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Each of us are born with natural talents. When we practice them, remarkable things can happen, and we can truly inspire others. It is our deliberate focus on practice and knowing how to improve that makes us better. We can make Extension better when we invest in ourselves (through practice) and in others by helping them know how to improve with constructive, helpful feedback and coaching.
One of the many things I love about Extension is that we have countless opportunities to practice and help others get better, from convening and facilitating to more formal instruction (expect more posts on the various ways we engage in the future). When presented with opportunities that can be evaluated via a structured approach, we can use the Evaluation of Effective Extension Teaching (EEET) tool. And when we have a peer (or peers) available, we can invite them to provide constructive, helpful feedback and coaching through the formal Peer Evaluation of Teaching letter format.
The EEET system is coordinated by the Extension Learning and Organizational Development (LOD) team led by Teresa McCoy. A variety of forms are available for download and provisions have been made to enable evaluation of your online teaching events too. I encourage you to try this formal approach to feedback on your virtual/online Extension teaching if you have not already. Simply request this through LOD several days in advance of your event and provide (if possible, but not required) names and email addresses of your program participants. You can learn more here. I am excited about the improvements to the EEET system currently being discussed and hope to report more on that in the coming months.
OSU’s Office of Academic Affairs (OAA) requires peer evaluation of teaching. Each unit describes their process for peer evaluation of teaching in their OAA-approved APT document. One thing I’ve learned in studying this over the past year is that we have a variety of references to our formal Peer Evaluation of Teaching approach – and as you might imagine, these references are not all consistent! For example, are one or two letters required annually? Should peers be of higher rank or is the same rank okay? Can my supervisor serve as my peer reviewer or not?
How we approach our responsibility to get better is up to us. Similarly, our approach to evaluating each other (i.e. peer evaluation of teaching) is up to us. The peer evaluation approach we decide upon will be described in our APT document and shared systemwide. Leading this effort is high on my to-do list. If you have thoughts or suggestions to make this work better, please let me know.
Remember, our goal is to get better.
This past week I had the opportunity to hear the wisdom of Kirk Bloir, our 4-H Youth Development state program leader, talking with 4-H professionals and members of the Extension Leadership Team. I appreciate his ‘big picture’ mindset and ability to connect so many seemingly disparate pieces in ways that help make sense, especially in these tumultuous times. Like so many others in our organization, he has a special ability to feel where others are and meet them where they are.
He shared a variety of things in the context of our positive youth development efforts, and I found them so relevant and applicable to all Extension work. His underlying foundation is a belief in people and a never-ending optimism for the future; the same mindset that draws me and you to be Extension professionals. Because we are all about acronyms (you know, acronymnal appreciation is a prerequisite for Extension survival) he shared a new way to think of COVID: Creating Opportunities for Virtual Innovation and Determination.
The way we have collectively taken advantage of the opportunities to engage virtually speaks to our creativity and innovation. Let’s not slow down here. The tools, systems, and platforms to take us to the next level will eventually catch up (just imagine where we’d be if Thomas Edison had sat idle in his lab for power lines to be installed all across America). Not knowing what lies ahead, now more than ever we need to focus our determination on what we bring to people and communities.
Now more than ever we need to talk with each other and our Extension supporters about these things:
- Who are we?
- What do we do?
- What makes us special?
- Who are our partners?
These conversations are about you, your teams, your offices, your program areas, and about Extension. And in COVID we are afforded the opportunity to re-invent how we engage with others. All of us.
In the words of Kirk Bloir, “we have been responsible, nimble, and innovative… we need to remain optimistic…and continue to adapt”. Pick up the phone and talk to an Extension colleague you don’t talk to often. See how they are doing. Do the same with one of your program stakeholders. Talk about the future we can help create.
Our work is people work. We do it in partnership and collaboration with others. There is no doubt that our professional relationships have been in some way impacted since March. Have you stopped to think about all the different colleagues you haven’t seen face to face? I miss the routine of getting up and going to the office. I miss seeing the people I know and others who are part of the institution, each connected in their own way.
Yes, we have more time (who else has struggled with knowing the date and day of the week?) How are we spending it? Specifically, what steps have you taken to cultivate and nurture communication lines internally and externally? What happens if we neglect the need to maintain these lines? Our team strength and ability to succeed depends on the strength of our relationships with program partners, teammates, and co-workers throughout the organizational, reporting, and supervisory structures.
I think it was a few weeks ago that we talked about how we’ve adjusted the way we work in the Age of COVID. As we continue to adapt our approach to Extension work, have you made time to think about what you are doing differently and how you have continued to grow as an Extension professional? How have the changes we have and continue to face impacting what you are trying to achieve?
Working now in the Age of COVID, how have you re-examined your role, your professional goals and the progress you have made and communicated these things to the people that matter most to your success? How have you revised your plan of work for 2020? How have the past several months informed what you might do in 2021? How often have you involved colleagues and supervisors in such conversations? We have been growing for over 100 years. What do you have planned?