By David DeBrot, LSU
I started off this article with the intent of exploring the placement and relationship of management in education, until I realized that a bunch of people wouldn’t really care to read this.
So, in facing this reality, I realized that while management is often seen as an ‘import’ from the business school side of the shop, effective management whether in a classroom, in a department or at the senior levels is in fact largely evolved from the learning cycle and learning theories in education and psychology disciplines. Specifically, the learning cycle (ie Kolb) and executive functions management.
Executive functions management is a psychological and physiological theory set which seeks to describe how our mind can coordinate actions (mental and physical) such as reflection, managing time, switching our focus, keeping track of details and visualization. I could name you at least 3 business ‘management’ texts which cite on very similar lines the key attributes and skills of effective managers.
To bring the conversation back to education and the role of management in its current and future scope and place in societies, specifically in Higher Ed, I’d like to offer an example of how large-scale, group, and individual executive functions management can play out.
Strategic and academic planning processes take place at most universities and often involve many levels of the organization and a variety of staff functions. The senior team of staff often deliberate together to reflect on what has succeeded and has not, chart a timeline for the process of planning, switch focus between topics when needed, detail their ideas or hunches and visualize what would be best for the university. These same functions are then repeated (at least attempted) with the middle managers and perhaps other staff. The goal of this for both the group and the individuals is to step-through the set of these skills to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and impact of the institution.
All of those skills above are essentially executive functions which are managed for either the group or the individual with an organizational rather than individual outcome. However, the goals of executive functions are always improvement and learning, not political victory, budget warfare or an internal zero-sum-game scenario.
Taking this view of ‘management’ could be a useful thought exercise (along with some reading up on case studies or examples of effective managers in education) for those either seeking a management and leadership role or those trying to come to terms with exactly what the place of management could and should be in a university or other educational institution.
I will spare you my own philosophy of management as it would likely take up another post. If you’re interested, leave a comment below and I’ll consider posting a more robust take on managing in a university.
Suffice it to say that I recently returned from a management course (for managers in education) at a well-known university in the U.S. and much of the literature and case studies we were given came back to what I’ve described above. That is, the ability to get yourself, and others, through a meaningful set of steps which mirror the executive functions management suite and which also aim to resource the staff and the university with focus, direction, learning and steadied and meaningful improvement. The people I met and worked with in that course, and particularly in my small team during the course, also seemed to care a great deal and work hard – two characteristics of effective management which often go overlooked in advice and literature on managing people and resources.
For not only managers, but also anyone in a management and leadership position (this includes you, teachers!) these steps can also make the difference between a rewarding and personally actuating job and a slog through the fog of ‘management’ ill-defined.