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Monday, January 30, 2012

Bridging the Gap

Like mentioned in the previous blog, establishing and maintaining community within a writing center can be difficult regardless of size. But depending on how these centers are structured and how they function, meaningful relationships can be created and long-lived. Possibly the most important reason for these interactions is to serve as resources for consultants. I’ve learned a lot in the past year and a half, and everything I have learned is because of the way the Texas A&M writing center operates. In February of last year, a colleague and I presented “Be a Tool: How to Utilize Your Coworkers As a Valuable Resource” at the SCWCA conference in Houston. The main focus was to discuss several mechanisms that help create collaboration and interaction among coworkers, which in turn facilitates increased knowledge and productivity.  In a way, this is an extension of some of the procedures we touched on at the conference. The conference went well and evoked the type of exchange we hoped it would. Smaller centers were given the opportunity to learn about some of the resources we have here at A&M that are perfect for bridging the gaps, and we learned some unique methods as well.

One of the best programs we have at Texas A&M is Spring Training, which typically focuses on team building. Activities in training are geared toward helping consultants practice concepts of collaboration like communication, team work, and leadership.  At the same time, it is a great way for us to ease back into the semester after the holidays while still managing to have fun and let loose. Consultants and staff are encouraged to intermingle with coworkers they may not have interacted with on a regular basis. At times, our activities are quirky and may seem pointless, but there always seems to be an underlying theme and several additional benefits. Last January, I had the privilege to see 40+ of my colleagues Dougie! (a dance usually reserved for inner-city hip-hop dance teams).  Can you imagine your writing center director, a PHD, doing the Dougie?! It’s these types of activities that make Spring Training one of my favorite things at the UWC. But it’s not all fun and games.  Spring Training made me more comfortable with my superiors; it was even the first time I sat down with my director and had a one-on-one conversation. Training remains one of the most effective tools of initiating community interaction.

Another useful element of the structure at the UWC is training classes. Each semester, for the first three semesters, consultants are enrolled in a set of classes that help enhance their tutoring skills. These classes usually consist of hiring pools, so the same group of students experiences all three classes together. This allows consultants to interact, discuss, and collaborate—all for the purpose of improving tutoring strategies and learning new approaches. Our particular classes are led by directors in the writing center, so the classes are also ideal for making consultants more comfortable with administrators. The main obstacle faced with having such classes is having people that can lead them.

One of the most important work settings at our center are team meetings. Teams are made up of anywhere between 4 and 6 consultants as well as what is known as a “team leader.” The teams are created by grouping tutors and staff members who share similar work schedules.  These meetings facilitate open discussion and collaboration on tutoring experiences and scenarios; each meeting has a central theme or focus. Team meetings are also somewhat of a safe zone for individuals to express their concerns more openly. Because there are fewer number of people, more engagement is possible than at a staff meeting and each person is able to thoroughly express his or her opinions and/or ideas. Because these teams last about a year, a new opportunity arises each new year to create more purposeful relationships.

Of course, depending on the structure and function of each writing center, some of these programs are not realistic. Resources like space, time, and money must be sufficient in order for some mechanisms to operate effectively and efficiently. Also, at A&M we are fortunate to have directors who can focus their time solely on the operation of the center, whereas some centers are directed by professors with divided responsibilities. But regardless of limitations, these resources are extremely valuable and even if they have to be modified, they can help increase productivity and increase a sense of community.

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