Horse Sense for People-"Don't Fence Me In." 2002

February
2002
Renee Reyes Tuller, Chair, Consultation Task Force on Counseling

I have been in love with horses ever since I began riding as a young girl in my small hometown of Reedley, California. I am also a great fan of Monty Roberts, the Horse Whisperer. Roberts' extraordinary work pioneered an entirely new approach to horse training, and if other trainers could be said to be working within the "fences pastures" of older methods, Roberts' thinking definitely sought out the "open range." Key to his transformative method is the skill of listening and communicating according to the individual needs of each horse. Roberts' new book, Horse Sense for People, reveals this and other principles that he developed for communication with and understanding of horses, which could effectively be applied to students needing mentoring and guidance, and more broadly to creating effective educational environments.

The value of applying these principles in the educational arena seems obvious as we encounter more and more demands to justify what we do in terms of quantifiable outcomes. In the face of pressures to consider students as widgets, our thinking is going to have to seek the "open range" if we are to inform them, mentor them, and free them to find that special educational path they each deserve.

The demands for quantity over quality will likely increase unless counselors insist on bringing our knowledge to the conversation. The year 2002 should be the time for counseling faculty raise awareness regarding the creative approaches needed for our students. Through discussions, both at local campuses and statewide, we can contribute to policy perspectives and underscore the creative and vital role we play in student's success. Monty Roberts offers some ideas with regard to creative mentoring, and his perspectives seem quite apt where policy changes in our education system are being considered. Here are a few of his observations that we need to keep in mind.

"MANY PEOPLE WATCH, BUT FEW SEE."

Given the nature of our one-on-one access to students we have the opportunity as counseling faculty to share our knowledge of the many obstacles and issues our students face. Within our counseling processes and procedures we have opportunities not afforded classroom faculty who deal with students en masse. Counselors come to possess a more holistic picture of the long-term needs of students, as well as each individual student, beyond the classroom. We "see" students and help them in spite of the obstacles with which we contend within our limited resources. As a rule, and not the exception, students attending community colleges must overcome unbelievable odds. Yet, with our help and despite those odds, many persevere semester after semester and achieve their educational goals. Through all of this we try our best to "see" ways in which to help them persevere. In fact, we counselors "see" what many other folks do not. We know how to relate to each student's individual needs and how to avoid "fencing" students into one-size-fits-all solutions.

Quantifiable, "fenced in" outcomes do not accurately measure the quality of the work we do and never will. In this regards, I encourage all of you to be aware of the proposed new accreditation standards. The proposed new standards in Draft A primarily focus on outcomes and pay little attention to the counseling component, suggesting only that all student services be evaluated in terms of quantifiable student learning outcomes. The framers of these standards "watch" but do not "see." The context of the draft seems blind to the needs of our students with regard to the very essence of the one-to-one "seeing" that counselors provide. For example, neither the word "counseling" nor "counselor" appears in this new draft, although the term `advisor"-with its connotation of less-than-professional training-does. This should trigger a red flag to the counseling faculty of the California community colleges. It shows a lack of understanding and acknowledgement of our unique roles and our services to students. Get involved. Learn more from your academic senate of this issue. Let's remove the blinders. (Links to the Academic Senate's commentary on Draft A are found on the Senate Website: http://www.academicsenate.cc.ca.us)

"MAKE IT EASY FOR HIM TO DO RIGHT AND DIFFICULT FOR HIM TO DO WRONG."

When it comes to the complex game of increasing transfer and graduation rates, who knows better than counseling faculty, what works and what does not for our students? A collaborative CSU-CCC steering committee is now in the process of developing a draft for a statewide CCC/CSU (4CSU) program, which will address the goal of assisting and supporting community college students to transfer to and graduate from CSU. I strongly encourage you to read the draft, which was placed on the Counseling List Serve January 2002. If you are not on the Counseling List Serve, please Email Lindy Williams in the Chancellor's Office at lwwiliam [at] cccco.edu and request to be included. If you need more specific information on this draft, you can also Email me at renee.tuller [at] gcccd.net. I will send you the draft in progress. Your input is highly appreciated and valued. This is where your professional expertise is essential for our steering committee to represent your ideas and concerns. Together, we can make it easier for our students to succeed, more difficult for them to fail.

"EXPERIENCE EITHER DRAW US IN OR PUSH US AWAY. THEY EITHER CREATE RESISTANCE, WHICH RESULTS IN FIGHTING OR FLEEING, OR THEY CREATE COMMITMENT AND COLLABOLATION."

Partnership for Excellence was not the first time in our history that we have been asked to increase transfer and success rates. However, now the spotlight is shining brightly on these politically expedient focal points. We keep hearing from our leaders that they really want to increase transfer rates. We keep hearing the "talk." But, in the absence of a commitment of resources, we have grown to distrust it. Counselors in the trenches and on the front lines all over the state know that talk is cheap, whereas a quality education is not. What are some of the experiences that have weighed against crating an atmosphere of commitment and collaboration in the areas of improving transfer and student success rates? For one, the divisive discussions of the 50% law have been particularly painful to counselors. Because our salaries fall on the "wrong" side of the ledger, we are challenged to "prove our worth" each time we seek replacements or new counseling positions. Then there is the failure to provide adequate funding for ASSIST. ASSIST is our backbone tool, yet it is now $400,000+ short of the resources needed to be fully operational. And now there is the Governor's January budget: CalWORKS cut $58 million, $26.8 million cut from Matriculation, $5.2 million cut from Faculty and Staff Development, $10 million cut from the Fund for Student Success, $19.8 million cut from Telecommunications and Technology Infrastructure, and $1 million cut from the Nursing Program Expansion. What kind of message would you say that sends to community college faculty and to our students? Community colleges have long suffered under discriminatory funding, with full funding of programs long overdue and students short-changes, and how the cuts are hitting the bone. So, as nice as it may be to hear how important transfer and success are from our leaders, it would be much nicer if the resources were there to back up their "talk." Resources go where the priorities are, and the message is that our students, our faculty and what we do are a low priority in California. This hardly sets the stage for commitment, collaboration and creative approaches to student success.

"TRUST IS IMPORTANT IN SETTING UPTHE IDEAL ENVIRONMENT FOR LEARNING."

I propose that what seems obvious, whether for Monty's training methods or our students' success, as to the necessity for creating an optimal educational environment, should also be obvious to our leaders. However, they refuse to "see" and seem blind to the obvious when budgets are slashed and priorities are misplaces. I look forward to a day when trust in our administrators and legislators is merited based on their recognition of what education truly needs, when faculty are truly respected and valued for the incredible work we do for the remarkable students we serve.

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