Welcome to 2021!

While many of us seemed ready to say good-bye to 2020, this new year has had a somewhat variable start. We have continued to see protests and riots around the world and pandemic lockdown measures (Ontario, where I live, declared another state of emergency until mid-Feb). It’s hard not to feel anxious, drained, and angry. And yet, there are also signs of positive change: a momentous inauguration in the United States with Kamala Harris being sworn in as Vice President, the start of promising vaccination campaigns, and increasing daylight hours in North America (this last one always boosts my energy). 

How to respond? I choose hope and optimism. I have done my best to approach every day of my tenure as POD Network President with a positive outlook, along with an unwavering commitment to our organization. I stepped into this role in March 2020—the early days of the pandemic shutdowns—and made it my goal to keep our organization as healthy as possible. In this email, I’m going to share a short retrospective about some ways we have worked on this goal and what I’m committed to having our organization achieve by the time my term as president wraps up this June.

I began my term by being keenly aware of our need to stay relevant to and supportive of our members at a time when anxiety was high and institutional budgets were being scaled back. I also knew that we had to keep pushing forward with our commitments to identify and address discrimination, inequities, and systemic barriers in our organization that directly affect underrepresented and marginalized groups and involve all members. 

I looked to our strategic plan for guidance and direction. It’s inspiring and ambitious (I encourage you to give it a read if you haven’t yet), but with the pandemic’s impact on all our workloads, we simply had to pare back our activity. We have two cross-cutting priorities: diversity and inclusion, and evidence-based practice. These priorities form a foundation for our 3 strategic action areas: 1) elevate educational development, 2) enhance member benefits, and 3) build organizational capacity. During the pandemic, our work at our institutions has been significantly contributing to the first strategic action. As a result, I felt that we needed to prioritize enhancing member benefits and building organizational capacity to protect our organization’s health. We needed to focus inwards.  

Member benefits have been enhanced largely through our many professional development (PD) offerings, especially our virtual annual conference and the PD made available throughout the year, such as PODLive!, PODConnects!, POD Scholarly Reads, website resources, the discussion group, and the post-conference interactive workshops. Having committees and special interest groups for members to engage with has also been a help. It has been so heartening to see all the ways our colleagues have reached out to support one another. This past year, educational developers have faced a rapid learning curve unlike anything I’ve seen in my career, and the POD Network has been here to help. 

Organizational capacity work is often less visible, but this is where I’ve put much of my energy the past few months. I’m a “systems” person: I like developing plans and processes to identify the resources needed to help sustain the organization’s work, to promote transparency, and to uncover gaps and barriers to address. When doing organizational capacity work this past year, I put out an open call to solicit new members to repopulate a number of our committees and encouraged more frequent committee meetings. I also helped to broker the dissolution of a tiny Grants Committee into two, larger and robust existing committees: research grants to Scholarship and start-up grants to Membership. I have worked with our communications team (Hoag, Keeghan, Ken, and Gaye) to push for an automated membership renewal reminder system and develop a plan for our organizational communications. And I have set up a project management process to help our Core Committee members track progress on the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives we prioritized at our Spring 2020 meeting, which helps us to share updates with you on these initiatives and others being done by committees and SIGs. 

These kinds of system-focused actions may seem procedural, but to me they are all critically important in helping to ensure our organization’s ongoing health. We are nearly 100% volunteer-run and have rotating leadership: we need a strong foundation in order to advance the work of our strategic plan, and so the organizational capacity work continues. 

This systems focus is also critically important to apply to our ongoing DEI work, where we recognize that to continue to advance our DEI goals we will need to undo, revise, and update our systems. This year, we will be working on important system-level reviews in addition to various other initiatives. By June, we will have: 

  • Completed an extensive review of our Governance Manual for consistency, transparency, and equity-mindedness.
  • Developed a regularized DEI PD plan for our Core Committee members and completed training on multicultural organizational development.
  • Secured a consultant to facilitate a broader organizational assessment to help us make progress on our goal of building awareness, capacity, and infrastructure to become an equity-minded organization.
  • Implemented DEI training for all conference proposal reviewers.

At the Spring Core meeting in June, I will transition to the role of Past President where I will support and contribute to the Executive Committee’s work, along with incoming President-Elect Carol Hurney, under the leadership of our incoming President, Francine Glazer. What our organization will most need during Fran’s turn in the presidential role remains to be seen. I trust, though, that we have been moving in the right direction. And I hope that our members will continue to provide input and insights—through both formal and informal channels—to keep the POD Network a relevant, thriving, and hope-filled organization. Please reach out to me with any ideas or feedback. 

Best wishes all,

Donna

Dr. Donna Ellis
POD Network President
Director, Centre for Teaching Excellence
University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON Canada
donnae@uwaterloo.ca