The Ideal Candidate

Our job search closed last week with 26 applicants. The pool looks strong. It is encouraging to see that outsiders view UMW as a place where exciting work is being done vis a vis teaching and learning.

The next step for the search committee will be to review the candidates and select a short list to invite to campus. Before we make each of our choices, I think it important that we (the search committee) have a discussion about what we are looking for, what our values are. Think of it as calibrating our thinking before we make our choices. I have been on search committees where this was not done, and in some cases I had no sense of why people made the choices they did, which made the whole process less satisfactory than it could be. I believe strongly in working for consensus, rather than voting. We are, after all, supposed to be on the same team. The selection process shouldn’t be about winning or losing, but rather finding the best possible candidate. While consensus isn’t always possible, it is always worth working for.

Here is my thinking based on the position description. I ask only that my colleagues on the search committee keep an open mind about what I have to say and I will do the same for them.

My ideal candidate should be a leader, more than a manager or a technical expert. He or she should view their primary responsibility as building a community of thinkers interested in exploring teaching and learning through a scholarly perspective, colleagues who are willing to approach their teaching responsibilities with as much seriousness and care as they do their disciplinary scholarship. The candidate should be able to manage programs and should understand the technical aspects of in-class and web-based learning, but those aptitudes without leadership ability are not sufficient.

My ideal candidate should have experience as a disciplinary practitioner, consisting of a pattern or history of teaching and scholarship in their field. This characteristic is important for several reasons. First, the teaching center director is to be a faculty member, though one with substantial administrative responsibilities. Faculty members teach and do scholarship. ‘Staff’ members do not teach, and most do not do scholarship. This is not to diminish staff members, but to point out that they have a different set of responsibilities and a different culture.

Another reason the candidate should teach and do research is credibility. The Teaching Center is more than a place; indeed, at present there is no place! The TC Director will not be effective if he or she is perceived as an outside ‘expert’ whose job it is to fix what most faculty believe isn’t broken: their teaching. The Director must be seen as a fellow faculty member, a colleague from another department who has something to offer A staff member or pure administrator is unlikely to be perceived that way.

There is a great deal of innovative teaching and thinking about such at UMW, but most of us don’t know about all of what’s going on. How can we harness that? How can we build on what we’ve got? The TC is not about remediation. It’s a venue for sharing ideas and exploring opportunities. My ideal candidate would have a plan for catalyzing this.

The ideal candidate should be an excellent listener. They should be diplomatic. They should be respectful of teaching faculty. Teaching is perceived as a very personal thing, and at the same time, most teachers are apprehensive about letting others see what they do. Someone coming in saying, “You should be teaching this way, instead of the way you are doing!” is unlikely to be very successful. The ideal candidate should probably build relationships before they try to facilitate change.

The ideal candidate should understand the strengths and weaknesses of Web2.0 tools. The candidate should understand that many faculty don’t see those tools as having any relevance for their teaching, even while the candidate believes that they may. They should be able to appreciate and build on the work we’ve already done here at UMW with these tools.

The ideal candidate should understand the strengths and weaknesses of using a course management system, like Blackboard. They should understand that for many if not most faculty, a CMS is all the technology they think they need to employ in their teaching, and the candidate needs to respect that point of view. After all, all faculty were trained in their discipline but few were trained to teach and even fewer to teach with technology.

The ideal candidate should see technology as merely a tool to reach the end of more effective teaching and learning, not as an end in itself. They should see this all the while understanding that every teaching approach uses technology at some level, where technology is understood to mean tools and method. A blackboard and chalk is a technology. The candidate should rarely approach faculty to persuade them to adopt a new technology tool, instead they should approach them to help solve a teaching and learning problem or to make an existing pedagogical tack stronger and more effective.

This is my current thinking about our ideal candidate. I’m willing to be persuaded differently by others on the search committee, but only if they are willing to talk about what they think.

Postscript: A reader pointed out that Jerry Slezak might be blamed for these views when the author is me, Steve Greenlaw. Apologies to Jerry!

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5 Responses to The Ideal Candidate

  1. Pingback: What’s Happening? » Blog Archive » Laughatonce.Com » Blog Archive » Christmas Jokes #26

  2. John says:

    Very nicely said, Steve. It’s like you were reading my mind.

    I would suggest one additional point – focus. That is, I feel the new director should have some unique quality, specialty, or interest that would allow that person to bring a focus to the center, which in turn would make the center unique in some way. Ideally that focus would be part of the person’s research interest. In this manner the center could become the hub for the scholarship of __?__ as well as the normal scholarship of teaching and learning.

  3. Leslie M-B says:

    Steve, you’ve just described the best of my colleagues. I think you have a fine vision here for the role of the new TC director.

    One of the things we do at the UC Davis Teaching Resources Center is look not for individual faculty who are failing, but for best practices on campus. We then showcase those faculty who are succeeding–by inviting them to participate in one of our events, for example–to infect other faculty with their innovative ideas and practices. This emphasis on rewarding good teachers rather than “punishing” bad teachers has earned us a lot of credibility and excellent word of mouth.

    This doesn’t mean we don’t work with struggling faculty, but we don’t seek them out for remediation. We focus on disciplinary groups in which we know individuals tend to struggle with their teaching–and then create content and events that would be appealing to those people. For example, in the biosciences and history, we’ve found a lot of faculty who worry about “coverage.” In such a case, we’ll find faculty who are thinking more about developing students’ critical and creative thinking skills, and with these successful faculty we’ll put together an event (panels, discussions, lunch, etc.) that offers evidence to struggling faculty that they may actually be doing their students a favor if they cut back a bit on content delivered by lecture in favor of discussion and writing.

    We don’t want to be perceived as the teaching police, and I think our emphasis on showcasing best practices instead of individual remediation actually increases walk-ins from individuals who do need help. And that’s very gratifying.

    Thanks for another thoughtful post.

  4. Steve

    Your observations are, as usual, acute. But I’m rather surprised this discussion wasn’t had internally *before* advertising, so that the sorts of attributes you identify could have been made part of the job/person specification. I guess that’s management for you… 😉

  5. Jerry says:

    Well Steve, I would be happy to take the blame for these ideas – they are excellent points.

    They even describe the approach I tried to use with faculty while an Instructional Techology Specialist – tech is not the answer, but mearly a tool. And spreading the word of other faculty members’ successes was the best way to get new faculty to engage with new ideas or techniques.

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