Accountability and Support Partners | Inside Higher Ed

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One of the distinct advantages of being an extremely social person is that I am able to tap my networks to help motivate me to set bigger goals and to stay on task with meeting those goals. Anne Marie Slaughter had a great piece in yesterday’s New York Times about how successful resolutions and goal setting require that we change our behavior for the long haul. She admits that this is hard work and illustrates it with the example of trying to lose weight and the life changes that come with something as seemingly innocuous as altering your eating behavior. It requires much more than just adding fruits and vegetables to your diet. (She goes on to make a nice argument recommending ways to repair the social contract, which I highly recommend reading.) What she doesn’t mention and what is key for me and many others in setting and meeting our goals is having an accountability and support measure (or two) in place.

I am grateful for my accountability partners. I have a couple of amazing women coaches who help me meet the goals I have set for myself. (Gratitude shout-outs to Kate D. and Rebecca P-R.) I am also a member of Katie Linder’s Prolific community through Mighty Networks. This provides weekly and monthly check-ins via Zoom and weekly check-ins in an online discussion. Accountability works for me. Maybe it was because I was raised Catholic and the confessional nature of meetings with accountability partners always feels like the well-memorized lines from my childhood—“forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. I failed to write three blog posts this week.”

I am also grateful for my colleagues who create and share planning tools like Brandy Simula’s annual Plan to Flourish retreat and workbook and Raul Pacheco’s Everything Notebook. Last Sunday, I participated in Brandy’s 2022 Plan to Flourish retreat and it was fantastic.

This was my second year attending Brandy’s annual retreat, and, I have to say, it really works for me. You begin by defining your values, word for the year and mission statement. You review 2021. What went well, what didn’t go so well, etc. And then you move into 2022. This year, I took this question—What would a professional and personally flourishing 2022 look like for you?—and reframed it a bit for myself: on Dec. 31, 2022, I have had a year of flourishing—what does that look like? What happened over the course of the year?

For me, 2022 has a strong focus on writing, reading, presenting and teaching. I’m working on a couple of book projects, I want to blog here on a much more regular basis (Dean Dad is my role model!) and I have another blog at Medium for more random and less higher ed–related posts. I also want to publish longer pieces for a more general readership—perhaps in places like The Conversation or Cognoscenti and maybe even in more mainstream newspapers/magazines. I consider my podcast projects to be a form of writing/creating, and I want to produce two seasons for each.

As for reading, I have a system down for fiction, and it’s working. I always have a novel on my nightstand that I read before I turn off my bedside lamp. This year I have added a higher ed admin book list to my goals, and I have a daily reading goal for those. I have also added a weekly higher ed–related journal article to the list, and I’m saving those for the weekends when I have a greater capacity for reading that requires more concentration. And, I am trying, once again, to listen to audiobooks from my local library on my commute to and from campus. I’ve started the year off with A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes (fiction), A Leadership Guide for Women in Higher Education by Marjorie Hass (higher ed admin), The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence by Dacher Keltner (audio) and an article from Gender, Work & Organization, “Athena SWAN gender equality plans and the gendered impact of COVID‐19.”

I am trying to give more presentations in 2022. These range from informal guest spots in classes and podcasts to webinars and fireside chats to moderating panels and giving keynotes at conferences. I was able to squeeze in several last year, and I found them really rewarding. One of my values is connection, and another is making a difference, and these two often come together when I’m presenting to a group. I have several lined up for March (looks like a busy month on my calendar!) but none yet in January—so goes the rhythms of academic life in the U.S. And I am teaching in our higher education administration program and loving it!

I want to continue to focus on my health and my relationships. COVID has taught me the importance of being as healthy as I can be and to cherish my friendships. My flourishing goals related to my physical health are to complete a 5-K, do a headstand and take a dance class. I really relished my in-person moments with friends and colleagues last year. The same goes for in-person networking events and catching up with colleagues and meeting online colleagues in person for the first time. I want more of this in 2022, and I’m planning for that now.

I love my coaching practice, and I want to continue to grow that as well. The work with my clients brings me deep emotional rewards. I love holding space for them and partnering with them on figuring out their goals and finding ways to reach those goals. Surprisingly, I also learn quite a bit about myself in each session.

And I want to have some frivolous fun! This is the year of moxie, after all. What does fun look like? A goal of traveling to two new countries! It also means dancing every day. I signed up for an online dance program, and so far, it has been awesome! I’m not very coordinated, but I sure have a lot of fun. I recently purchased a mini trampoline and I really enjoy it. It is pure fun and feels frivolous and circus-like even though it is also good exercise. And I finally went to the eye doctor to update my prescription (no changes, yay!), and I will treat myself to a new pair of fun, funky glasses.

These are big goals, and this list seems overwhelming, even to me! That’s where my accountability partners come into play. Who will help me hold myself accountable to meeting these goals? I have several accountability partners. I like to work collaboratively, and my co-authors on book projects and my podcast co-creators act as accountability partners for several writing and podcasting projects. My editors at Inside Higher Ed and Johns Hopkins University Press also put subtle unspoken pressure on me, even if they don’t realize it. My coaches help me meet my other goals, and I try to check in with the Prolific community monthly and sometimes weekly. And you, readers, hold me accountable. There is something about publicly stating goals that makes me feel accountable to meeting those goals. I thank you for that.

Speaking of which, thank you to those of you who connected with me about Monday’s moxie post! Wow. When I am writing these posts, I never know what is going to resonate. I really appreciate the emails, tweets and LinkedIn shout-outs. It makes me feel like I’m connecting and making a difference.


Mary Churchill is the former chief of policy and planning for Mayor Kim Janey in the city of Boston and current associate dean for strategic initiatives and community engagement at Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University. She is co-author of When Colleges Close: Leading in a Time of Crisis and an ICF certified leadership coach.



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