Competency B: Flexibility and Adaptability

Higher education is change. Since I began the CSSA program and in my time at Colorado State University as an instructor, it was just when I felt I had a handle on things that something shifted beneath my feet. From term to term and week to week, the mood and stress levels of students shift. Staff members move on to other departments, other institutions, other fields, and retirement. New employees come in with new ideas and structural changes to programs, services, and values. Legislation from the state and federal government effects our operations in financial aid, student conduct, student retention and completion, and generalized funding cuts. We react to the national news, the latest research, and incidents on campus every day. This change dynamic is one of the reasons I love higher education. It is never static, never boring, never the same today as yesterday. However, it also presents challenges for me, in cultivating my flexibility and adaptability to change, in utilizing those decision-making and problem-solving skills that will allow me to face each change with confidence and calm.

One example of coping with change at the day-to-day level was in my academic advising internship with the University Exploratory Studies Program. Each START orientation session, I would sit down with 5 to 8 students in a 3 hour period to help them explore several disciplines of interest in their first term of college. Students would often have extremely diverse interests in several different colleges, and it was my guidance that was to aid them in choosing which to explore when and how to do so. However, the courses that would help students to explore periodically filled up or were not offered at an appropriate time for the individual student. When this happened, I did my best to remain confident and calm, supporting the student by making further suggestions and having the knowledge about what was most crucial to take early on and what could be taken in winter or spring. I have to admit that I didn’t always succeed at remaining calm. But as I learned more and integrated more knowledge into my wheelhouse, I was able to guide students calmly, even when things changed at the last moment, like the last space in a class they really wanted was suddenly taken. We also had to adapt to the changing circumstances of failing technology. One day our entire system was not functional, and we needed to advise students on course selection without the benefit of knowledge like course availability. This kind of stress was difficult for me at first, especially as I felt my knowledge of the institution to be inadequate. However, as I learned more, I became more flexible and adaptable, more able to solve problems and make decisions in the moment with students.

Another example of my growing flexibility and adaptability is the way that I currently advise students in Career Services. When I first began my assistantship, I would research each student appointment, trying to get as much information ahead of time from the student about what they wanted to get out of their appointment, days before the appointment took place. After taking TCE 530, Fundamentals of Counseling, I realized that all my research and preparation time was making it difficult for me to listen and truly hear what each student needed in the moment. Once I felt I had a handle on the content of career development, best practices for marketing materials and interviewing techniques, I stopped trying to find out all I would need to know in advance of the appointment. I trusted that I would have knowledge to provide, and if I didn’t know a specific detail, I would find the answers for the student at a later date. I committed to listening actively and being flexible so that the student could lead us down the path of our interaction.

The CSSA program itself has undergone substantial changes since I agreed to be a student here in March of 2011. Losing our only dedicated faculty member, changing the program competencies that we fulfill, moving the programĀ into the Dean’s Office, and altering the requirements for internships are just a couple of the changes that have happened in my short time here. I’ve learned that this is the nature of higher education; we continually try to make it better. Forces work against us in our attempts, but we push and improve and try and shift. We doubt that we will ever get it the way we want it. We wonder at the resilience of the students and our fellow staff members in confronting the change around us. We come to work each day prepared to change.

5 Responses to “Competency B: Flexibility and Adaptability”

  1. Melissa Yamamoto says:

    What are some of your thoughts about how to enact change? If you were the Director of a department, what would you keep in mind about nurturing positive change with your staff?

    • Change is hard. Yet inevitable. As the DIrector of a department, I would try to frame change as opportunity and involve staff members in the conversation throughout the process. If staff members see change as an opportunity for improvements that we all believe are needed, there is a greater likelihood of collaborative innovation that comes from within, rather than improvements which are decided from “above”.

  2. Melissa Yamamoto says:

    I agree that change is hard, and that involving the staff members in the process is key. People support what they help to create! Sometimes it takes a little more than inviting people into the process, though. What if you have a team member who is resistant to change? Any thoughts about how to approach this?

    • I think the key in this situation would be to not bulldoze someone who is resistant with change but to implement the change gradually over time, while keeping the team informed. I would look for ways to change small aspects at a time and then look for feedback on each aspect, so that everyone, even those who didn’t agree with the change are included in the conversation. If someone is completely unwilling to change, and I have seen this when new leadership comes into a department where someone has been doing a particular job for a decade, then I would need to talk to someone one-on-one to suss out where the resistance comes from. Are they scared of being found to be obsolete and losing their jobs? Do they have another perspective that could inform the change? Do they feel left out of the conversation? Why are they so resistant? If we find that, after talking about it, it seems to be that they simply have “always done it this way”, then I would bring that to their attention and suggest that what they’ve always done may not be the best choice. It may have worked before, but it may not work as well in this present moment with this present situation for these particular students.

  3. Anne Lapour says:

    Good additions here. I had similar questions to Melissa.

Leave a Reply