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I care a lot about language. I understand how the right word at the right time can be powerful. Right now, I’ve spent one week drafting a letter including seeking feedback from people wiser than me. The choice of words is almost painful. It’s painful because the letter content makes me consider and reflect on who I am in the workplace and what I try to achieve. But it’s also painful because I’m responding to inaccuracies.

People have put into writing things that are just plain wrong. I’ve spent a week thinking and crafting a response to a letter it feels like someone spent two seconds on.

It is the semantics of it all that make me so sad. The whole situation arises because no one has taken time the understand the meaning of our words. I believe their words are inaccurate. Today, I will send my words and they will judge them. My greatest fear is that at the end of all this, there will still be no meaning.

Solutions are sometimes so simple. Today my boss and I solved what can only be described as five months of pain, hurt disillusionment and despair with a simple analogy of an ice cream shop. I described to him what was going on felt like I was the kid with the parent being told “we are going to the ice cream shop”, “we’re really going this time”, “okay – this time we’re going to the ice cream shop”. Instead, I would prefer if I was told that we weren’t going to the ice cream shop at all rather than be told we were, only to never arrive. The next words out of his mouth made me feel the happiest in the workplace I have in the last five months! He said:

Mel, we are never going to the ice cream shop

With those words went all my stress, worry and concerns. I let go of what I’d been holding onto and I was then able to engage in a positive way to move forward. The most amazing thing of all this of course is that this afternoon in a completely different meeting, with a wonderful group of academics, we were talking about issues and solutions. I was then able to discuss solutions with them with the mind set of no ice cream shop. That meant I could see options like the candy, pie, and chocolate shop instead (or even the fruit shop at a push). Now I know there is no ice cream, I don’t want it. I just want everything else!

Throughout my working life I have changed jobs on average every 18 months. My dad is concerned by this as he comes from the generation of having a job for life. I’m concerned about it because it makes me reflect on my attributes in the workplace. Why do I change jobs? What motivates me? Well, sometimes I change because I get tapped on the shoulder for a really cool job. Happened a bit in the public service but not so much now. Mostly though I change jobs because I get tired of banging my head against the wall. But what if I worked with the wall instead?

What if I could assess the wall, consider it, identify points of weakness and then slowly chip away. What if over time I could coax, coerce, convince that wall to go away? Now, that would be very cool.

So what attributes in the workplace do I need to make that happen? The greatest is probably patience I’m thinking. For those of you who know me, you know that’s a big ask. But I have been on a path of self improvement lately, maybe I could have another a go at attacking this wall. Alternatively maybe I should just go.

Today I held a sharing session for academics to come and share their teaching experiences online. Unfortunately it was not as well attended as I was hoping. On the upside, through the sharing we’ve found a technical glitch that we can now fix before the students undertake the quiz, so bonus!

What is clear though, is that time poor academics can’t innovate, improve, share, be collegiate, support one another while management continue to add to the workload. On one hand we are asking academics to innovate to engage and retain students, on the other we are asking them to publish or perish. They cannot do both. We are talking about a wonderful and amazing group of individuals who are torn in two.

Anyway, with the people I had today I asked, how do we spread the information to others? How do we spread the news? How do we find time to share knowledge and ideas? A web site? A newsletter? More sharing sessions? One on one?

The answer, in hindsight, is not surprising. The information needs to come at a time when it’s needed in a way it’s needed. Academics need to be able to go to someone when they have the innovative idea, put it out there, ask how it can be done, and be shown then and there how to do. On demand sharing.

This is expensive. It requires one contact point to know all the matters going on in the faculty and then be able to instantly share. Ideally they would know the whole university. I think the university is trying to do this with a central service area, but this has been less than successful to date. Why? Because of trust. People will share and seek support from people they trust. Diane talks to me often on the matter of trust, and today it came home more than ever. We spread the news through those we trust. Now, if only I could put that into a work plan……

It’s been a while since I posted. I’d like to say it is because it’s been busy, because it has. I’d like to say it’s because there’s been so much progress and advancement that there’s been no time for reflection. I’d like to say that. But it’s because it has been busy with no progress or advancement which makes it hard to reflect in a positive way, which is what I like to do.

I was thinking about the position I find myself in and then got sent this article. I was reminded that the point of existence is not to make progress or advancement, but to remain true to who I am and want I believe in. The glitch is, articles like this talking about future education requirements, demand that progress and advances are made.

So, I will not accept the things I cannot change. I will fight the things I cannot change using evidence, reason and logic. I will do this because progress should happen. And it shouldn’t be random, there should be clarity and transparency about the change required to progress.

The climate of education and in particular my workplace is all about change. As my wonderful colleague Georgia pointed out we are asking for educational, governance and business change all at the same time. This is a big ask, but I believe it’s possible and the more I read about the future and the requirements of education, the change is imperative or we are failing future generations.

That sounds a bit melodramatic, but it’s true. Change begins with not accepting the status quo in recognition that the future must be different. All things can change. I just need to trust that evidence, reason and logic can work. Either that or I let the people who understand politics manage the process instead!

My brain is breaking. I’m attending meetings, listening to people, doing work and all the time my brain is breaking. Then all of a sudden there is a Budget and well, it breaks again. And all I wanted to do was go to a seminar in a different state.

Higher education is really complicated. It’s full of rules, regulations, competing priorities and ideas, and then of course there are the people. What breaks my brain in the end, is that we are adding complications, not taking them away. The biggest complication we add is confusion. There is no clarity around the purpose or even existence of higher education. Fundamentally, why is it here?

In the Budget last night there was emphasis on the importance of higher education to advance the country of the future. This is something I agree with. Education is the key to the future, after all I plan to spend three years of my life (maybe four) looking into this. And yet, we aren’t sure what that means. Does it mean in the top 20 universities because of research output? Because of graduate numbers? Graduate quality (measured how?)? Fancy technology availability? Happy students? Number of students who find jobs? Number of students who change the world one day in some way? What is it we value?

At the moment it seems to me that we don’t know what we value so we ask academics to be everything to everyone without explaining what we really expect. Today I was lucky though. I work with amazing people and there is a vision. The vision will be developed with input from others so it is a shared vision and then implementation will be a team effort with everyone clear on why they are there and what their role will be, or could be, if they want. For those that don’t want, there are other choices.

I was also unlucky today to learn that academics are also responsible for booking travel. Seriously? On top of being a world expert in their field, teaching, being a technology expert, a compliance expert, a counsellor and an administrator, they now have to be able to manipulate a travel agency booking process??? Not too sure about this…..

Today was a learning experience (yes another one), well actually it was a reminding experience rather than something too new.

We expect too much, we don’t outline our expectations, we don’t explain how and why we can’t meet expectations, we expect too little and then we forget to expect at all. The trick is to set them ‘just right’.

Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development has the ‘just right’ placement for education. Too hard students lose interest, too easy they lose interest. I am now of the opinion that it’s the same in this job.

I’ve posted before about expectations of academics and how we support them and the fact they are expected to do 15 different things at once, and today it came to my mind again. We are looking at the expectations of sessional staff and then administrative expectations of academics to manage sessional staff and how those expectations aren’t really where they could be. The issue is, where should they be and who is responsible for setting them and then enforcing behaviour of both academic and sessional staff to meet them. The answer is, we are going to find out.

One aspect I love about the people I work with is we don’t assume expectations we work hard with people to ascertain what their expectations are and then work with them and the mechanisms in place to meet the expectations and/or adjust them and/or adjust the mechanisms to meet the expectations. Unfortunately the expectations are never just right, we are regularly in the too hard or too easy basket and so we run the risk of people losing interest. The challenge is how to regain this interest, or start getting the expectation juggle into the ‘just right’ spot.

I have had my expectations not met during my course in this job, and in a meeting today I stated that this had led to a reduction of my trust in another area of the university to meet my future expectations. My boss who was also in the meeting said no, because we are in a meeting talking about expectations and resetting them so I had to start with a fresh perspective. You know what, I think he might be onto something. If I sit and talk epxectations through with people and we agree that everything is not right for what we need, but that we can see a way forward, we may no longer be adjusting expectations, but resetting them.

So, where does this leave my thinking? Well, perhaps when I think that all interest is lost and there is no chance of meeting expectations of academics/students/powers that be, I could remember that sometimes it’s okay to be honest and ask people for an expectation reset. The trick will be to remember to ask….

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