Meredith L. C. Sides, Ed.D. English Instructor, Calhoun Community College President, National Organization for Student Success President Emeritus, Alabama Student Success Organization
Statistically speaking, it is safe to assume that most of us will never become formal, titled leaders of educational institutions – directors, chairs, deans, vice presidents, or presidents. The research is clear that even faculty members who make it to the department chair level, for instance, will not always continue upward on that career path. According to Gmelch (2019), only about 22% of department chairs move to a higher administrative position, such as a dean, while the majority of them (approximately 65%) actually leave their positions as chairs and move back to a faculty-only role for the remainder of their educational careers.
These facts, surprising though they might be, offer an opportunity for some of us to take a burden off of our vision boards – we don’t have to officially “move up the ladder” in order to foster positive change in our institutions and specifically for the students with whom we work. We do not need to be a director, chair, dean, or executive administrator to lead others in championing student success.
It doesn't matter where your desk is – a retention office, English department, admissions counter, President’s office, history department, or any of the other myriad places we all might work in our institutions. It does not matter what your name tag says – faculty, coach, librarian, assistant, director, officer, advisor, technician, VP, specialist, coordinator, dean, or clerk. What matters is that you realize how important you are to helping students succeed.
Here are some practical ways to lead where you are and champion student success despite what your job title may currently be:
Advocate for your students, colleagues, and programs. Use data to demonstrate the effectiveness of the work you are doing, and use research to help guide changes. Individual “human interest” stories of student success are especially effective.
Create a student success-focused task force at your institution. Task forces, unlike committees, typically have a very specific objective with a clearly defined timeline, boosting chances for success.
Model the professional behavior of a student-centered educator, particularly for those colleagues who may not understand why student success is so important.
Maintain your active membership and participation in ALSSO and NOSS. Alabama has one of NOSS’s strongest chapters because it is filled with people just like you who step up to champion student success wherever they are and whatever their professional title may be. Networking with other like-minded educators is a great way to keep up the effort of leading where you are.
Avoid burnout. Take care of yourself, and find ways to remind yourself that you are a smart, well-intentioned professional who cares about making our institutions better places, both for the students and for the employees.
Our educational system is in a great transition right now as we move away from the pandemic and deal with the learning consequences it facilitated. If that weren’t enough, many educators in our country are dealing with great upheaval caused by those who have little understanding of what they are doing or how their mandates affect student success. We need strong leaders from all institutional offices and departments – faculty, staff, and administration – focused on working together to help students succeed.
How will you choose to lead where you are at your institution?
Gmelch, W. H. (2019). The call for department chair leadership: Why chairs serve, what they do, how they develop, how long they serve, and is there life after chairing? International Journal of Leadership and Change, 7(1), 9-19.