

Quality of Services

Category

Responses

Percentage

Faculty-Student Interactions

6

50

Registration

3

25

Financial Aid Center

2

17

Department Admin. Support

1

8

Total

12

100

Faculty-Student Interactions—accounted for the majority of negative EI experiences identified by students. A student wrote:

I had a teacher who only seemed like she cared about herself.  She never cared about the students in the class, nor did she care if we learned anything....  This teacher is a negative in my life and she needs to be more aware of the things she is doing on her job and the students who are paying her.

I felt this was a negative experience because this teacher was careless and....

Because administrative support activities were also identified, I have also provided a breakdown by general category. A student wrote about the following experience:

During Registration a woman helped me with entering my classes and printing up the bill.  While I was there, I asked her to check and see if a class was open and she told me that if I wanted to know I would have to get out of the line and go get a catalog to find the reference number and then get in the line again.  So after that she printed the bill without dropping a class so I had to come back to her. T hen she deleted it (the class) but didn't send it to the printer.  Finally on the third try I got everything correct and I got my bill and went on my way.

I felt this was a negative experience because the woman didn't know what she was doing in the first place and to top things off, she acted disgusted or nasty when I asked her to do something a little extra that didn't cost her a thing.

The second category, Campus Climate, can have negative results as seen from the comments by this student:

One moment that comes to mind is from 2 semesters ago.  It was in my psychology class and the class had to turn in our last writing assignment.  But this student did not bring his paper, he asked the Professor for an extension, but was denied due to the fact that we were given 3 weeks notice. The student angrily stood up and stormed out of the class.

I felt it was a negative experience because the student could not contain his feelings and emotions. The class really was on the teacher's side and so we felt the same way our teacher did.

After two semesters the student still remembers this negative emotional experience; thus, this may have been a traumatizing experience.  In my experience, it is not unusual for students to ask for extensions.  I have often granted extensions without hesitation; however, now that I am aware of this experience, if I feel like denying a student's request for an extension, I will probably do it privately after class or during office hours.

The third category, Previous Negative College Experiences, forces faculty to recognize that as much as we would like to think that college is the solution, college may not be for everyone.  Or, if a student has a previous negative experience, we may have to try harder:

I have had few experiences of noteworthy students at this college.  I don't like it here, nor did I wish to like it here.  The only experience I can think of is when I met one of my former high school classmates.  She and I had trouble at a major university and were forced to be humiliated at this ‘school.’  We exchanged stories of how we dislike where we are, and how we will soon move on.

It made me realize I was not the only person of high educational merit who has failed.  Failure is not positive, especially when it is not expected.

Clearly these two students were still in "pain" from their previous negative experiences at "a major university."  Although we were not the cause, we may need to take a more pro-active approach to become part of the solution.  If we are seen as reinforcing their previous experience, it is possible that their "negative" attitudes could turn toxic and contaminate our campus.  As a means of enhancing our management of "toxic" situations, we may wish to consider integrating the following two videos, available at the college library, into our curriculum:

  • Part I: Emotional Intelligence - This is an excellent introduction that presents the five Emotional Intelligence competencies: Self-Awareness, Self-Regulation, Self-Motivation, Empathy, and Effective Relationships.
  • The X Factor - Although this is a management film focusing upon how to best manage generation Xers, it provides insights into Generation X attitudes towards authority, work, and life in general.

Final Thoughts:
The great news is that based upon this sample, by a margin of 2:1, our students identified positive experiences over negative experiences.  The hope is that this is representative of their general experiences at the college and the experiences of the entire student body.  In addition, our students consider faculty-student interactions to be the primary determinate of whether we are meeting their needs; our students are emotionally self-aware of when their needs are being met and when they are not.  We should remember that the students have choices.  More specifically, they do not have to come to this institution; they do not have to be "our students."  In closing, my hope is that sharing this information contributes to our ability to constructively reassess our values, beliefs, and patterns of behavior.  In short, my purpose is to facilitate the creation of a learning-centered institution - Prince George's Community College.  I believe that this is our adaptive challenge.


Of the 126 students taking MGT `60, 46 or 36 percent responded to the questionnaire.  Almost half were full-time students.  Of the 46 students, a total of 18 or 39 percent were male and 28 or 61 percent were female.

Demographic Profile *

Gender

Full-Time

Part-Time

Total **

Male

8 (17%)

10 (22%)

18 (39%)

Female

14 (30%)

14 (30%)

28 (61%)

Total **

22 (48%)

24 (52%)

46 (100%)

* Self-Identified

** Totals may not add due to rounding.

Also, of the 46 students who responded to this questionnaire 31 or 67 percent identified an experience they assessed as positive and 15 or 33 percent identified the experience they assessed as negative.  Of the 16 full-time students, 5 were male and 11 were female.  Of the 15 part-time students, 6 were male and 9 were female

Positive Responses *

Gender

Full-Time

Part-Time

Total **

Male

5 (16%)

6 (19%)

11 (35%)

Female

11 (35%)

9 (29%)

20 (65%)

Total **

16 (52%)

15 (48%)

31 (100%)

* Self-Identified

** Totals may not add due to rounding.

Of the 15 negative responses 6 or 40 percent were full-time students and 9 or 60 percent were part-time students.  Of the six full-time students, 3 were male and 3 were female.  Of the 9 part-time students, 4 were male and 5 were female.

Negative responses*

Gender

Full-Time

Part-Time

Total **

Male

3 (20%)

4 (27%)

7 (47%)

Female

3 (20%0

5 (33%)

8 (53%0

Total **

6 (40%0

9 (60%)

15 (100%0

* Self-Identified

** Totals may not add due to rounding.

Acknowledgements:
I would like to give special thanks to Cathy S. Bernard for her generous support of the college.  I would also like to thank Professors Lorraine Pratt Bassette and Jennifer Yang for encouraging their Management 160 students to participate in this study.

 

The Instructional Area Newsletter, Volume 18, No. 2

Spring 2003