Ritual, Innovation, and Change

Friday May 22 and Saturday May 23

Blogging at the end of the night is impossible when my nights end late, which they did on both Friday and Saturday. Friday ended with these now regular chat with Sandra and Jerome over some wine and light snacks. I’m in love with the rituals this family keeps, and am taking notes as I think about how to be a better host. Rituals, like traditions, create a sense of belonging and purpose. A lesson for all of us is the power in daily routines to help us center ourselves, reflect, and prepare for the next day. With a child of my own I’ve learned to appreciate the power of routines. It is vital for her health and well-being. Of course once we get older we seem to drop our routines, and because we are so “busy” we accept the chaos that comes with everyday. I am going to think about my routines more at home and work – which ones are healthy and which ones should I ditch. Oh, and I saw a hedgehog! A real life, in the “flesh” hedgehog. I told my hosts that I’ve never seen one outside of a zoo – and never thought about why. But as it was crawling around their back porch I looked them up on the internet and found out they are not indigenous to the U.S. So there you have it – a hedgehog.

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A hedgehog – on the back porch!

I did have an opportunity to sit with two more staff members at the ROC Sports College in Amersfoort. One of those men was Bas (Sebastian), who was the Director of the college. He is equivalent to a Dean in the U.S., and he is responsible for reporting to the Chairman of the ROC and managing the affairs of the college. He actually started the Sports College almost 10 years ago, along with others I’ve met, including Jerome, of whom Bas speaks very highly. I learned more about the higher education system, and with each meeting I learn something new, gain clarity, and lose some as well! Understanding all of this takes time, and will take more time even after this exchange to get my head around. Bas and others started the college, so I began to think about how at Oakton we have some who have started the college 46 years ago still exerting influence in the college. There are others who have been there a really long time. I think how hard it is to change something that you’ve been so immersed in since the beginning. Part of my interest in doing this exchange is to examine how higher ed is administered, how the organizations are structured, who leaders are and how they lead, and how change is managed. When asked about how change is perceived and managed here, Bas commented that they were excited about change. At least within the Sports College change is welcome as a new opportunity from what I can tell, and because of the involvement of the teachers and others in the execution of change, there seems to be buy-in early in the process.

I mentioned in a previous post about the involvement and care of the teachers. After speaking with the Director, it seems that the teachers’ involvement is encouraged and insisted upon from the highest level of the organization. The teachers and other staff are the decision makers. Yes, the Director gives the larger goal to achieve, but all the details of how that will happen flows up from the rank and file. In fact, the Director said “my dilemma in leadership is to not interfere with how the team achieves its goals.” There is an inherent and well-earned trust among this team, one that lacks in some of the spaces where I work. I believe I can do better to develop trust in those around me, and also trust the people around me more. This trust-building process takes time. Time that we often sacrifice in the name of efficiency and “getting things done,” while in fact our ability to get things done is compromised by our lack of relationship building. I tell my students this all the time – but alas, I don’t always practice it.

There is an “Invocation and Education” team that I have to find a way to model at Oakton. It is something I have thought about a lot in terms of how we institutionalize creative problem solving using the talent within our division. This team is designed to do that for the Sports College. New ideas and ways to approach problems are discussed in this group, and the ideas can be generated from his group as well. At the end of the day you have well vetted ideas and solutions that can be attempted. I need to learn more about this team as I think how to apply the concept back home. I hope to see more people take ownership in the affairs of the College at all levels. I think that is missing – it’s my role as an institutional leader to create space for that culture to emerge.

Saturday was my triumphant return to Amsterdam! Very good day. Lots of walking and lots of sight-seeing (unstructured),

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the Amsterdam Dungeon,

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a canal tour,

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and some good drinks at Irish pubs and a steakhouse. The pictures say more than I can say – but it was a great day. Today is my day off – I won’t blog tomorrow about today as I’m mostly going to be at the house until dinner tonight with the family.

Beauty and Creativity

Well it happened. I missed a day blogging. But I didn’t miss a day reflecting! I still did lots of that, and just literally ran out of time yesterday before I could post anything. So I’ll be combining my thoughts on Wednesday May 20 and Thursday May 21 in this post.

These last two days have been really hands on in exploring the vocational education system. Wednesday started with a sit down with the compliance and quality control folks for the ROC. In the U.S. these would be our accreditation folks, as well as those regulatory people on our campuses keep us honest with our learning outcomes and objectives. The meeting demonstrated the similarities between our systems of higher ed administration – where the government (who provides funding) wants to know that education is being administered to a certain standard (quality). There are teams of people hired to coordinate this centrally, with people within each of the colleges serving as liaisons back to the central office. What is really interesting, and something that supports student success in my opinion, is how deep the compliance area goes into the classroom. When a student’s attendance is too low, the compliance area knows about it – and wants answers. Funding is given to each student by the government, sometimes a significant amount. It is expected that students will take that funding to be students, full time, 40 hours a week, and not work other full time jobs. That money doesn’t necessarily meet the needs of students however, but there are government loans available at rock bottom interest rates (.012%). Funding is also given to the college’s based on enrollment – which creates a problematic incentive to keep students enrolled, whether it is in their best interest or not. This is why the compliance office has changed their funding model so that this dynamic doesn’t exist.

Everyone I have spoken to seemed to recognize a shift in public and government sentiment related to funding higher education. They have a long way to go before “education is a private good” mentality sets in, but I see Holland on their way there. A law was just passed that limited funding for students who want to continue their education from lower level high school through university. As I mentioned before, in Holland the line between high school and university is not always a straight one – and it can take some time to navigate the layers of the system. That time costs money – and the government is not as willing to fund it anymore. I met with the equivalent of a grants coordinator for the ROC – but I’m not sure I have much to say about that.

I have to use this post to make some observances about faculty (teacher) behavior in the U.S. vs. Holland. Caveat: my observations are limited to my experience – here and in the U.S., so this is in no way scientific. But my blog, my words haha. While there are similarities, I think there exists an ethos of care and responsibility for student success that doesn’t exist in the U.S. I think faculty in the U.S. are very particular about non-inteference of administration in the classroom. Faculty have dominion over the classroom, and I think they should. But that has to mean more than just teaching content. Where Holland gets it right (at least at the ROC colleges I’ve experienced), and where the student care comes in, is in the web of support built around students by the teachers. Teachers not only teach, they are mentors of at least 5-6 students each. I will meet with students during a mentor session next week and get their thoughts, but the literature is consistently clear that faculty involvement is the #1 factor in determining student persistence and success in college. As someone who manages student conduct, of course I have been exploring that work here. What I discovered is that all student conduct matters, from fights, to academic dishonesty, is handled first with the teachers, mentors, and a “care coordinator” (also a teacher) before it ever gets to the “student affairs” area. That’s a beautiful thing. Teachers here know students personally, and use that personal knowledge to support them in and out of the classroom. They serve as a coach, counselor, and mentor to students. It’s expected of them.

In the states I believe our teachers care a great deal about students (some more than others), but something is blocking the level of involvement in students’ lives that I witnessed here. It could be a) lack of confidence or competence in supporting students, b) lack of time – with large course loads with hundreds of students, this type of involvement is admittedly tough, or perhaps c) lack of commitment to students, or understanding of how important their role is as faculty. Whatever the reason, I wonder how we (as employees of our colleges) can encourage and expect more faculty involvement in the lives of our students. I cannot overstate the importance and impact of truly engaged faculty. We have many examples at Oakton, and we need to use data and relationships to understand what the best of our teachers are doing to keep students coming back and succeeding. Then we need to insist that others do it. If faculty want to have dominion over the classroom, then they need to own that in every way possible. That means not sending every “troubled student” to someone else to “fix them,” or it means managing your class more directly, not filing conduct complaints for “disruptive behavior” for minor infractions or disruptions.

My most productive meeting came with a colleague who is more closely aligned with student support services as I know it. The Studie & Loopbaancentrum (SLC). This loosely translates to Study and Career Center. If the first line of teachers and mentors fails to adequately help a student, or if other needs arise, they can be referred to the SLC. I noticed quickly they do a lot of what student affairs does in the U.S.: the center helps support student social and emotional problems (counseling center), studying habits (learning/academic support center), wanting to transfer (advising), disabilities (disability services), discipline (conduct), and career counseling. There is also a social worker that works with students who need additional support from community agencies/resources. You may be wondering about tutoring or remedial services, as I sure did. That again falls back on the individual colleges and…(you guessed it) teachers, to come up with solutions and additional support for the students. The decentralized nature of the discipline system, and the colleges each handling their own “stuff” does create challenges with administering services equitably and/or consistently. However, that is sometimes managed by regular meetings of the management of the different areas within the colleges. This provides some degree of consistency and coordination.

On Wednesday I experienced another first! I drove in Holland. All by myself. My host’s idea. Crazy right? I dropped Jerome off, with his trusting spirit haha, so he could manage a softball clinic near his house, and then I took off by myself with the help of “Tom Tom” (the GPS device) and made my way to Utrecht. Driving was interesting, but familiar. I am a good driver (I think, mom fix your face), and I drive stick well – so I did ok. Once I got going I did well – and it was nice to “learn” the city differently as I was paying more attention to signs and intersections and people. In addition to meeting with the folks from compliance and grants, I got to check out another college; this time the Beauty College. When we first arrived to Holland the Director of International Programs said that “you would know” when you were in a particular college; the smells, the sights, the students, would give it away. He wasn’t lying.

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The Beauty College had a personality all it’s own. It was heavily female dominated, though in the hair styling program there are a few men. A faculty member greeted us, a man of Indian descent it seemed, who had amazing hair. He then introduced us to our own personal beauticians…we were about to get facials and a manicure or massage. Can you say #readdddyyyyyyyy! It was my first facial and their first time working on a man. I felt honored to be a  part of these students education. As is the ROC way, these were students who need to practice, and who better than us!? It’s not too different from beauty schools and barber colleges in the U.S. Thank you Laura and Amber for being kind, connecting personally with me, and for being consummate professionals (at only 19 and 17 respectively.) And thanks for the DJ recommendation!

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My beauticians, Laura and Amber

 

On Thursday I got to interact a bit more with students at the Utrecht Sports College location, and got to see them play volleyball as part of a rotation of activities. The facility (as have been many others) was state of the art. The skill at playing however was not! It was entertaining nonetheless.

IMG_5547 IMG_5544I also got to step into an entirely different world, the Creative College. Here students work on media, art and design, and graphic design as well. There is a cohort model used in this college, where students (all of whom are Level 4 and level 4 only for four years) come in and take courses together based on their year. Even without that structure, each of the colleges group people based on their professional interests/paths, and therefore the people in the colleges tend to have similar attitudes and even mannerisms.

You begin to be able to tell who is in what college by what they wear, who they associate with, or what they look like. On the one hand it creates some powerful connections between the students, on the other I worry about what is loss in the intersectional and interdisciplinary experiences that could be if everyone studied together. Jerome and I talked about that and he told me there were exploring options for students to take electives in other colleges, to expose them to other interests and skills. I’d like to see more structure and cohorts at my college, though it is challenging with such a large population of part-time students who go at different paces. But perhaps there is a solution somewhere for that. The students in the creative college seemed more tech savvy, bookish, and “artsy,” and I enjoyed seeing their work. Very talented.

On a personal note, I’m still tired, but still thriving. Wednesday night was a chill night where I just rested upstairs while Jerome went to a training, and Sandra hosted one of her friends. It was important for me to take that break and do something “routine” to center myself. Thursday night, after work at both sites for the Sports College, we did dinner at home – another amazing meal. Following that Jerome took me to a colleagues house in Utrecht. I was invited to go to a live jazz concert at this new venue in downtown, and I was all over it. The lady who invited me works at the Sports College and was going to be singing. So I invited Marc (the colleague now friend) and he said yes! His place, which he just sold, was amazing. The views overlooking the city and the canals were out of a picture book.

IMG_5576 IMG_5575 IMG_5570 IMG_5571 IMG_5573 IMG_5574 IMG_5569 (1)We talked about real estate, and what’s next for him. He will be traveling to the U.S. in July – I think I have him on the hook to make Chicago his home for 3-4 weeks. I’d love to return his hospitality. We walked together through the city, past the train station, and through the really modern side of Utrecht.

IMG_5583 IMG_5582 IMG_5581We arrived at the Tivoli – Van Den Burg, which is a beautiful performing arts center that could put the Kentucky Center (in Louisville, KY) to shame.

IMG_5589 IMG_5590 IMG_5588We walked up more flights of stairs than I care to remember to the area where the performance would be. The large brass band was made up of university and conservatory students. Then there was  an acapella group who sounded like Take 6, though they were all white (Dutch) and a mix of men and women. They were incredible, and clearly well practiced with the band. To top it off there was a famous Dutch trumpet player who joined in and it was mesmerizing. After a few sets, complete with visuals on a big screen behind the band, Karen (the lady who invited me to the show) was STUNNING. Beautiful red dress, amazing stage presence, and a voice that could hang with any soul/jazz/pop singer out there.

IMG_5605 IMG_5596 IMG_5595After the concert and many beers, Marc and I walked back through Utrecht, to the train station, where I rode back to Amersfoort where Jerome picked me up and we went home. I’ve been a zombie today – so tomorrow, I’ll talk about today!

Tiny Cups and Orange Lights

Tuesday May 19, 2015
Big shout out to a critical colleague of mine at Oakton @DrGracia. She encouraged me more than she knows via Twitter. It’s tough to write daily – but I’m going to go, go, go. Thanks GNA:)
Tuesday was a good day. A long day, but one with more firsts and a great deal of learning. When I used to teach a student leadership course at the University of Louisville, there was a particular lesson about sustaining relationships that I really enjoyed teaching. In that section we would talk about the importance of “going places and doing things.” If you want to make an impact, if you want to clarify your values, if you want to create and sustain new relationships, you must go places and do things. Sounds simple, right? Well it is. I am fortunate to be able to go places far away and do things that require resources, but it wasn’t always that way. So hopefully this post, and all my posts, will allow you to go places and do things vicariously through me, while you also do your own thing.
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The smallest and simplest things entertain and amaze me when traveling abroad. They help me put into perspective things I take for granted, and challenges me to think differently about what I do and don’t do, and why I do it. The ultimate hope is that I am a better person, educator, parent, and person because of all this perspective-taking. And then some things are just hilarious. Take for instance the size of the cups here in Holland. Mind you I am used to drinking 20 oz of coffee to start each day, and then I arrive here and see these baby cups that look like I should be using them with my daughter at a pretend tea party. Jerome always joked back in the states that our cups were huge, even the small ones. Well now I see why. Or take how I saw a traffic light that to me is yellow, so I commented “yellow light!” since I literally hadn’t seen one since I’ve been here – to which Jerome erupts in laughter and says in his Aruba/Dutch accent which is so endearing, “no man, that’s orange!” Of course we argue for 15 minutes about how the other is wrong, and the way the other does it in their country is crazy. This of course is all in jest, and we laugh at how some people are unable to overcome things even more banal than this in the real world. And so we laugh, and appreciate each other, and realize our differences are what make us the same in the end.
I continue to engage my Dutch colleagues in discussions about race, racism, and the challenges we face in the U.S. They are exposed to many of the same biased and incomplete media images that we are. I was happy when a colleague said to me “I didn’t even think about that, and I’m glad we talked” in reference to why “it” [race] still matters so much in the U.S. I was able to get reacquainted with the higher education system of Holland, which differs in many ways from the U.S. Most notable is how “layered” the system is, in that there are many choices after primary school that can lead students on many different paths towards post-secondary education. It also seems that the way the schools are funded, everyone has an equal chance at a number of tracks, and where they go largely depends on their own talent in school and/or their effort. It’s the closest thing to a meritocratic education system as it gets. Seems simple enough, but in fact I am confident there are problems and disparities that show up. In the U.S. the “meritocracy” doesn’t exist because students are not experiencing primary education the same way. There are vast disparities in resources and outcomes for lower-income people. That apparently is not the case in the Holland system because of the funding structure of the schools. Even so I learned where our system has values and faults, and so did Jerome. I am most affirmed in my belief that we (globally it seems) still rush our students to know what they want to do, well before they are able to understand who they want to be.That’s a dangerous practice.
I am coming to understand that what the Dutch call efficiency is not merely getting things done faster, but getting things done better. I don’t think the end goal is simply to move fast, I think its to move with purpose – and things that don’t seem purposeful distract from their goals; in this case teaching the students. It wasn’t very “efficient” for us to drive out to a gym (which had a bar by the way – yes can I have another) for Jerome to asses a students work in organizing a basketball tournament. But the experiential “learning in action, learning is doing” model at the Sports College, recognizes that its the best way to assess whether the students really get it. It was amazing to watch – not only that the student was demonstrating his skills and what he learned, but it also benefited the community members with which he worked.
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Student organized basketball tournament
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Student organized basketball tournament
It’s not necessarily efficient to have so many shared, flexible spaces. Yes it saves on space, but it robs people of the privacy that we in US spaces crave. We would argue that it causes distractions, and lessens our ability to “get work done.” But what I observed was a lot of work getting done – better work, collaborative work, open work, and social work. It’s the kind of work that keeps you coming back, and silently holds you accountable to both showing up, getting things done, and learning to respect and honor the work that others are doing. I am reminded of the Hive that my colleague GNA started at Oakton – and I think how that creates that space if only for a short time each week.
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Flexible/shared office space
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Seating area/lounge space within the office
I also couldn’t tell who the “boss” was around the building. Yes people dressed the same, but it was more than that. There was a collegiality that pervaded the space, and I want to study that more as I speak with the formal leaders of the organization.
At the end of the night, me, Jerome and his partner Sandra continued a conversation that Jerome and I started in the car. We were talking about the efficacy of the social sciences, and how its impossible to know things with a certainty – and how dangerous it is to judge based on what we think we know about people. This is particularly relevant in our work as we are helping students to think through their own success, next steps, strengths, and talents in a way that is grounded in theory, but imperfect in practice. You understand people’s pedagogy when you spend time talking to them. I wonder how I can do that more with my colleagues at Oakton – to truly understand where their talents are and their challenges are as we try to do best by our students. Speaking of students…I love students – no matter where I go. I got to see the students in action, being taught, doing energizers, using their technology to create videos and present them at the end of the day. The students at the sports college are kinesthetic learners by nature, so sitting still and being quiet was a challenge to say the least. The instructors handled it with such patience and love.
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I was particularly taken with a student leader who is a Level 3/4 student, who is also one of the country’s top athletes in his sport (Cycling) and who I mistook as a teacher. He was so mature, poised, and helpful. Jason if you are reading this, thank you for being you, and doing it really well.

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Jason van Haaften

Other students were also very good to get to know, the clowns (and liars – you know who you are Jop) and the more serious ones. Each had their own style, energy, and sense of purpose. One student wanted to do more and be more partly because his dad said he should. He was so sure about what he wanted to do, at least it seemed that way. Just like our students in the U.S., they are just trying to figure it all out.

Personally I am doing well. I had the chance to visit a Pancake House for some Dutch pancakes for dinner. These are more akin to crepes in my opinion. We agreed they were somewhere between French crepes and American pancakes. I wasn’t a fan, neither was Jerome, but the service was excellent and the scenery was perfect.
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Dutch pancake

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When I prep myself for international travel I am reminded of the courses I taught and led to places in the Caribbean and Asia. I am reminded how powerful and effect the loss of routine can have on your mental and physical well-being. Not having your nightly cup of water; having to brush your teeth at odd times; nothing having your favorite food or access to your favorite music or “things.” Those things are what can set people off, much more than culture or country shock. I’m staying flexible in the face of my losses, and trying to stay present at all times. This is too important to let any loss overshadow the tremendous gains I’m experiencing.