I had the pleasure of meeting, greeting and celebrating the successful graduation of our students today. What hit me as the evening progressed with photos, celebrations and chatter over their future plans was the part we as academic leaders have on student progression through their programme. One student came up to me and said, “you were the first person I met as I walked into the campus a year ago”. To have remembered that was something worth noting. To then hear the student say that the “positive and welcoming engagement set me up for my studies in a positive frame of mind” was what hit me with the realisation that first engagements are so important.
First impressions are so critical.
First impressions are so critical. It sets the tone for all future engagements between the student and the organisation. It sets the student up for the best possible journey through their programme of study, no matter what that is. Just a simple supportive engagement has such a lasting impression on our student’s study and their ongoing performance. So, if such a good reaction comes from such a positive engagement, what becomes of an average or bad first impression? I think I know the answer to that, and it’s not good. Further, so much energy, time and resource are used in turning around a negative environment into a positive one. At the end of the day, no one wins when a student starts their studies with a negative impression. That makes it so important that we get the start, first impressions, right from the beginning.
The same theory goes throughout the students’ study as they journey through the programme. Yes, things go wrong with both the organisation and the student, whether it be an academic misconduct case or a poor assessor decision or a process failure. What matters is the way we, as academic leaders demonstrate clear leadership, focussed decision making, and very clear and supportive communication. Some students I met today had such a journey. It was a pleasure to celebrate with these students, who still celebrated with joy as they complete their studies successfully and were planning their future. Not only were they celebrating their successes, but they were full of thanks for the support they received through their journey.
Leaders in higher education are change agents.
Leaders in higher education are change agents. We change people’s lives. Yes, a positive experience will create a positive change in student’s lives. However, when we get it wrong and present a bad experience, we create an equally negative change in student’s lives. Regardless of a student’s academic abilities or performance, our leadership and support for our students will always have a lasting impression on how students remember their time learning.
Just thinking about who ‘leaders’ are, yes, it is the directors and CE’s. Yes, it is the senior leadership team. But it is also anyone in higher education organisations that has an influence on student life and their study as they journey through their studies. That means, then, that everyone employed in higher education is a leader. Everyone with even the smallest influence is a change agent. That makes higher education organisations unique. That is also why it is so important to get it right.
Learning happens. Students will learn no matter the learning environment because that is what they do when they engage with a teacher and a passion. Some will succeed and some will fail. However, without changing anything in the classroom, we as leaders influence how well students pass and how badly they fail through a simple engagement. That’s worth noting.
As Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world”. Similarly applied in higher education, ‘be the change influence you want to see in your students’.
Quality Assurance Manager at New Zealand Institute of Education