Although they may have started their careers as professors, community college presidents and deans don’t always continue to teach when they become administrators. But when leaders spend time teaching — either in the classroom or online — both the institution and the individual benefit.
Four years ago, during Eleanor Welsh’s interview to become dean of liberal arts and sciences at Chesapeake College, in Maryland, she asked whether she’d still be able to teach. An English professor for 16 years before becoming dean, Welsh wasn’t ready to give up teaching.
Since her promotion, Welsh has continued to teach two classes almost every semester, including classes in the summer. She is particularly fond of the interdisciplinary course that requires students to think critically and work in groups to “take a controversial issue and poke at it from different angles.”
Teaching as priority for presidents and deans
“It’s important because I really love teaching. The first bullet in our strategic plan is to transform the learning experience; that means innovative teaching is critical to our mission. If I don’t teach, I can’t be part of that,” Welsh says.
In fact, administrators who teach are fairly common at Chesapeake College. From the vice president of technology and the vice president of student success to the college president, “we have a pretty high percentage of administrators who teach. It’s part of the culture here,” says Welsh. “It says how much we value teaching; that, in our hearts, we’re educators not managers.”
Teaching keeps Welsh and her colleagues connected with students. “Being in the classroom keeps me in touch with what they’re thinking, how they’re behaving, what social media they use, what their cultural references are,” she says.
At the same time, Welsh says teaching helps her better relate to the faculty. “I want to have firsthand experience so I’m not just telling them [what to do],” she says, adding that she’ll even teach an early-morning class.
How does Welsh fit teaching into an already busy schedule? She teaches primarily online and on weekends so she’s available as dean during the week. The flexibility allows her to execute both jobs without issue.
Improving campus culture
Welsh believes that having administrators who teach improves the campus culture; for example, students know her by name and feel comfortable talking to her because she’s familiar to them in other roles. “It kicks me out of the administrative silo, because I’m in the trenches as well,” she says. “My hope is that my faculty feels I’d advocate for them as well because I’m also teaching.”
Teaching also gives leaders better insight into what’s working educationally. “It sure helps you put perspective on how an individual course fits into the larger program,” she says.
As she interviews prospective faculty members, Welsh regularly points out that most administrators teach at least one class at Chesapeake College, a fact that’s received favorably. “Sometimes it’s a shame that we get good people out of the classroom. But they can do more and have a bigger influence if they take the next step up,” she says.
Still, to Welsh, it just makes sense that leaders in higher education have a love for teaching. “If you are moving to administration in order to get out of the classroom, then I think there is something wrong.”
Are you teaching a course at your college? Tell us about it in the comments.