Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Spending energy

It can be daunting, as an administrator, to inaugurate a lot of new inventions, events, or processes at once. Any change takes a lot of energy.  Tonight we announced and described in public for the first time two huge new processes for students ending their second year with us and beginning their third.  They'll undergo a new planning cycle for volunteerism and civic service, which involves workshopping and an individual presentation.  And they will engage in research training as a portal into their junior year, as a cohort, getting help identifying their thesis topic and finding a mentor.

For the faculty, these changes require a big shift in thinking and planning and teaching.  It's hard to imagine the amount of energy we'll need to summon to make it happen -- it even seems impossible to begin, for some of us.  But for the students, it's different.  They aren't carrying around a decade-long legacy of doing it differently.  This is the only time they're going to do it.  So all they want to know is what we expect of them.  Give them their marching orders, and save the handwringing about how new it is and how hard it is to change.  The change is on our side, not theirs.

Faced with a big shift that will take a lot of new work and rethinking, the inclination is to put the change off.  We can't do it this year.  Let's take it up again next year.  I see two problems with that line of thinking.  First, it's going to be just as much work and thought next year.  The extra time in between is not likely to be used to spread out the task of preparation and implementation.  And second, there's an unappreciated cost to doing nothing -- to maintaining the status quo.  If the change is really needed, then it can be taxing to continue doing what doesn't work, what makes no sense anymore, or what isn't well thought through or structured.  That takes energy, too, energy that has to be spent on top of the energy to make the change that you've put off.

Frankly, we've kept on doing some things long beyond the time when we knew we needed to make changes, and the toll has gotten to me.  I'm not willing to continue with legacy processes that I don't believe work anymore, that I don't know the reason for, just because imagining what comes next is hazy and difficult.  That's energy I am done spending.  Change is hard, but stasis is just as hard -- once you've become convinced that it's possible to keep your promises and make your mission real.

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