FINAL REFLECTIONS

Seymour B. Sarason, in his book Educational Reform: A Self-Scrutinizing Memoir (2002), said, "Culture is not a willed phenomenon. People do not create culture, they unreflectively and inevitably inherit it and become transmitters and reinforcers of culture. Cultures do change, of course, but people do not see it as cultural change until after the new regularities are general, pronounced, obvious, and cannot be ignored." Until this year, I probably would have agreed with him to a large extent. I would have found some exception to such statement by pointing to historical figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Myles Horton, Abraham Lincoln, and other larger-than-life figures who have intentionally changed culture and not just passively transmitted or reinforced it. Sarason's eloquent words would have somewhat convinced me that I was perhaps one of those transmitters and reinforcers, despite my work in affecting changes in the student life culture at Pepperdine and relentless effort in reframing our interaction and work with students. Until this year, I had a hard time thinking of myself as a "change agent." Somehow, I had convinced myself that the changes that I was a part of were merely a part of my work. I engaged myself wholeheartedly in my work day after day to accomplish tasks. Goals set and goals met... and we move on to new goals in the midst of still trying to meet previous goals. Not much time for reflection nor contemplation. F. Scott Fitzgerald, in The Great Gatsby (1925), used the "valley of the ashes" as the metaphoric place for where our hopes and dreams end up, hopes and dreams that came true but not realized by the hoper and the dreamer. My tendency to deal with the urgent has filled up that valley of the ashes at warp speed. One of the greatest gifts that the action research process has given to me is formal permission to live and work reflectively, to engage in effective learning cycles that involve intentional examination or diagnosis, to deliberately plan my action, to take informed action, to carefully observe the reactions to my action, to learn through reflection which would shape my next step of action. In doing this, I came to see myself more clearly as an intentional change agent, who has the capacity to not just transmit or reinforce the culture of my workplace, but to actually be an active participant in the shaping and molding of practice and philosophies that ultimately becomes the culture in which we live and work.

Changing the way we deliver services

My guiding action research question "Can the design of an integrated "one-stop" delivery of student services be effective in meeting the needs of the students as well as the organizational and administrative needs of the university?" was situated in an environment that is shaped by the traditional segregation of administrative functions. It is also an environment which has been through some fairly radical changes in the last few years as we had begun to build momentum towards effective integrative services. The ground had been somewhat stirred up to be more receptive to the actions that I needed to take to effectively answer my research question. The formation of the Student Services Council provided a well-informed and connected community of practice whom I engaged in this process. Some of the questions that Sarason asked that all educational reformers answer before engaging in the change process are "What is disctinctively different about the setting about the setting in which you seek to effect a change? Are you prepared and do you have the time to determine, to some degree at least, who has formal power and those who have informal influence or power? What is the previous history of efforts to change that setting and with what consequences?" (2000, p. 114). These were great questions for me to engage the Student Services Council in answering. Through the process of answering these questions, we shared stories and personal experiences. We "re-lived" history through oral interpretations and memory. The interviews that I conducted with directors and frontline staff as part of the action research process not only provided a wholeness of context, it also empowered those interviewed through the process of validating their experiences. This action allowed the Council members to see the power and influence that each of us as well as collectively as a group have over the shaping of our culture. The examination of historical efforts of change provided a clearer roadmap for our change journey on which we are embarking.

I learned more deeply the power of collaboration and cooperation. I learned to listen, to really listen, to fears and concerns. I learned to build on the strength of people's hopes and desires. I learned that effective changes require systemic action after honest and authentic examination of the current environment and practices. I learned to value the gift and talent that each person brings to the process, gifts and talents that lie not just in the doing but also in the knowing. I learned to value connections and the effective uses of those connections to effect change. I learned the value of asking versus telling. I learned to value process, grappling, and not expecting easy answers. I learned to value ambiguity, to allow ourselves the necessity to struggle to learn without clarity for a time so that we can grow through the experience. I learned to stop and ask, "What am I learning through this? At this moment in time? Because of this reaction?"

Changing the way we deliver services is much more than just rearranging the steps of a process. It required us to let go of tightly held beliefs in how things MUST be done and allow ourselves to ask what CAN be done. It required the sharing of information and the humble admission that we do not have all the answers. It required us to take ourselves out of the center of the process and allow the process to center on serving the students. This was not and still is not an easy process.

Leading Change through Conversations

One of the most powerful aspects of my learning and professional as well as personal development came through meaningful and constructive conversations with my colleagues, my superiors and students. The most meaningful conversations allowed for connections to be made among differences of opinions, practice, philosophies and personalities. The constructivist model of learning and teaching that I experienced in my classes provided a framework and model for my action within my action research in my workplace. Isaacs' Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together and Lambert's The Constructivist Leader provided wonderfully insightful and effective language as well as meaningful models for me with which I "experimented" in my course of actions. I learned to listen more attentively, to seek for the "space in between," (Huang & Lynch, 1995) to listen for meaning rather than just for words in my interaction with members of the Student Services Council. I discovered the power of narratives and story-telling in the shared "meaning-making" processes that evolved through the action research. With the urging and direction of Dr. Margaret Riel, a professor at the Graduate School of Education and Psychology of Pepperdine University and my research advisor, I learned what it means to situate myself in communities of practice both within the University and within my profession at large. I called upon four critical friends with whom I share common professional practices to be my co-learners and critical thinkers in this process. Together we shared stories, celebrated victories, questioned setbacks, check-out assumptions. They provided me important feedback regarding what I was recording throughout the research process and questioned areas that appeared to be unclear. This external community served as a powerful "audience" for my recorded findings and discoveries.

Within the University, my mentoring relationships with the two office managers was an incredibly rich and meaningful experience. I began the relationships as a deliberate action to distribute the philosophy and practice of the integrative service delivery model to other parts of the University. What developed was a process of community building through the artful process of making meaning of our communal work through story-telling and sharing of selves. The office managers shared stories of themselves in action within our community. My willingness to listen and share in their narratives served as a cathartic release for them while helping to affirm a respect for them as professional in the workplace. As we shared our stories, it became more apparent our various connections to and meanings we find in this place and with the people with whom we work. "Here is where the sense of the school as an interdependent learning community... comes into play," said Linda Lambert (2002, p. 118). "Leaders clarify their own identity both in isolation and as part of the larger community. Stories of the self in community not only help facilitate a sense of identity and community, but they help ward off detachment." Indeed, these stories made the interdependency among our colleagues so much more real. Such reality enhanced our need to work together to effectively change our practice. Effective change cannot occur in just one or several corners of the University. It had to occur systemmically. Lambert continued on to say, "Through sharing stories, we create healing communities and guard against the kind of detachment that allows people to slip away unnoticed." (2002, p. 119) Indeed, for years, we have worked alongside each other, almost unnoticed by one another. We know, barely know, what others really do let alone know who they are. The segregated, silo nature of our functional areas called us to develop mini-communities rather than building up the whole community. I learned a great deal from these office managers, not the least of which is the power of the personal stories as situated in the context of the culture of our community.

The sharing of stories also provide for a real framework from which effective changes can take place. Narratives have an effective way of establishing context and meaning that procedures and policies lack. The process of sharing and listening communicate a "You Matter, We Care" (Lambert, 2002) attitude, which serves as a strong foundation, on which real changes can begin to take place. Lambert puts it even more eloquently when she said, "This sense of trust [which comes from meaning making process in story telling] and the appreciation of individual ideas and uniqueness is fertile soil to begin the important work of organizational development. Through reflection on individual lives and shared dialogue, teachers and administrators [or in my case, colleagues at various levels] can begin to construct new organizational realities that allow all members to grow and work more productively together." (Lambert, 2000, p. 121).

Making Connections, Finding Wholeness

The shift to an integrative approach in delivering student services, indeed, is situated in the abstraction of wholeness, which is described by Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers as "symbiotic relationships" towards which life (and organizations) organizes to sustain itself. Integration, as viewed through these lenses, is not moving away from the natural order of life; rather, it is moving us toward it (Wheatley & Kellner-Rogers, 1996). In one of my interviews with a colleague, who is in her 15th year with the University, she experienced an epiphany as we were discussing the workflow of student adminstrative processes. "It just hit me," she said, "how amazingly intertwined and connected we are in what we do. It is hard for me to think about anything that I do that does not have an impact on at least one other area nor does anything I do does not come from somewhere else first. What I do is right in the middle of the whole process." It was in this moment, as I reflected later, that I am able to see better the wholeness of the student's experience. In this epiphany, both my colleage and I came to a better understanding and appreciation for the student's expectation that when he engages in an action with one office, he should not have to go through a bureaucratic maze to complete that transaction. If indeed we are connected, then our channels of connections should be able to be "programmed" or designed to fuction together to more holistically serve the students.

In addition to processes, I learned the need to be actively engaged in the lives of those with whom I work. The conveniences of technology have made me even more isolated in the last several years. E-mail, voice mail and the Internet are incredible advances and inventions, but when I rely on them to almost exclusively build our community, I will find us wanting. For example, the establishment of the mentoring process with the office managers required that I engage in conversations, face to face conversations with a number of administrators who need to have their objections, fears, and concerns addressed. Such interactions cannot be conducted over the information superhighway. It requires the human touch and the real assurance that this is not just another attempt to infuse more work into the system without budgetary support. At all levels, I learned to value the power of dialogue, of building on common grounds and connecting through differences. I learned to not minimize the relationships that I had built during the last 13 years as a working professional and as an undergraduate student here before that. I understand better the wholeness of me, of my past and my present, of my established relationships with people throughout the university. I learned to more effectively and intentionally use my history in the institution as a starting base from which I share my ideas and engage in action intended to change the culture and the way which we deal with students.

Acknowledging the past allows us to own it but not let it dictate our current and future course of actions. Owning our past experiences actually frees us from its power to negate our current efforts to make changes. For example, the sharing of stories from the re-engineering efforts of the early 1990's led to a cathartic release of many fears and pains that people still carry from those days. Those who survived the re-engineering and re-structuring processes continue to carry a strongly held skepticism about any chage efforts put forth by administrative edicts. Once the more experienced members of the Student Services Council were able to voice their fears and concerns, we grappled with them, acknowledged the realities of change, we felt more empowered to move on. They had been heard, and that was what they needed... to be heard.

I have reveled in the new constructivist approach to learning and living this past year. The action research process has not only provided for new ways of "doing" things, it has caused me to be much more intentional about finding connections among what used to seem disconnected and unrelated events and experiences. It has become almost habitual for me to seek and find connected meanings in the things I read with the thoughts I think, the values I hold, the experiences I engage in, the relationships I live, the words I say... The newness of the constructivistic model of learning and the emphasis on the importance of change have energized me to looking anew at practically everything I do. Even the mundane and seemingly "non-academic" act of gardening now holds new and important meaning for me and for my action research process. A journal entry I made in February 2003, reflected this:

As I walked out the door this morning, I caught a glimpse of the Calle Lilies that the boys and I planted in our side yard on the Lunar New Year day. It occurred to me that our process for planting those flowers and the bouganvilla bushes is a wonderful metaphor for the environmental changes that the members of the Student Services Council cited as important factors that impacted the change in culture that allowed for a better acceptance of the integrated model for delivering student services.

It had been almost seven months since we moved to our home. The side yard had not been tended to for years. The dirt was compact... There were rocks and weeds. Whole rows of dead Boston ferns lined the sides of the walkway. It was ugly, but we learned to live with it. Beautifying it would take time and effort, both of which are being spent on OMAET [my graduate studies program] right now... We knew it needed work, but there were other priorities that were more important and pressing than taking care of the side yard... It was good enough for now.

That was pretty much the view that many of us took with the state of affairs in student services. We knew that it needed work. The students had voiced their frustrations, and we felt their frustrations. But there were always the urgent issues that needed immediate attention. Each time we looked at the process, it just seemed overwhelming. So we look away. It was "good enough" for now.

A few days before the Lunar New Year, one of the boys fell on the dead ferns. The hard, dead branches pierced the skin... It wasn't horrible, but the sight of blood made him cry hard. That was an impetus for me to do something about it. I began to pull up the dead plants... As I began to pull, I realized that the whole row was connected... that it was quite easy to uproot these dead plants... I kept pulling and pulling. Before I knew it, I was covered in dirt. Dead plants were strewn everywhere... And four hours later, I had cleared the walk way of all the dead plants. The grounds where the dead plants had been were stirred up. What was once appeared to be hard, rocky soil now displayed dark, rich, and loose soil. I could see earthworms and rolie polies, ants and spiders, sprouts of greens throughout. It was full of life.

The sight of the opened and loosened soil inspired me to have grand thoughts of flowers and of live plants. But there were still the rocks and the weeds... I knew it would not be easy... But the ground had been broken. It was easier now than it had been prior to the clearing of the dead brush. Indeed, it was possible to make this side yard lively and brilliant. On New Year's Day, I visited the local hardware store, and found some beautiful Calle Lillies and bouganvilla bushes... hardy and low maintenance plants that would fit well in the side yard. I brought them home and for the rest of the day, our whole family worked to beautify, to plant, to bring to life a dead space.

Indeed, that process is a metaphor for the period of transition of administrations. For a long time, we operated under one scenario. It worked for us. There was no real push or immediate reason to make any drastic changes. We had enough work to do without having to go through major changes. Dr. Davenport [our previous president]'s leaving was the piercing of the skin that drew blood, so to speak. For me, it was a painful loss...But it served as a catalyst for change. It allowed us to dig up old ways of doing things, and recognize that there is indeed fertile ground that would support and sustain the new life which comes from new practices.

We are still in the process of choosing, of clearing, of raking, of smoothing... But we are in the process. We have a vision of a new place, with new ways of doing things... The ground has been broken and is much more ready to receive newness than it had been before.

The challenge with the side yard is now we have to regularly water it. I didn't have to worry about that before... But it's worth it!!!

On Leadership...

One of the most important things that the constructivist model of learning has provided for me is a new model for leadership. I have come to value so much more the power which comes from the effectiveness of meaningful communities of practice where the expertise and power are not cocooned within a centralized locale or with authority figures; rather, the power resides in the expertise that is owned by each and every member of the community of practice. The power is enlarged or increased through the sharing and exercising of the expertise toward a common goal and the development of the practice. The traditional model of leadership, under which I had operated for years, depended on centralized authorities issuing edicts and the obsequious submission of the "subjects". Such a model is based on the need for efficiency. It assumes the omniscience of central authority and lacks the view of developmental learning for the rest of the community. The new model of leadership places great value in the learning community where the focus is on the effectiveness of the development of the institution through the development of the people who shape the practices and the culture of the institution itself. This new model for me values the experiences and the knowledge that are owned by the members of the institution, who bring what they have and what they know to inform each other and to make better our environment and community when they are allowed to and expected to do so. It is about believing that people really do want to make a difference, and that what they know, feel, do, and think really do matter at various levels and at different times. It is about the willingness to learn to embrace ambiguity or the potential for it during the learning process based on the belief that there is richness and power in the process of grappling together for the "answer" without having to know the answer in the process itself.

In the midst of my action research, I have also been engaged in some critical planning activities for our organization. We have engaged the services of some very prestigious consulting firms who have been working with us to make some significant changes in our administrative systems and business processes. In such changes, much attention has been given to the improvement of efficiencies in what we do and how we do things. It has been incredibly rejuvenating for me to engage in conversations with my colleagues about enlarging our focus to the effectiveness of what we do rather than only on efficiencies. Henry Ford's contribution to our society is the obsession on being efficient: doing things faster with the least amount of wasted efforts. Efficiency is often achieved through the simplification of tasks, of unifying ways of doing things, and of getting things done... It is transactional and momentary focused. Effectiveness, on the other hand, is more relational view. It is about meeting the needs of those whom we serve as well as meeting the requirements that the institution has set for itself. Efficiency can indeed be a part of effectiveness, but the inverse is not always true. When the focus is on effectiveness, it requires that we value the input and the experiences of all those who are involved. It requires that we look at a myriad of factors that make up the wholeness of practice and culture. It requires that we pay much more attention to how things work together rather than just our piece of the puzzle or our corner of the world.

In putting together the second edition of Peopleware (1999), Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister decided to use the metaphor of a musical ensemble rather than a team to explain their concepts of a well-jelled work group. I have also found this metaphor to be more applicable to my working relationship with my colleagues in my daily work as well as in my action research process. A team implies a sense of competition along with the image of stars and bench warmers. A musical ensemble requires its members to blend, to take turns at the melody line, to add their voices at the right time and in their own special way to produce a beautiful work of art. There are no superfluous part in a symphony. From the grace notes to the melodic lines, from the heavy bass sounds of the tuba to the shrill of a piccolo, each sound and each note plays a critical role in the wholeness of the piece. In my professional role, I have been charged to be the "director"... both in title as well as in function. My experience in the action research has revealed to me even more clearly my dependency on each member of the ensemble's willingness and ability to master his/her part. My responsibility is to create an environment in which each and every person can shine in his/her own way, situated in the wholeness of our shared practice, in concert with the community of practicing professionals as we seek to better serve our students and thus our institution. Fulfilling this responsibility at times may mean that I must step aside and invite others to take the baton or step to the podium so to speak... to allow them to help me interpret what must be done and how it is to be done. It has required me to appreciate each member for their ability to not only play their part well, but also for their insight and wisdom on how the symphony ought to be played. I love the musical ensemble because it reminds me that what we do, if we reduced it to step by step procedure and word by word policy, can be considered to be scientific. Music, after all, can be explained in mathematical terms. But an ensemble is not just the addition of mathematically derived notes; rather, the whole symphony is much greater than the sum of its notes. The art of putting those notes together is nothing short of masterful. It requires heart, insight, feelings... Music to me is much more than efficiently arranging notes; it is the effectively engaging the power that lies in the producers of those notes that can bring forth magic for both the musicians and the audience who revels and is affected by the music itself. Leadership, then, is the art of pulling all this together... It is a shared art... It is a communal act...

On Expert and Expertise...

This action research process has been situated in a connected learning environment in which I have been stretched and encouraged to step way beyond my boundaries of the familiar and the comfortable, which has challenged me to experiment with new ways of doing things and engaged in new thinking processes, which has given me access to pertinent language and concepts that are seminal to my professional as well as personal development. In this learning environment, I have come to appreciate the authenticity of the knowledge development process that helps me to better understand the power of expertise in the workplace, in the learning process, and in society as a whole. In a recent conversation with Dr. Margaret Riel, she stated, "Expertise is an orientation not a state nor an accumulation of knowledge or information." (personal conversation, June 2003). Indeed, throughout this learning process, Dr. Riel, as my research advisor, has been instrumental in guiding me to stay engaged in the on-going process of learning and knowledge development, to value the learning along the way, to develop an orientation to role and responsibilities of an expert in my work and in my contribution to the body of knowledge of my field of work. The process of action research has taught me the value found in examined action, purposeful observation, and meaningful reflection which produces authentic learning leading to new and enriching courses of action in the future. The cyclical learning process is critical to the development of an orientation to the development of expertise.

The actions I took in this learning process, however, were not taken in a vaccuum nor were they taken without context. Hence, the learning that took place and the expertise developed occurred within the community of student services professionals both within my institution and within the larger higher education industry. Indeed, I have come to appreciate Carl Bereiter and Marlene Scardamalia's view of expert knowledge being "the property of a group rather than the property of the individuals composing it." (1993, p. 21). My work with the members of the Student Services Council has shown me that the knowledge that is developed through our shared minds and shared interactions is much more than the sum total of the cumulative knowledge of each individual. It is the act of collaboration and the skills exercised in such collaboration, in conjunction with the knowledge which originally lies within each knower, which helps us to develop a corporate or institutional expertise that helps to shape the culture and the practices within that culture.

Bereiter and Scardamalia distinguish the experts from the experienced non-experts in this way: "The expert addresses problems whereas the experienced non-experts carries out practiced routines." (1993, p.11). The action research process has allowed me the opportunities to engage myself and my colleagues learning experiences where we step outside of the established norms and afforded ourselves the chance to really look at the problems inherent in our traditional practices and work together to develop new ways of solving them. Ed Rockey, Professor of Management at the Graziadio School of Business Management of Pepperdine University, recently said, "We cannot solve a problem by engaging in the thinking process that got us into that problem in the first place. There has to be a paradigm shift, a new way of thinking." (Speech at the Pepperdine University's Equal Employment Opportunities Managers' Conference, June 2003). What my professors and colleagues have helped me to do in this last year through my learning experiences is to learn to look at things anew, to experiment with shifts of paradigms, and to learn in the process.

The cyclical nature of the action research process has also provided me with effective means to not get too entrenched even in the "new" ways of doing things and thinking about important matters. Bereiter and Scardamalia describe these means as reinvestment and progressive problem-solving. (1993). The reflective nature of this new learning allow me to look for new ways to apply the newfound knowledge, to seek out other problems to be addressed, to not settle for the comfortable and the known. Indeed, the more I learn, the more I seek to learn.

"The career of the expert," said Bereiter and Scardamalia, "is one of progressively advancing on the problems constituting a field of work, whereas the career of the non-expert is one of gradually constricting the field of work so that it more closely conforms to the routines of the non-expert is prepared to execute." (1993, p.11). Indeed, my learning experiences thus far has challenged me to continue to remain engaged in the development of the practice of the student services arena, both here at my institution and in the higher education industry at large. Even in the midst of my research, I have accepted an invitation to share the expertise with the President and his cabinet at Tulane University. This is yet another opportunity to "progresively advance on the problems constituting [my] field of work." My experiences gained from this learning process has given me the impetus to embrace this opportunity and to revel in the possibilities that it brings.

Indeed, it has been a rich, rewarding and transformational experience, one which will continue to have long lasting impact on me both professionally and personally.

 

References:

Bereiter, Carl and Marlene Scardamalia; Surpassing Ourselves: An Inquiry Into the Nature and Implications of Expertise; Chicago: Open Court Publishing Company; 1993.

DeMarco, Tom & Tim Lister; Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams, 2nd Edition; New York: Dorset House Publishing Company; 1999.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott; The Great Gatsby; New York: Scribner Books; 1925.

Huang, Chungliang Al and Jerry Lynch; Mentoring: The Tao of Giving and Receiving Wisdom; New York: HarperCollins Publishers; 1995.

Lambert, Linda, Deborah Walker, Diane P. Zimmerman, Joanne E. Cooper, Morgan Dale Lambert, Mary E. Gardner, and Margaret Szabo; The Constructivist Leader, 2nd Edition; New York:Teachers College Press, Columbia University; 2002.

Sarason, Seymour B.; Educational Reform: A Self-Scrutinizing Memoir; New York: Teachers College Press, Columbia University; 2002.

 

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