One of my (many) failings as a professor has been underestimating what my students can do if sufficiently motivated, provided with a strong foundation of learning and skill sets, and given the time and resources to solve a problem or to accomplish a task. I was reminded of that failing when I recently
invited challenged encouraged my student assistants to write a short book. Though I agonized over whether I was abdicating my responsibility by giving them minimal oversight, it readily became clear to me that the process that they were engaged in was an invaluable learning experience. When I would walk into “their” office area I would be ignored as they were debating which blog pieces to include, how best to manage communication flow, which tools they should showcase, what to include on the cover and order of authorship. Oftentimes my presence was not even acknowledged not out of disrespect or rudeness but simply because at that point in time I was not needed. They knew of course, that they could contact me at anytime either individually or as a group.
Michael Lehman’s recent thoughtful Linkedin blog piece “Leadership through Effective Delegation” very accurately describes what transpired (I wish I could say that I was aware of what I was doing at the time!)
- I clearly defined the task: Take the blog pieces we have written together this semester. Improve them. Use the tools I have taught you and create a book-publishing ready document. Keep me in the loop at all times but bring me into the picture only when you need my executive guidance. I shall decide what book publishing program we use to publish your work (I decided to go with Amazon’s Createspace and Kindle Direct).
- I had an ideal team of students (two sophomores and two juniors) whom I had carefully trained, who know me quite well, and who work well together and individually and collectively with me. Over the year(s) they have earned my trust to do a job to the best of their abilities in a timely fashion. They are mutually supportive, excellent creative, problem-solvers who also know when to call me in for assistance. Though a leader emerged, without doubt each of them developed leadership skills through working on this project. They also developed the confidence to serve as checks and balances for each other and for me. A critical factor to our success was my having time to be available. It happens that this semester I am only teaching two classes (and two labs) in my specialization Statistics and Experimental Design.
- Our goals were “SMART”: Specific (write a book) Measurable (Google-Drive copy of manuscript), Agreed to (we renegotiated when there was reasoned disagreement), Realistic (I had given them a foundation of writing to build upon) and Time-related (I gave them a slightly flexible target date but indicated that this project must be completed before the end of the semester). I had to remind myself that these are “only” undergraduates who also have classes, jobs, and, I hope a social life. And then I let them loose.
I shared earlier their reactions to the process. I plan a team meeting this week when I’ll formally share feedback but I just ordered 20 copies of their book to share with them. Click here if you’d like to see or order their book.
Heartfelt thanks to Jane Hart for widening my understanding of Internet Learning Tools.
What fun it is to learn with and from present students, alumni, former students, and parents.