Final Program Reflection

     As I sit down to write my final program reflection, I’m not sure where to start.  I’ve been thinking about how to organize my reflection on and off for a few days and haven’t been able to come up with anything – so this blog is a stream of consciousness in the order it came to me.  I have gotten more than I ever expected out of this program not only in terms of knowledge but also skills, personal growth and friendships.  The past two and half years of classes and homework have been completely worth the time and effort.

     We had a dialogue this fall in the organization learning course about reflection on concrete experience.  This got me thinking back two years ago to my ADLT 601 Adult Learner course and the Kolb Learning style inventory.  I scored heavily in the accommodating quadrant, anchored by active experimentation and concrete experience.  Since that time I find myself reflecting more and maybe I did it before but didn’t realize I was doing it.  The blogging and mirroring assignments forced me to reflect on experiences and put those into writing.  I have found this to be beneficial because I find myself consciously reflecting more often then before. 

     I’ve had too many “AHA” moments in this program to even try to quantify.  As far as knowledge goes – I now know the names and terms of things going on around/within me.  Like when I read Nancy Dixon’s theoretical framework of individual learning in The Organizational Learning Cycle.  This chapter describes how adults learn and retain information by building relationships between the different pieces of information like a big web in their minds. 

     Another AHA moment was when I interviewed my dad for my adult development course.  I learned about my dad’s life and the decisions he made and why he made them.  It was a different kind of AHA moment – more of an emotional understanding.  It helped strengthen my relationship with my dad.  I probably would not have come to this understanding had I not interviewed him for that class.

     The program has also given me a better understanding of myself, how I learn, how I interact, and my impact on others.  The skills I have learned, including: facilitation, consulting, filling the helping role, delivering feedback, questioning, listening, and I’m sure there are others – these are invaluable in my growth and professional development.  I have gained the confidence to conduct program planning and execute those plans.  I am very proud to note the program I designed for the program planning course was implemented.  I also now have the confidence to conduct sessions that I have planned – without the use of powerpoint. 

     I have learned how to learn from and appreciate the experience of others.  When I first started the program I was unsure of the value of my contributions to the class due to my limited work experience in such a specialized field.  I have learned at least one thing probably from every single person in each of my classes.  The diversity of experience and background in this program is exceptional.  I enjoyed my instructional strategies class which was composed of half graduate nursing students and half adult learning students.  It was interesting given the difference in background and careers that everyone in the class was an educator in some way. 

     Prior to the adults with disabilities course I had no exposure to this topic.  That course made me aware of the number of people working, learning, coping, and succeeding with a learning disability.  For me, learning about LD removed the stigma and I no longer fear it.  Learning about the resources available and the course topics  in general made me more open minded and I talk about LD with the resident trainees in my program.  It’s not anything anyone should be ashamed of.  Dr. Gerber’s passion for the topic was contagious.  He is a true star and really got me excited about my graduate program.

     All of the professors in the program have been exceptional.  I found Jean Fleming’s feedback in the program planning course to be invaluable when I implemented the program.  Dr. Carter never ceases to amaze me in her dedication to her students and the program, and in sharing all of her knowledge and experience.  And no, I’m not sucking up because she is reading this.  Dr. Muth taught my adult learner course and I learned how to deal with uncertainty and that in graduate school, the professor expects you to interpret the instructions – hey you are smart enough.  I thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Graham’s style for teaching adult development.

     The first course I took in the program was research methods.  I am glad that I got it out of the way early on in the program.  I was not interested in the topic at the time but have since started working on research projects at work and the coursework was beneficial.  I feel I would have had a better experience if I had taken the course from a professor in the SOE rather than a PhD student.

     One of my favorite courses was groups and teams.  The Stone Monkeys broke the trend of bad group experiences I had in undergrad.  The Stone Monkeys was a very diverse group in background but our personalities clicked.  Not only did we get the work done but we had fun doing it.

     Another highlight of the program for me was the Capstone final client meeting.  My group, Alternative Solutions struggled throughout the semester and had trouble obtaining what we thought was data.  Until we had an AHA moment prodded by Dr. Carter that we had data, it didn’t look like what we thought it would but it was data, and that the client was managing us like they managed their problem.  The final meeting with the client to deliver our findings and recommendations exemplified everything we had learned in the program.  We utilized questioning so that the client would recognize what we did and develop possible solutions.  It was an amazing dialogue – our group had “flow” and all with no practice.

     I’ve learned how to use wikis to collaborate – where were these when I was in undergrad writing group papers?  I have also learned how to blog.  I must admit, in the beginning when blogs were introduced into the program I did not find the blog valuable and approached it as an assignment.  I have since learned the value of the blog as a reflective tool and it has helped me to learn to reflect. 

     I have had the opportunity to develop friendships with my classmates and plan to continue spending time with them socially after we graduate.  I did not expect to cultivate friendships but I am thankful that I did.  A support network was formed and it was helpful to always have at least one person to ask “so how is this assignment going for you?  Are you struggling with this?  What do you think?” 

     Two more highlights in the program were teleconferences with Marvin Weisbord and Jane Vella.  I was amazed by the generosity of the authors in taking the time to speak with us.  It added depth and understanding to their written ideas to be able to speak with them in person and hear their perspectives.

     When I began the program I had planned to stay in my current position, but with all of the knowledge/skills I have developed I want to move into a position where I can fully utilize what I have learned.  After much reflection and thought, at this time I have decided to stay in higher education, I would like to find a position in student affairs.  I have had the opportunity to implement programs based on what I’ve learned in this program at work and have seen the benefits and the residents learn, which is truly rewarding. 

     I’ve decided to compete in a sprint triathlon (300m swim, 12 mile bike, 3 mile run) in May 2010 – I will need something to do after work now that I’m done with classes and I’ve made it through this program – I can do anything!  I will never stop learning and building on what I have learned here – and someday I will go back for my EdD.

Cultural Dimensions: Role Relationships

Schein’s discussion of role relationships made me think about relationships at my organization and how this affects culture. 

In my organization there are several subcultures within the department, one being the administrative subculture.  There are seven administrative staff members in my organization, including myself, who ultimately support the leader of the organization.  Recently staff members have commented on how one particular staff member receives perceived special treatment as she is good friend with her supervisor, another member of the administrative staff.  It is felt that their relationship outside of work is affecting their working relationship.  This issue has not been raised with either staff member in question due to feared retaliation.  The supervisor giving the special treatment is also good friends with her supervisor, the #2 person in the chain of command below the leader of the organization. 

All of these outside relationships that impact at work relationships affect the culture of the organization.  In my other posts about the new leader and what I consider to be that person’s ineffectiveness, I realize that some of this comes from all of the people and the various relationships.  In order for a true change in culture to be made there needs to be a change in the higher level staff as well.

Schein proposes questions to ask to analyze relationships between people.  “Are social rewards, such as status and rank, assigned on the basis of (1) what the person is by birth or family membership – what is ascribed to him or her -or (2) what the person has actually accomplished-his or her achievements?” (page 184).  Reflecting back to my organization this frustrates me.  Social rewards are assigned based heavily on who you are friends with.  Granted achievements are recognized but your reward is going to be higher if you achieve AND have a relationship with your supervisor.

I realize that my posts of late have been negative and frustration with my employer.  So on a positive note – my motivation/morale was boosted this week because I FINALLY was re-assigned (read: invited) a parking deck closer to my building – if I wanted to move.  OF COURSE I wanted to move!  I went to the parking office that afternoon for my new decal.  Now I can park ~3 blocks from my building rather than ~10 blocks!  Granted, the cost is $22 more per month but entirely worth it.  This totally boosted my morale this week – some context – when I first started working for my employer I put myself on a waiting list for a lot ~3 blocks from the building.  I was on that list for about 2.5 years before the lot was closed to accommodate construction on a building – at which point I was about #5 on the waiting list.  I gave up at that point and resigned to parking in the far lot.  This summer I called the parking office and tried to get on a waiting list for the deck I was just re-assigned to to no avail. 

This illustrates that monetary rewards are not the only way to boost employee morale/motivation.  A lesson employers may want to consider given these tough economic times.

Reference: Edgar Schein’s “Organizational Culture and Leadership” 3rd edition.

How to upload files – if you want to creat a best works page/upload your portfolio!

I just figured out how to upload files to my best works page – after some trial and error

Here is a step by step on how to upload your files:

1.  Create a new page – on your dashboard page on the left click “pages” and “add”

2.  Make sure your cursor is where you want the link to the file to appear

3.  Above the editing buttons (bold, italics, center, left, etc.) where is says “Add media” click the *

4.  Select the file on your computer you want to post
NOTE – If you don’t want your full name or identifying information about anything you have written about – save a new file and remove these first.  For example, I took off my last name, my organization name, and the client names in my papers.

5.  After the file uploads, the pop up screen will ask for a title, which defaults to the file name – change this to the title you want to appear on the page

6.  Click “File URL” on the pop up screen under “Title”

7.  Click “Insert into Post” on the pop up screen under “File URL”

Be sure to save often!

Thoughts on Culture

Reading and discussing Schein’s chapters on defining and investigating organizational culture got me thinking about the organizational culture at my place of work.  I know I was talking about this in class the other night with our new leadership and the culture changes that the leadership is trying to make. 

Maybe Schein describes this later in the text, but what about how individuals contribute to the culture?  What makes me think of this is because I had an “AHA” moment the other week about my contribution to a problem at work.  After this “AHA” I have been counseling some of our trainees on their contributions to problems – pulling from consulting skills and other courses in this program. 

I know that I contribute to the culture of my workplace.  I am trying to be positive and not engage in office whining/complaining, but lately it has been extremely difficult when those whom you interact with daily/weekly are so negative.  Employees at the various levels in our department are not happy with what the new leadership is doing.  The morale in my department is very low and I am not sure if leadership is aware.  I am sure that certain employees have no idea of their contribution to the culture/moral (aka problem). 

On another note, I am actively seeking alternative employment, mostly because I am nearing graduation and would like a position in which I can use my skills/knowledge I’ve learned both from this program and on the job.  Trying to get a sense of the organization culture of a potential employer will be a little bit easier after reading the chapter 3 in which Schein outlines artifacts, espoused beliefs, and underlying assumptions of two companies he consulted with.  Granted he spent a significant amount of time in these organizations to draw the insights he outlines.  But for me, I now have a heightened awareness of artifacts and espoused beliefs and may be able to get a sense of an organization’s culture during an interview.

Learning Industry?

I listen to NPR on my way in to work in the morning  for my 40 minute commute and this week they did a series on the natural gas industry.  Some of the comments piqued my interest so I looked up the articles on the NPR website for more information.

The natural gas industry is dominated by relatively smaller companies – the big oil companies have not gotten into the industry.  The stories highlighted a new method for drilling natural gas to obtain it from shale formations.  The stories and the articles noted that the natural gas industry manages risk appropriate to each company’s size and shares information.

For example, the one of the articles mentions that some of the smaller companies allow the bigger ones to go into an area and drill – allowing the bigger company to do the “trial and error” before the smaller company commits.  The article does not state specifically if the companies share information with each other or not – but assuming that they did – this got me thinking could the natural gas industry be a learning industry?

Is there a such thing as a learning industry?  My comprehensive wikipedia search did not deliver any results.  What characteristics would a learning industry have?  I think the most important characteristic would be the ability to share information and collectively interpret. 

In some ways the fledgling professional organization that represents people who do what I do is fostering a learning industry for our small segment.  Our annual meetings are 1 day in length and are very interactive (I am on the planning committee and push adult learning principles) and allow us to share what practices work well for us and how we can all use these, or modify, for our home organizations.  We also have an email listserv where people can pose questions or describe something that worked really well.  We are able to generate ideas – but we don’t really have the power to act.  Partly due to the heirarchical nature – we can propose our ideas to those higher up and see if we are heard – but we’re not entirely a learning industry (or what I would consider one).

Mirror Post 2 – Lacking Organizational Learning

I have known that I am not fulfilled in my current position for a few months.  I’ve found that the further I have progressed in this program the more under employed I become and the more disappointed I become with my employer. 

Last night’s class discussion regarding learning organizations and the processes/practices of the organizations highlighted in the case studies from our text have made me realize what my employer does not do.

Within the small context of the program I coordinate I feel that we are trying to implement and embody some practices of learning organizations.  We encourage our members (trainees) to generate and propose new ideas, and give them some authority to act.  The larger context of the organization prevents us from giving the members complete control to make decisions/act on their ideas.  Also within the small context, the program is relatively flat in structure.  There is a director and the members, though in the larger context there are other members of the organizational chart creating more and more layers. 

Within the larger context of the entire organization, it is not a learning organization, even though one of its missions is education.  This disappoints me.  There is  not a collective mission/vision held by all members of the organization and maybe this is unrealistic given the diverse services offered by the various areas/departments and the heirarchical structure of the organization.  It would be interesting to see if one were to ask members of the organization from various areas/departments what the vision of the organization is.  I am willing to bet that everyone would have a different answer.  The organization is fragmented by various areas/departments competeting for limited resources.

So where would I start if I were tasked with transforming the organization into a learning organization?  I don’t think there is one answer for this, but as in one of the cases, I think it ultimately starts with relinquishing control.  I would start with creating a collective vision shared by all members of the organization.  Of course I would use a participative approach – probably a Future Search with members from all areas/departments and all levels of the organization chart.  I think that all members need to have a shared understanding of where the organization wants to go.  Once that is established, new ideas/processes can be generated/integrated to move the organization  toward that goal.


NOTE:  In any comments please do not name my organization.

Mirror Post 1 – Individual Learning

This post is based on the readings and discussion I had in class with Jonathan and Ed this week – I was struck by Chapter 2 and how Nancy Dixon explains how individuals learn.

Nancy Dixon put into words for me how I now realize how I learn/remember – relating new information to what I already know in a series of relationships or networks.  I struggled in undergraduate to memorize facts presented in my science courses – especially biology, anatomy.  I struggled to memorize and regurgitate information on multiple choice tests.  I ultimately changed majors from science to business.  The upper-level business courses required me to integrate information and apply it.  I actually enjoyed my courses rather than dreading studying for tests.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my graduate school experience.  I realize now it is not only because I enjoy the subject matter, but also because how the courses are conducted.  We are expected not to memorize but to integrate information and develop relationships between what we are learning/have learned/know.

This chapter has me questioning how undergraduate courses are conducted.  For me personally, I believe I would have gotten a lot more value out of my undergraduate studies if there was less emphasis on memorization of fact and more emphasis on integration of knowledge/building relationships between the different information presented.

Dixon also states that to learn you also need to verbalize the information.  Some of my early undergraduate coursework consisted of sitting in a lecture hall two sessions per week for an hour or so listening to a professor read slides which basically put the required reading chapters into bullet points.  I realize that for entry level coursework which a lot of students in a variety of majors require, a huge lecture hall is the easiest way for the university to disseminate the most information at a lower cost.  It gets the university the most bang for the buck.  But is this doing justice for students?

Dusting off the blog!

Just dusting off my blog – I am ready to get the semester going and dive in! 

I had a pretty uneventful summer – it was nice not to take any summer classes and chill out.  I read a lot of fiction – I tried the Times 100 Best Novel list but lost interest after the first half of a Dickens novel.  I have a hard time with Dickens because his plots unfold so slowly.  Other than that, I took a trip at the beginning of summer to visit my parents and sister in FL and then the last weekend before class started to my hometown south of Buffalo, NY, for a close friend’s wedding.  I also had the opportunity to visit with my grandparents while I was up north so that was nice.

Reflecting on Change Strategies

I cannot believe that I am writing my reflective blog post already – is it really the end of the semester?  This semester really went fast for me – faster than usual.  I am wondering how I am going to mark the passage of time when I graduate in December – without semester mile markers everything we be a blur!


Writing this post and reflecting on the semester has made me realize that I have not experienced a change effort within my department.  Peripherally I have had to deal with changes – new leadership of the residency programs I manage – but not what I would consider a system-wide change.


Perhaps the “biggest” change that I am about to experience is with a new chairperson.  Although it is a change only in the leadership aspect of the Burke-Litwin model, I think (hope) some other elements will be impacted as well.  I also wonder if the new VCU President will implement anything that will trickle down to me.


I know that this course prepared me to develop/lead a change initiative – if I am ever in the position to do so (not in that position now but maybe someday).  I would ensure that the whole system was involved, which sounds easier than it probably is to execute.  I also would pay close attention to the external environment and its effects on the organization. 


Burke describes planned change as non-linear – you need a plan but you also need to be flexible.  I realize that is something that I do everyday – plan for the best but always be ready to go with the flow.  It can be frustrating at times – I can only imagine the frustration with a change effort that is not going to plan.


I have learned that I have been a change agent in some ways.  This overlaps with the Capstone Seminar – I always ask questions, generally because I am not a physician and do not totally understand why things are done certain ways.  I have consciously been trying to change how people see certain issues after reading the Marquardt books and after my group’s Appreciative Inquiry facilitation.  I think that people ten to get stuck in “that is how we’ve always done it” to ever consider trying something new. 


Burke’s presentation of emotional responses to change to be valuable, it is important to understand where people are coming from and address those behaviors/emotions to ensure a successful change implementation. 


This semester I have also learned valuable change tools – Future Search, Open Space, and Appreciative Inquiry.  I hope to see my department utilize pieces of FS and OS with our new chair.  As I am not in the position to propose these I explained pieces of them to my administrator.  She seemed enthusiastic.  Knowing the culture of my department I am not sure if the whole system would be included in any change effort and thus not to sound cynical, but it probably would not be successful. 


FS, OS, and AI incorporate many elements in the Burke-Litwin model.  Most importantly, all three include the whole system.  The situation would determine which other elements are included, but all include leadership (support of the intervention is key), and depending on the situation evaluate structure, processes, organization culture, climate, etc.


Weisbord’s advice for facilitators “don’t just do something, stand there” is harder than it sounds!  In facilitating the AI intervention, it was difficult not to jump in with one of the groups when they were having trouble finding a topic. 


As I complete each course in the program I realize more and more the value of what I am learning.  It is so much more than Adult Learning.  I value the skills I am learning and that I can bring to my workplace to try and improve it.  Not necessarily to undertake a “big” change.  For example, I am now going to try and approach problems from an AI perspective of “what is working now” rather than trying to revamp the entire process.  Maybe this one small step can change a few meetings or a few people, and they can take that approach and try it with a few other people.  Then maybe once we reach the critical 150 people turning point – it can be ingrained as part of our “this is how we do things here” culture.

Change Analysis

I am finding writing the Burke-Litwin change analysis paper very challenging.  Dr. C. mentioned that this may be because I have not been in an organization long enough to experience a change.  I completely agree.  In my 4 1/2 years at the org. where I currently work, I have not experienced any change other than those I have initiated within our education programs. 

This got me thinking – why is it that I perceive that nothing has changed?  Has anything changed?

Through the lens of our education programs, I have experienced change in leadership in all three programs during my tenure.  One of the directors changed programs – went from one fellowship and three years later took up directorship of the other one (he has expertise in both areas). 

The change in leadership in our core program I think has had the most impact.  That director is willing to try new things, and interested in adult learning.  He has been open to implementing ideas I have brought from what I’ve learned in this program.  His leadership style has had a positive impact on other areas of the program, including individual needs and values, motivation, task requirements and individual skills, climate, culture, performance, and systems.  The external environment continues to change rapidly, and rather than being a reactive program, we are now more proactive. 

It will be interesting to see what a new chairperson brings to our department.  If the change in leadership will impact other areas in a positive or negative way.  I advocate for physician-leaders to have training/education in change strategies.  I think that all physicians should have coursework during medical school in management and finances.  Physicians become managers – for example those who go into private practice and have staff members such as nursing, office staff, etc. to manage. 

In writing my paper I have gained a greater understanding of the Burke-Litwin model and a lot about NASA.  I realize that I should not have waited so long to write the paper – I had plans to finish it while on spring break but Capstone project took precedence during that week.  I just need to focus and finish!