By KHYM GOSLIN
I honestly can’t remember a time when schools, colleges, and universities were not feeling budget constraints. Particular times seem more challenging, and this is one of them. A common first line cut in tough times is professional development. This is likely one of the most important budgets lines to keep and probably strengthen. Successful industry knows that investing internally to stimulate new advances and innovations is what can pull a flagging economy forward. However, educational bureaucrats cut the very item that, if used correctly, could actually help find new, innovative ways to create sustainable economic balances in an educational system. Given that the practice is unlikely to change soon, school system leaders need to take on new roles. I’ll describe these at the college level, but you’ll see that they’re applicable elsewhere.
Since budget cuts will occur, it should be the exclusive role of the president, to explain and defend the integrity of the cuts. Supported by the CFO, this leader provides details and transparency; both critical to maintaining trust. Second and most important, the VP Academic (or equivalent) sets a priority mission to develop and establish in-house processes for professional learning. This becomes necessary for two reasons. People need to learn how to maintain and, yes, enhance the quality of their performance during difficult times. The context for working has changed, but without guidance, workers continue to use previous practices fit for more affluent times. Secondly, failure to attend to this point will cause the organization to regress — becoming less efficient and less effective. Recovery will be more costly and challenging.
Using Senge’s learning organization model, this leader establishes dialogues with key personnel to create and innovate new processes to enable staff to learn. For example, this is the time to appeal to veteran staffers who have continuously demonstrated outstanding performance to “pay-it-forward” through a coaching program of new or struggling staffers. Have discussions with teams to set quality improvement goals that reside in the existing practices to enhance the student experience. Keep instructors focused on the intrinsic motivation that they are there for the students. The leader should espouse core values and mission at every opportunity and use this as a lever to discuss how these are interpreted into actions in in each department. This is probably not the time to concoct a new program hoping to inject funds from an untapped revenue source. Why? Unless you know something your competitors don’t, you’ll find yourself redirecting much needed resources into a market that will have a dozen other cash-starving suitors.
Wise organizational leadership sees challenging times as opportunities to grow and learn. These leaders embrace a distributed leadership and authority approach to help their followers remain committed to their mission and engaged in learning that will spiritually keep them focused on staying the course.