Thursday, June 30, 2022
A Message from Michael Robbins, President, Collegewide Faculty Association
As June ends, I’ve found myself traveling again for professional development opportunities. I think the universe is trying to make up for missed travel experiences over the last two years, as I’ve had multiple conferences, seminars, and spent a lot of time in car rental agencies and airports this past month. As of writing this, I’m currently in Pensacola. Little personal disclosure: I’m bad at geography. I’ve never been to Pensacola before, but I assumed it would be easier to drive here rather than fly here. I figured: How bad can it be? Two hour, maybe three hour drive tops?
There are smarter people than me reading what I just wrote and laughing.
No one mentioned to me how far west Florida goes; how do you enter a different time zone while still being in Florida? If anyone’s curious: It’s more like a six to seven hour drive. So I imagine I’ll be catching up on podcasts when I get ready to leave in a bit.
I bring this up, not because I want to embarrass myself by confessing my inability to check a map before planning a trip, but because I’ve been interacting with faculty from different colleges and universities. The majority of those conversations have been interesting dialogues about assessment strategies, curriculum design, tricks in various modalities I hadn’t considered and other professional development conversations that have caused me to re-imagine how my classroom works. I think my favorite was a presentation that a faculty member gave about asking students to visually map, and then later re-map, various spheres of writing to, as they wrote, “[provide] students with structured opportunities to map their spheres of writing and the recursivities between spheres [that] can help them perceive and draw upon their prior writing knowledge” (Hart, et al.). It’s a metacognitive exercise asking students to see connections between different acts of writing to improve their current writing practices and deepen their analysis of rhetorical strategies in varied writing circumstances!
…trust me, it’s cool.
Despite all that coolness, I haven’t left all of the conferences and seminars feeling refreshed. I wish I were writing this to tell you all about how fantastic professional development can be, but my motivation has to do with the concern I feel after having conversations with faculty about classroom policy and procedure. At one of the conferences, while eating lunch, I overheard a faculty member from a different college discussing an incident involving academic dishonesty. Their student had plagiarized, and this faculty member had caught the student in a way that felt like they had achieved a victory. They were bragging about failing this student.
Bragging about failing a student.
I wish this were the only incident I had, but there were several others I could have shared from the various conferences I’ve attended this month alone. I consider it a deep moral failure that I didn’t have a discussion with that particular faculty member, but I couldn’t do so without feeling like a hypocrite. So many of us have those incidents where a student used an excuse or tried to pull something in our class, and we caught it, and in hallways or at lunch tables at conferences we brag about it to get a quick laugh over the absurdity of the incident or a pat on the back.
I know I’ve done it. I really wish I hadn’t, but I’d seen other faculty do it, and I thought it would make me look like I was part of some cool club of faculty — savvy and smart and capable.
Every conversation I’ve had with faculty about policy or procedure in the classroom has done the opposite of invigorate me. It’s made me worried about higher education. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have policy and procedure in our classrooms; we need structured classrooms to promote best practices in our students, and many disciplines rely on strict procedures for safety purposes. I acknowledge that.
But we can’t keep striving to create policies that are ironclad and universal, nor can we continue to frame our policies in exclusively punitive language. I’m asking that we demonstrate some of the critical thinking we encourage from our students and understand varied circumstances that will arise. I believe when we begin to discuss classroom policy as a learning tool, rather than in terms of punishment, we get more buy-in from the students. We’re not here to figure out how to fail them or kick them out or prepare them for some cruel harsh world, but to get them to understand the value in our policies.
I suppose I’m asking this: When you’re sharing best practices, and discussing incidents where policy or procedure has been violated, please remember that experience was likely more devastating for the student than it was for you. I’m also asking this: If you catch me sharing an incident where I had to discipline a student, call me out if it sounds like I’m bragging. Because a student’s failure is never a victory for us, regardless of the reasons it happened.
I intend to spend the remainder of my term as the president of the Faculty Association helping to prepare policy and procedure for the fall semester: Reactions to new legislation, shifting guidelines for health and safety on campus, etc., I look forward to hopefully developing some recommendations that promote student learning.
If you have any questions, please contact me via email at email@example.com.