Character, Quality and Sustainability: What’s Your Take?

three emerging themes in the academic plan

I love planning.  As a teenager — when I was managing the demands of high school and a competitive swim schedule — I would plan out the week ahead for my whole family every Sunday night.  My mother liked it because it gave her a roadmap for grocery shopping, meal preparation and which kid needed a ride where and when.  I think my Dad thought it was amusing; he has always taken pride in my independence.  My brothers, on the other hand, took umbrage with what they saw as the inflexibility of a schedule — written in ink — that hung in a place of prominence on the fridge.  I craved structure, routine and goal setting.  They valued free-spiritedness and spontaneity (and still do!).

Fast forward thirty years and I still love to plan.  Experience and the challenges of raising two busy kids with a partner who is a lot like my brothers, however, has taught me to do it more collaboratively and in pencil.  Both personally and professionally, I have come to embrace an integrated approach to charting a path forward because it “builds relationships, aligns the organization, and emphasizes preparedness for change” (Society for College and University Planning).

This is the theory and practice that I hope we can cultivate together at Sheridan, starting first and foremost with the drafting and approval of our next Academic Plan.

That Plan – which must align with Sheridan’s Strategic Plan — will document our academic priorities for the next five years: 2017-2022.  As a consequence, it’s critical that we get it right.  It will also provide each Faculty and academic unit with a framework for drafting local strategic, business and budget plans. This makes it all the more important that we – collectively – identify the overarching priorities that matter most to us as a learning community.  The literature on this is clear: planning must be informed by a careful and critical review of the internal and external environment.  That data must then be balanced against qualitative input from key stakeholders.  This garners ownership and investment.  If we nail this, everybody on our campuses will be conversant with our priorities and their personal role in driving related outcomes.

To that end, a multitude of students, faculty and staff have contributed to academic planning over the last eighteen months through three Senate Standing Committees and three working groups tasked to develop recommendations for Sheridan’s next Academic Plan.  Many of those colleagues came together last fall at an engagement event that I was able to attend. The goal was to seek community input on a long, aggregate list of recommendations generated independently by each of the committees/teams.  That forum, ten more weeks of document review and the many consultations I’ve had with community members have informed the iteration of three thematic priorities for Sheridan’s next Academic Plan:  character, quality, and sustainability.   Let me comment briefly on each one.

As someone new to Sheridan, I’m very focused on our institutional CHARACTER because I think it distinguishes our learning community in the broader post-secondary system.  For me, this is not about what we do, but rather how we do it.  This ‘theme’ speaks to creativity, community, growth-mindset (more on this later), and partnerships.  Included would be our commitments to innovation, inter-disciplinarity, communication, engagement, Indigenizing Sheridan, accessibility, and inclusivity.

QUALITY is the bedrock of all that we do and Sheridan’s commitment to excellence is well documented.  This theme focuses on teaching and learning; scholarship, research and creative activity; academic success; and, student experience.  Included would be our commitments to faculty development, international student success, universal design for learning (more on that later too!), technology-enhanced learning, work-integrated learning, a resource model and engagement framework for SRCA, first-year experience programming, academic advising, and student mental health.

Finally, SUSTAINABILITY is key.  To safeguard our culture and deliver on our unwavering commitment to quality, we must invest in projects and practices that increase the sustainability of our organization and crystalize our accountability to stakeholders, most notably students.

I am accountable to the President (and ultimately to you) for delivering a draft of the Academic Plan to the Board of Governors and Senate on March 22nd and 23rd respectively.  To meet that deadline, I need your help.  Specifically:  let me know what you think about the three themes (provostandvpa@sheridancollege.ca); or attend a consultation (we’re visiting LACs, Faculty meetings, staff meetings, Senate Standing Committee meetings, and have organized multiple touch-points with students); or – if you’re a Senator – come to the February 23rd meeting ready to engage with this material for a full hour of facilitated, small-group discussions led by four of Sheridan’s Creative Problem-Solving leaders.

If you’re short on time, I’m particularly curious to know what you think about Growth-Mindset and/or Universal Design for Learning.  There are a wealth of references available on each topic; please feel encouraged to conduct a quick search.  Embedded, however, are two videos intended to pique your curiosity.     Please:  let me know what you think.