Acting as both a senior administrator for a small private college and CEO and Founder of Accelerated College Experiences, Inc. (ACE), I have been experiencing this public health crisis from two different but related perspectives.
As the V.P. of Institutional Advancement, my responsibilities include raising public and private funds securing grants, cultivating major gift prospects, and more. We were on track for this to be the best fundraising year – ever. We were reaching out to commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients. Seniors were making plans for commencement. The air on campus was full of excitement.
At ACE, we had expanded our coaching bench and were coaching over 150 students across the country. The organization was preparing to bring on several new coaches in anticipation of a new client. Everything was going according to plan.
And then, in the blink of an eye, the world as we knew it – changed forever.
The COVID-19 Pandemic became a significant local threat. As public health concerns escalated, we knew we would need to close the campus. Leadership grappled with decisions that would affect everyone. Many students were on spring break in other countries; parents were anxious and wanted answers. Becker Faculty were scrambling for best practices to transition their platforms to remote learning while keeping their students on track. Decisions about commencement and fall recruitment had more urgency.
At ACE, most students were also on spring break. They returned to a whirlwind of confusion. Some only had days to pack and return home. Many, especially first-year students, had never taken an online class and were understandably apprehensive. ACE coaches were managing the chaos in their own lives with their children returning home from various colleges while trying to help those they were coaching adjust to the new norm.
For a moment, I was overwhelmed. I have a history of successfully leading through significant challenges. But this was different. The magnitude of this challenge was unprecedented.
Maintaining a growth mindset when you are facing challenges.
That’s when I tapped into the lessons of the growth mindset. The core question is not Can I/we manage this, but How do I/we manage this? I could see the essence of the growth mindset in my colleagues. It fueled our capacity to see this time as an opportunity for real leadership to emerge and for innovation and ingenuity to blossom. Becker College Faculty sought out new technologies to stay connected to their students. Many had never taught an online class and were learning along with the students. In addition to providing virtual tours, the admissions office got creative and developed new and innovative ways to introduce prospective students to the college. The alumni office implemented a wellness phone-a-thon to call all 15,000 alumni to check on them. There were no complaints, just dogged determination to persevere and meet the needs of the students. In the worst of times, I witnessed and continue to witness the best in the human spirit.
At ACE, we polled students to see how they were managing. During our onboarding program, we taught them the growth mindset and how it was the foundation of our four pillars – Self-Direct, Self-Manage, Self-Correct, and Self-Advocate. We asked them how they were using the four pillars to stay on course while navigating the dramatic changes in the learning experience.
Many were dealing with personal challenges and family health concerns and feeling isolated from their campus communities. One of the life lessons from the four pillars is that regardless of the situation they always have options and they are in control of how they respond. Academically, they had a responsibility to stay on top of their assignments and connect with their professors. It was not an easy transition, but they embraced the change and adjusted to the new normal as the need required.
Because self-directing and self-correcting are such an integral part of the coaching experience, most students felt changing a graded course to pass/fail as a coping strategy during the crisis clouded their ability to assess their performance. The letter grade was more important. One student said, “I can’t self-correct if I don’t know what I got wrong.”
A student voted V.P. of the Gospel Choir decided to exercise her leadership skills and host a remote choir practice. It was rewarding to see the students find ways to stay empowered and in control. One of the lessons they learn in ACE’s Power of Choice workshop is they always have a choice, be it inactive, reactive or proactive, the choice is still theirs. And – indecision is a decision, so make sure they can live with the consequences.
A senior who had the option to return home or stay on campus opted to stay on campus so he could remain laser-focused (self-direct). His first two years had been challenging, and now he was positioned to achieve his CUM GPA target and graduate with a 3.0 or higher. Most juniors and seniors are familiar with online classes so transitioning to remote learning was not the challenge. Their challenge was managing family dynamics upon returning home (self-manage) and adhering to a schedule that kept them on track academically while maintaining their GPA goals and not having a traditional commencement ceremony
This coming academic year, especially – will require patience, open-mindedness, and compassion.
Our mindset is one of the most significant factors in learning to cope with uncertainties and shift your focus to creating solutions. As the reality of the short- and long-term changes from the pandemic set in, each of us will experience a varied range of emotions. I am actively absorbing the lessons from this experience. We must remain flexible, open-minded, and treat one another with compassion. I am choosing to look for the blessing and silver lining in such an otherwise devastating experience. Though challenging, I am reminded that we are living through a finite period, along with our nation’s public health and wellness journey. It has the potential to be something I can look back on and see the progress that was made both personally and professionally, in a trying time.
 Dweck, Carol. Mindset The New Psychology of Success. Ballantine Books, 2016.