Our weeks are numbered, but not our students

9th June 2006 at 01:00
I am never quite sure if I should be comforted by the fact that, by looking at what is currently on my desk, I could probably tell you quite accurately what week of the academic year it is.

Currently, it is heaving with information on enrolments and budgets for next year, and the associated delights of the financial forecasting return for the college board and the funding council - that'll be week 43 then.

On a Thursday morning at the college management team meeting, we use a weekly planning calendar to make sure that we have covered everything for the current week. Sometimes we even look a week ahead. While each year has a similar cycle, focusing on what has to be done in week 43 can delude you into thinking that, while spinning round, you are keeping on top of everything. That said, you can be in imminent danger of spinning but not moving. Life, as they say, can flutter by.

While each year has a similar hue, I get some consolation from the fact that for our students it is a unique experience and one that they will remember for the rest of their lives. Graduations and prize-givings follow a strict routine from our perspective, but for our students and their families they are a one-off celebration.

The challenge then is to keep spinning but to make sure that you move forward. It is the strategic matters that will make a real difference to our future students. Operational issues should ensure that the current learners are happy with our products.

The development of a completely new college campus is the most obvious strategic development that will enhance not only the learning of our students, but also the employment conditions of all of our staff. Moving from three previously redundant school buildings, lost in the backwater of housing developments, to a state-of-the-art campus located next to a busy main dual carriageway in one of Scotland's booming new towns will certainly raise the profile of South Lanarkshire College.

Having seen at first hand what such a change did for the profile of James Watt College, I can't wait to say: "South Lanarkshire College - that's the fantastic new college in East Kilbride!"

While we have the move to look forward to, we still have a duty to our current students to deliver the best possible service and not to hide behind an excuse that everything will be improved in our new Nirvana.

Nevertheless, I remain convinced that the quality of learning will be fundamentally enhanced by our new building. What we must not do is simply relocate. Things must, and will, be done in a different way.

The strategic planning document which is about to move on to my desk then takes on a more significant importance. Not only does it provide signposts for where we are going, but it allows the opportunity to lift our heads from the current matters that all need to be dealt with. We must also take the time to look up and think about where we are going while we spin around.

I wonder what proportion of our day is spent thinking about our future direction. My guess is that it is not nearly enough. The scourge of good management is not that there are too many emails, too many meetings and too much to do, but a lack of vision for the future. If we don't look up from our desks, there is no way to see the direction that we need to take.

Instead of being trapped in week 43, we need to continue to look ahead.

A neat trick is to produce a strategic plan in the format of a college calendar that sits on our desks. Hopefully while staff look for today's date, they will also glance at the elements of the plan which will make their future, and the future of prospective students, that much brighter.

I have always wondered what the spin classes offered at my local gym entailed and, having been somewhat involved in the past in political spin (you're only winning when you're spinning), I think I'll try to find more time to look well beyond week 43.

Stewart McKillop is principal of South Lanarkshire College.

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