Tag Archives: Peter Senge

What it takes to be the best

This month, I have had the opportunity to present updates about the College at professional development activities for exempt and non-exempt employees. My core message can be summed up in a series of questions and answers, beginning with, “What kind of college does PCC want to be?” I pose that the answer must be “the premier community college in the United States.”

What will it take to be the best? Answer: An unshakeable focus on student success, community engagement and diversity – in short, a commitment to being a student-centered learning organization.

So, what are the key components of a student -centered learning organization? Borrowing from organizational thought leader Peter Senge, I believe there are five elements the College needs to incorporate into its institutional DNA:

  1. Systems thinking: an understanding of how parts fit into a whole and an appreciation that every employee is integral to the success of PCC students. When the electricity went out at West Campus during the monsoons last summer, our Facilities crews worked to restore power quickly, allowing instructors and students to get on with teaching and learning with minimal interruption. In their own way that day, Facilities contributed substantially to the success of PCC students.
  2. Personal mastery: an acknowledgement that employees are ultimately responsible for their own success. Employees should look for opportunities to improve knowledge that will help them be more effective at their jobs.
  3. Shared vision: Having a common set of ideals – an institutional “north star” employees can look toward in determining how well we are fulfilling our mission. The PCC Futures Conference and strategic planning process, which brought together more than 200 employees and community members to map out strategic directions for the College over the next three to five years, is an example of the College striving toward a shared vision. That college-wide process informed strategic planning at campuses and work units, where employees had the opportunity to offer their insights.
  4. Team learning: A work unit is only as good as its weakest link, and it’s the responsibility of the work unit to foster, in a civil and positive manner, a culture in which everyone pulls his or her weight.
  5. Mental models: Having a mindset or culture that focuses on the positive is important. I’ve heard it said that at PCC students have a “right to fail.” A positive framing of that issue is that students should have a right to succeed. College must do all it can to help students achieve success.

To make these elements a reality, we need an organizational structure consistent with our values and purpose. That has been the driving force behind recent and upcoming structural reorganizations. Executive Vice Chancellor for Institutional Effectiveness Dr. Zelema Harris astutely recognized the importance the College must place on advancement. That emphasis is reflected in the recent reorganization of the College’s “forward-facing” areas, including Marketing, Enrollment Management, Public Information, the PCC Foundation and Web Services, under a new position, Vice Chancellor of Institutional Advancement. Engaging the community — at the local, state, national and global level — is critical if we are to be the best. Similarly, we are working toward hiring a Vice Chancellor in charge of workforce initiatives in order to give leaders in business and industry a single point of contact when they wish to engage with the College.

Everyone at PCC is a leader. All employees have an opportunity to influence others, be they students or their fellow employees, through teaching, challenging, communicating and helping. I am confident that PCC can set the standard for community colleges across the nation. This won’t happen overnight. Our current situation took years to develop, and digging our way out will take time. But in three to five years, I am convinced we will succeed, if we work together and focus on our students and the community. That’s what it takes to be the best.

Strategic planning: Moving forward

The College took a major step forward recently when our Strategic Planning Committee recently concluded two days of intensive meetings at out East Campus. The committee did a great job of hammering out a solid framework of student-centered initiatives for the College to undertake over the next several years.

In opening the group’s meeting, I noted that a key element for success is recognizing the College’s “mental mindsets,” the term that organizational thought leader Peter Senge’s used to describe an organization’s deeply embedded beliefs. We need to identify those mindsets that might be impeding real change at PCC.

I also emphasized understanding the local, regional, national and global context of education, both today and in the future; and most importantly, the need to create a system for learning that puts students first.

The work of the Strategic Planning Committee is the next step in an important, ongoing process that began with the PCC Futures Conference in February. [The common themes emerging from the conference are available here.]

PCC has many excellent programs and services for students. We need to identify the elements in those programs that make them successful, and, moving forward, infuse them into our institutional DNA.

Of course, our initiatives have to be flexible and adaptable; history is replete with examples of plans that went awry because they did not account for rapid change. This is especially true in education. That means constantly listening, especially to students, and taking diverse viewpoints seriously.

Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Our strategic planning process is built around helping students succeed. Helping our students achieve their dreams is why we do the work we do. It is why this institution exists. As chancellor, I am determined to returning Pima to being the kind of student-centered College it once was.