Teaching Portfolio

Philosophies: Teaching, Administration, and Multiculturalism | Sample Course Syllabi

Administration Philosophy

My experience in administrative positions and reading of the professional literature on writing program administration, leadership, and education provide me with strong basis upon which to build an administrative philosophy. But since learning is a life-long process, this position statement is best described as a work in progress. With this qualifier in mind, I offer the following personal and professional abilities good writing program administrators should possess.

Field Independence
In linguistics, field independence refers to the ability to think holistically. A program administrator’s first responsibility is to develop strategic goals for the program that are consistent with the missions of the university and the department within which the program resides. Working closely with the faculty, staff, and students, an effective WPA must develop a course of action on how the department can best fulfill its mission, vision, goals, and objectives.

To do this well, the administrator must have big ears and a smooth tongue, meaning he or she must be a good listener and effective communicator in order to solicit ideas and opinions from all, and communicate this collective wisdom in a clear and persuasive manner to others across campus and in the community. This builds the program’s social capital while also facilitating acceptance and respect for the program across constituencies.

An effective educational leader must also have strong interpersonal communication skills to develop effective working relationships with all institutional stakeholders. For the WPA, this is often exhibited by facilitating group work effectively, establishing an equitable division of labor, resolving conflict with civility, managing change, and exhibiting political intelligence by recognizing power structures as well as the times to lead and times to follow. Martin Mueller’s (1989) call for more interdisciplinary discussions in English studies, which I quote in my article, “English Studies and Generation 1.5: Writing Program Administration at the Crossroads,” seems appropriate here too. He states, “Interdisciplinary work is most difficult but also most productive when it involves the collision of strongly articulated disciplinary ethnicities. Work of this kind is quite rare, because it requires a hands-on experience of, and deep respect for, the otherness of the other” (p. 8). My professional ethos is deeply rooted in interdisciplinary work, and judging from feedback I have received from colleagues, I believe my ability to develop and manage relationships among groups and people from diverse backgrounds is one of my strongest assets.

Educational leaders are highly organized people able to not only keep several balls in the air at the same time (i.e. effectively address immediate needs), but also plan and coordinate future projects. While this is sometimes referred to this as being reactive and proactive, I believe reflex and foresight both utilize the same set of creative problem-solving skills. The WPA must be able to not only adapt to, but also plan for, situations of continual change.

As both an amateur juggler and educator who favors project-based learning, I often initiate group projects in my classes by having students toss bean bags to one another in a circle. Most can comfortably handle one bag (i.e. task) per person. But then I lob another bag in the circle to see how they adapt to the unexpected turn of events. In doing so, I point out that successful project management includes planning for the unexpected.

Program administrators must understand the value of, and be willing to lobby for, the best interests of the program and people they represent. Much of the professional literature on this subject assumes an almost adversarial work environment in which the WPA takes a brass-knuckle approach to negotiating with senior administrators and trustees for scarce resources. While I have no doubt that such situations can and do arise occasionally (and therefore believe the WPA must be a tenured faculty member), I also believe that more than brass-knuckles, the effective WPA needs strong sense of ethics coupled with superior critical thinking skills in order to effectively balance competing demands, show concern for others’ views, and demonstrate a personal commitment to do the right thing.

Engaged Scholarship
Drawing on Ernest Boyer’s notion of scholarship, I see scholarly inquiry as an essential part of good teaching, research, and administration. However, this does not mean that program administration should be allowed to substitute for traditional forms of research and publication in promotion and tenure decisions. Rather, it means that to be an effective administrator, one must engage in scholarly research by participating in professional and public problem-solving.

In my teaching philosophy statement, I argue that “Effective teaching is student-centered – focusing on individual needs, interests, and talents, then spiraling outward to encompass the interactions of language, school, society, and culture.” Similarly, as a writing program administrator, I believe student writing should be at the center of every writing program. But since writing is a complex social act that occurs in multiple settings and communities, the WPA should encourage and conduct research and writing on campus and in the community. Doing so not only helps to fulfill the civic mission of the university, but it also situates student writing and the writing program itself in an ever-widening social milieu and sphere of influence.

Philosophies: Teaching, Administration, and Multiculturalism | Sample Course Syllabi