“Success,” suggested Emily Dickinson, “is counted sweetest by those who ne’er succeed.” We’d like to add a corollary to the Belle of Amherst’s famous pronouncement. SUCCESS IS COUNTED SWEETER BY THOSE WHO OFT EXCEED.
Simply put, success begets success. The more you accomplish as a center of teaching and learning (CTL), the more you will be asked to accomplish.
As we pointed out in an earlier blog, the most important function you have is pleasing your boss. If you don’t, we know what happens, but if you do, your boss will come to you more often with tasks. When she started bringing in outside campus names to present workshops, we suggested she name her idea—hence, the Provost’s Professional Development Speaker Series was born. When the Provost needed help with setting up workshops on alignment and assessment, we offered to help because we knew her chosen developer, Dee Fink. Those workshops were so successful that we brought Dee back for our New Faculty Orientation. And the next time the Provost needed help with advertising and establishing workshops for her series, she turned to us. Just last semester, we set up a workshop for which almost 50% of our full-time faculty volunteered.
Sometimes when you put on a workshop, someone in attendance thinks you could present a specialized workshop for his/her college, department, or program. We have been asked to do redo the workshop we did for new faculty on pedagogy for half of our College of Justice and Safety. Another time we established a similar workshop for the library’s teaching staff at a summer retreat. Earlier this semester we held a successful workshop on metacognition that drew almost 10% of the faculty. Immediately, our retention team asked for us to explain to them how a student survey we developed on metacognition could aid student success. What we didn’t know was that beside the 50+ administrators in attendance, our presentation was televised to all our regional campuses. When Housing saw our success with professional learning communities (PLCs), they asked us to show them how to run PLCs within the dorms.
Sometimes other superiors ask a favor. Because of our prolific output of writing, our dean has asked us to proofread various academic documents. One day the President of the University called us and said they had a mere six hours to write and submit an application to host a national vice-presidential debate. We took their draft, and in five hours the President had his document. That led to us having to rewrite a new brochure for the first year of the campus’ new Arts Center (we did get some choice seating out of that one). Another time our Title IX coordinator, knowing we performed classroom observations of faculty instructors, asked us to observe her presentation and make some recommendations for improving it.
Sometimes when they have nowhere else to go, administrators come to us. When, for instance, the person who ran the Bachelor of Individualized Studies (BIS) program suddenly retired, the Provost at the time, having no place else to turn, asked us to administer the BIS. That was ten years ago, and the BIS is still part of our strategic plan even though our main charge is to work with faculty, not students. Ten years ago also, a group of faculty honored as Foundation Professors (a rank above full professor at our university) formed a group known as the Society of Foundation Professors (SFP), but they needed an attachment to some extant campus unit in order to be funded. “Home,” Robert Frost famously asserted, “is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” If you were to guess where the SFP home has been since its inception, we’re sure our Teaching and Learning Center came to mind. And because success grows on success, when the Advancement unit on campus wanted to start a giving campaign through the SFP, they asked us to help. As a result, we created the popular series “If It Weren’t for Professor X . . . ” for the Alumni Magazine, wherein alums were solicited to send in testimonies about their favorite professor and donations.
Along the way, since our university does not have one, we’ve become the unofficial ombudsperson. And when some group uses our space for a meeting and can’t make their tech work, you’d probably think their first call was campus IT . . . and you’d be wrong.
Is all the extra work worth it? The good news is that builds great good will; the bad news is that the X-factor takes up a lot of time and energy. In the long run, though, our funding has increased, and our CTL is mentioned specifically in the University’s new strategic plan.
And as Mae West once observed, “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.”
Charlie Sweet is currently Co-Director of the Teaching & Learning Center (2007+) at Eastern Kentucky University. Before going over to the dark side of administration, for 37 years he taught American Lit and Creative Writing in EKU’s Department of English & Theatre, where he also served as chair (2003-2006). Collabo-writing with Hal Blythe, he has published well over 1000 items, including 15 books; of his 11 books with New Forums. Meet Charlie.