African American professor and her students using laptop during lecture in the classroom.

MSU’s ambitious vision to expand opportunity and advance equity requires leadership from all areas of the university. Leading from where you are isn’t a new concept. Embracing leadership as part of everyone’s role and responsibilities at MSU needs intentional action and skill development to insure progress on equity. As academic services evolve to support student success, resources for university faculty and staff simultaneously grow and diversify. Learning communities offer opportunities to build skills to meet the moment and make progress on university priorities. “Equitable pedagogy: Removing barriers to learning” facilitated by Valerie Hedges, department of physiology and Casey Henley, neuroscience, is a learning community focused on implementing equitable and humanizing practices into the face-to-face and online classroom. The skills and strategies needed to practice equity pedagogy supports the change the university expects in teaching and in university operations.

Links to leadership and an invitation to join

The vision of equity and inclusion requires leadership from all areas of the university. The “Equitable pedagogy: Removing barriers to learning” discusses leadership and strategies to make change. Interacting in a learning community provides opportunities for discourse, networking and shared experiences that can’t be gained by self-paced learning or reading. Casey Henley offers a personal invitation to join the learning community. “We always love to bring in new people. We try to be a very interdisciplinary group, so we love getting people from all over the university. We think it adds to the experience. We’d love to invite people to join. All anyone needs to do is to email us and we will get them connected to the group,” says Henley. Valerie Hedges concurs.

The characteristics of leadership that fosters change

Effective leadership at the college, unit or administrative level shares the characteristics of listening, reflection, responsiveness, trustworthiness, and being organized. “People who listen are more likely to respond. There are plenty of examples of people that are not responsive and are not effective in making sure that everyone feels part of the team. We need people who are trustworthy–that people feel they can go to with problems and who will work to identify solutions,” says Hedges. “Good leaders usually wear a lot of hats but are organized to make sure they support each area well and don’t leave people behind,” explains Hedges.

Passion, reflection, and commitment drive success

“When someone is passionate, then they inspire others to be passionate about the cause as well. Valerie and I run a learning community on equitable pedagogy because that is a topic that is important to us as instructors at MSU. We are able to put together this learning community and make it successful and move it forward because we are both passionate about the topic,” remarks Henley. Reflection can balance passion. “Leaders need to be able to self-assess and reflect and if things are not going well Leaders should be able to acknowledge difficulties and then make changes. If you are someone who is not willing to ever change your approach, that can really get in the way of being a good leader. A good leader is someone who is willing to put in the extra work,” shares Henley.

Start from where you are

Being curious about how things work at the university and taking an interest in an area that would benefit from change can start people on their journey as a leader. “I think a lot of people, when they think of leadership, they think of formal leadership at the university which could be committees, leading committees, being in an administrative position or management,” says Henley. Leadership doesn’t require a formal role. Henley and Hedges point to recent changes that allow non-tenured faculty to lead committees and participate in work groups. They encourage people to join activities they are passionate about or interested in. “There are opportunities at the college level for a leadership role. For a non-tenure track faculty to break in, you might have to go against the system and challenge it a little. Many at MSU are willing to embrace you. Just because it has been done that way doesn’t mean it can’t be changed if you are passionate and interested,” says Hedges. “It might be intimidating initially, but people are willing to change…you just need to take initiative. I’ve seen it happen multiple times,” says Henley.

Grow your circle and seek out mentors

“Getting involved with groups on campus, getting out there and meeting new people and expanding your circle is important,” says Hedges. “We all have these circles that we run in and that’s why Casey and I really like our learning community because we get to reach out and talk with lots of different people from different departments and different colleges,” continues Hedges. Networking and finding peers and mentors to support you opens the doors to opportunities. “There are a lot of different places people can go to start looking into different opportunities to lead in different places. I would also say having mentors and peers that you can bounce ideas off can inspire you and help you make progress,” says Henley. Hedges credits Henley with taking her under her wing and sharing ideas and opportunities with her. Both agree that OFASD offers great opportunities for academic advancement, research, teaching, and leadership development activities.

Jump in and follow your interests

A combination of passion, curiosity, and a willingness to put in the work yields opportunities to lead and occasions to make change. “Depending on your position type, you might not always have people pushing you into leadership roles and so it’s kind of on you to go out and get them. I think at any point in time you can go out and get involved in what you are interested in, so age or length of time at the university shouldn’t be a barrier to that,” explains Henley.

“Leadership positions don’t always come to us. We have to go get them. That can be true regardless of where you’re at in the university or in your career,” encourages Henley.

To join a learning community, reach out by email to facilitators. If you have interest in proposing a learning community for 2023-2024, please submit the application prior to May 1st.

For more opportunities for engagement, visit the OFASD website calendar of events or groups and cohorts in the programs and opportunities section of the web.