All posts by Tiffany Hernandez

The Chair: A Lesson in Grace (and Gravity)

My journey to higher education was circuitous.  Prior to my first job as full-time faculty, I embarked on two entirely different career paths informed by two separate graduate school experiences and punctuated with nine moves across three countries, and four children thrown in for good measure.  In other words, it’s a long story.  A quicker story (you’re welcome) centers on the TV show that best represents my journey in higher education: The Chair. This Netflix series starring the magnificent Sandra Oh chronicles the first year of a newly elected English department chair at a small liberal arts college. 

Anyone who’s served as an academic department chair will recognize the story arc: The department’s first female chair begins the semester with big ideas, brimming with optimism for her department, students, and colleagues, and then literally and figuratively falls out of her chair.  Crises emerge immediately: Budget cuts with an expectation by administration to reduce faculty; Lack of opportunities for diverse faculty; Managing the fallout from an accidental but inappropriate classroom moment by a revered faculty member.  And did I mention the student evaluations that no one seems interested in reading?  And the ongoing struggle over faculty offices?  The Chair works through all of these challenges with humor but doesn’t shy away from the very real and often seemingly conflicting concerns of faculty, students, and college administration. 

When I became a department chair, I worked optimistically but also quickly realized that some days would feel conflicted as I navigated challenges with faculty colleagues who I admired and wanted to support, students who deserved a consistent learning environment in which they could thrive, and our administration who were trying to manage competing resources with transparency.  Sometimes we succeeded. Sometimes we fell short.  But thankfully, throughout my time as department chair, the most constant thread was grace.  Grace extended to frustrated colleagues.  Grace shared with confused or worried students.  And grace offered to me by all. 

Now I have a different role but I haven’t forgotten the healing feeling that accompanies extending and receiving grace.  I hope grace will be the thread that runs through our time here at GCC as well. 

And if you see me fall out of my chair, don’t worry.  I’ll be fine.  But also … help!

 

Learning something new as a mindset: GCC’s Culture of Inquiry

I am currently taking a course through MiraCosta College entitled “Fundamentals of Futures Thinking.”  One of the learning outcomes is to be able to articulate why futures thinking is important for my institution.  As I mentioned in my remarks during our Spring convocation, I’m deeply interested in the answer to the question, “what if technology breaks humanity’s way?”  What could we be, as a community and an institution, if we intentionally design our future so that every student will succeed?  Wouldn’t this also have a deeply positive impact on faculty and staff, if we were all empowered with the professional development and resources that we need to thrive?

“Futures thinking” necessitates a mindset of curiosity and innovation with a thread of empathy running throughout.  Creating this collective mindset, a culture of inquiry, will require us to build and then nurture an environment in which we routinely ask “what if?” and “what truly matters?” in communities of exploration and practice.    

What tools should we have in our professional development toolbox at GCC to facilitate this culture shift?  I mentioned two at our College Conversations session this week: Interest Based Problem Solving (also called Interest Based Negotiation) and Human-Centered Design.  Many of us have already engaged with IBPS as a foundational principle in our shared governance practice.  Recently, the Administration Collaboration Team (ACT) learned about Human-Centered Design and I’m hoping we can start offering this opportunity college-wide in the coming months. 

What other tools do we need to build GCC’s culture of inquiry?  Which communities of practice can we create?  I’m asking not rhetorically, but intentionally, to collect ideas and identify champions in this work. 

Drop me a note at tiffany.hernandez@gccaz.edu or stop by my office (A-102) or catch me as we walk across campus or after a meeting sometime soon.  I’m ready to start this conversation.  Who’s with me?

 

Ode to the Yellow Legal Pad

My workspace in higher education has changed many, many times over the past 15 years. Just during my time as faculty, I moved offices seven times in eight years, if memory serves. I’m a fan of change, so each move presented an opportunity to learn about a new location on campus, meet new colleagues, connect with students in a different space, or get a new plant (spoiler alert: they all died… my condolences, plant world).  

One constant throughout all of this change, manifesting my love of putting pen to actual paper, is the Yellow Legal Pad. A note-taker’s dream come true! It’s a beautiful canvas, page upon page, awaiting all manner of thoughts, ideas, and big plans. Outlines, books to read, research topics to explore, quotes that resonated. Not to mention doodles (not every meeting can be riveting), grocery lists, and an occasional note to myself not to forget that thing I keep forgetting. I can work just about anywhere as long as I have my trusted YLP and pen by my side.  

The Yellow Legal Pad accompanied me through law school (I know, so predictable), my Ph.D. program, eight years of full-time teaching, and now many years of administration…ing. It’s my essential learning, thinking, and writing tool. I mourn for all of the never-to-be loved-by-Gen-Z Yellow Legal Pads. Maybe I’ll start a Gretchen Wieners-esque “make YLP happen!” movement.

In my current office, I have many new-to-me things, all lovely and deeply appreciated. I have a handful of ink pens at the ready. But none are more precious to me than the stacks of Yellow Legal Pads, both new and those already filled with notes to be revisited and reflected upon. 

I invite you to join me in admiration of the YLP. We can meet for coffee or lunch and share our joy in opening up a new pack, tearing off a sheet to roll into a ball and throw at the nearest trash can, or simply stacking them neatly as a reminder of the work accomplished and exciting work ahead. Here’s to you, YLP! And with that, I’m off to do that thing I would have forgotten but for you.