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Advice for That ‘Second Life’

in Higher Education   


 Marsha Carr

When I completed a decade as a superintendent, I moved into higher education, a natural fit. While it’s been an excellent match of my skills, experiences and passion for teaching, I discovered a wide chasm exists between the two career fields.

As a public school system leader, I had to be certified to occupy the position. In higher education, leadership posts are attained through promotions in the ranks because protocols and procedures are often vague and varying.

I’ve seen the leadership of a university change from one year to the next what it considered acceptable for the number of published articles for faculty promotion. This is not necessarily an evil (unless you are unable to produce the requisite number), but it can be trying when one’s tenure is on the line.

While you have a hierarchy of authority in K-12 education, higher education does not. You lead yourself. You must be self-guided, self-motivated and self-directed. It is as if you are leaving high school, where you were parented to success, and entering college, where you now must mount your personal success. These worlds are as different as they are similar.

Nine Suggestions
If you foresee a faculty position at a college or university in your future beyond the superintendency, pursue the opportunity armed with strategies to make the transition successfully. These are my tips.

Find the right fit (aka getting on the right bus). Consider colleges with teacher-training programs as well as state universities offering educational leadership degrees, and don’t overlook the proliferation of online courses in the field. The best nationwide sources of faculty vacancies can be found in such places as The Chronicle of Higher Education, the University Council for Educational Administration and AASA. Remember you are trying to match your needs and skills with the instructional needs of the university.

Recognize the different hierarchy. Recognize the political structures of a university and a school district do not look alike. Talk to others who have made the transition. Read books, blogs and best practices in higher education to understand how these systems work so you can be prepared for the different culture. Recommended titles: Advice for New Faculty Members by Robert Boice and The Black Academic’s Guide to Winning Tenure —Without Losing Your Soul by Kerry Ann Rockquemore and Tracey Laszloffy.

Have a clear vision. Identify an area of professional focus and personal goals for the first year. Begin benchmarking to achieve those goals. Do you want to be known in the field for a new approach? Do you want to be a notable instructor loved by all students? What are you striving for in this career?

Develop a support network. As a superintendent, you were a big fish; now you are small-fry. The greatest challenge for new faculty in higher education is the feeling of being all alone. Be ready to conquer isolation through professional and social networking. Identify individuals to serve as just-in-time resources on the job. They could come from within your academic department and the wider university. These faculty members can provide perspectives on situations you may encounter.

Use a mentor. Some universities and academic departments may assign a mentor to each new faculty member, which can be helpful if the mentor is knowledgeable about the expectations of the department and university. Without such, consider self-mentoringTM, which is simply the process of accepting responsibility to reach out to peers through professional networking for support and relying on self-reflection.

Write, write and write. If you want to succeed in higher education, you’ll need to develop a writing schedule … and then get your work published. Plan to write daily by thinking of it as an exercise regimen. Write about everything you experience. Research studies will emerge, and you will be able to connect your passion to a professional focus, setting you up as an expert in the field.

Balance your work schedule and your professional work. You may be retired from the superintendency, but you’re not dead. You don’t want to work yourself into an early grave by becoming as overwhelmed in your second life as you may have been in your first. Pace yourself. Develop a schedule for leisure, just as you do for writing and teaching. And then live by it, with few exceptions.

Remember that your professional service doesn’t count. Most universities do not recognize service for reappointment and tenure, so your teaching and scholarship should be priorities. Unless you really want to become an administrator at the university, shy away from positions that lessen your ability to write, network and collaborate.

It is not uncommon for junior faculty to be overburdened with managerial roles such as serving on departmental or campuswide committees, managing programs, or just being overly helpful in assuming tasks senior faculty know to avoid. You may have to learn to say no at times. No faculty members ever gained tenure because they were helpful and well-liked. Tenure is given to those who earn it through publications, presentations and a presence in the academic community.

Join professional networks. Establish membership in some organizations related to your interests for intellectual and social stimulus. While networking is one aspect of your professional growth, reading is another. Through memberships in groups aligned with your primary focus, you will keep abreast of current issues, which also will drive your research.

Marsha Carr, a former superintendent, is assistant professor of educational leadership at University of North Carolina at Wilmington in Wilmington, N.C. E-mail: carrm@uncw.edu. Twitter: @doccarr


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