Assessment Resources from your Friendly Government Representative

The U.S. Army takes assessment very serious.  In the past decade, the leadership have added many new assessment tools.  Some of these tools are mandatory, such as different types of risk assessments associated with training and even taking leave (vacation).  Health assessments have evolved quite a bit over the past decade as our nation’s wars have created a need for better ways to evaluate the overall health of our soldiers (mentally and physically).  Other assessment tools are completely optional.  These types of assessments are usually surveys and deal with rating your peers or your leaders in many different leadership categories.

The best units make assessments on a daily basis after every mission, in training, combat, and just every day operations.  We conduct self-assessments as part of our counseling and mission readiness at the individual level, as well as at the unit level (squad, section, platoon, company, etc.).  We have manuals and leaders create policy letters to teach soldiers how to conduct these assessments.  In this blog, I will share some of my experiences from counseling and add some of the resources we use for self-assessment and assessing our subordinate leaders.  I will also try to give an example of how I think my experiences and these resources may be useful to you in a classroom setting.

For counseling, time availability plays a large role in the effectiveness of it (if it doesn’t prevent it entirely).  The bottom line in the Army is that you owe it to the soldier to make time to counsel them.  A lot of the times you only see soldiers counseled when they mess up.  This is highly discouraged.  A soldier should be counseled consistently on a monthly basis.  If they need extra counselings when they mess up, they should also get extra counselings when they do well.

The first counseling session when you join a new unit is called your initial counseling.  This is where the supervisor(s) explain your roles and responsibilities.  This is very similar to the first day of class when the professor discusses the expectations for the class and the students.  For subsequent counselings, the leader should get some feedback from the soldier being counseled.  If you allow the subordinate to come into a counseling session without giving them “homework” or time to think about their performance in advance, then you are going to do all of the talking and it will be tough to gain anything from it.  If you give them a few things to think about and ask them to fill out some paperwork in advance, not only will they have something to talk about, they will be doing a self-assessment.  I would require my junior officers to do a support form prior to the counseling session because I wanted them to assess their own strengths and weaknesses.  I would ask them to put down two or three things under each category in part III of the support form and put a plus in front of the ones you think you do well and put a minus in front of the ones you think you need to improve on.  When the counseling session started we would go line by line and I would allow them to tell me what they put and why they believe it is a plus or a minus.  Most of the time I would agree with them, sometimes I would change a minus to a plus and very rarely I would disagree with a plus the soldier had put down.  I would add any additional things I had thought of for the soldier.  At the end of the session, we would pick the minuses which we thought would be the most important (or most available) to work on during the next assessment period.  It is important to get their input on this to a) make sure they understood what you had just discussed, and b) to give them some agency in the development plan.  During the next assessment, you discuss the focus items first (with their new assessment of them), you add pluses and minuses as appropriate under any categories in part III and you do it all again as before.  The goal should never be to have all pluses.  You should always strive to add more pluses each session, but as the soldier develops they should be gaining more responsibilities and thus opening themselves up to new minuses each session as well.

How to apply this in the classroom can be somewhat of a chore?  Obviously, most of us will never have the chance to counsel all of our students.  However, group work is a possibility to most of us.  During group activities, you could designate a group leader.  The professor counsels the group leaders and the group leaders counsel the rest of their group.  In other words, create a chain-of-command like we have in the Army.  As a troop commander in charge of 210 soldiers, I did not counsel all 210 of them.  I counseled a handful of the leaders, they counseled the next line of leaders, and so on until all 210 were counseled.  This happens every month whether we are at home or in combat.  If you are able to do multiple group projects, maybe everyone is afforded the opportunity to be a group leader.

I think this post sounded better in my head, but maybe somebody can get some use out of it.  Here are some more links to another support form and some evaluation forms.  The top of the first page is usually reserved for administrative stuff.  The support forms are used for counseling and are there to help create the evaluation.  If you waited until the end of a year to write an evaluation, you would never remember everything the soldier did during that time, so we keep track on the support forms and counseling forms.

Support Form 1                      Support Form 2

Evaluation Form 1                  Evaluation Form 2


Affirmative Action versus Diversity

I agree that diversity belongs at the university, but I am not sure I agree with it being governed by affirmative action in the admissions process.  I believe that the best qualified person(s) should be chosen regardless of race or gender.  This is a problem we deal with in the U.S. Army as well.  You should not be punished (not admitted) because of your race/gender, just like you should not be rewarded (admitted) because of your race/gender.  If a school or university is not reaching its quotas on a particular race or gender, then they should review their marketing techniques/locations instead of passing up a student of the majority race/gender to admit one from the minority.  Another option would be to make room for both students.  Yes I understand that diversity leads to “attracting the best available talent” (Jeffrey F. Milem, The Educational Benefits of Diversity: Evidence From Multiple Sectors, page 152), but do they realize they have passed up an even better talent (who had already applied to your program)?

This is the case involving the University of Texas at Austin which the Supreme Court will hear this fall involving Affirmative Action and its role in admissions.

I believe that if we work at it hard enough, we can find a way to maintain diversity at the university without discriminating against the majority.  If I knew how right now I would say, but I don’t.  So comment and let me know your ideas.

Blogging and STEM

This post is in response (and agreement) to the Maguire Blog post titled Blogging and STEM.  I have spent most of February thinking about the same situation.  I don’t see myself using blogs at all in my first rotation of teaching because I will be teaching introductory level math courses to freshman (plebes).  This does not mean that I have not thought about how or even if I could work it into the class.  I do like some of the ideas from Maguire’s post.  I also liked an idea from one of our classmates last class.  He suggested that within an engineering course, blogging could be used more as a forum to discuss the course topics with their colleagues (to include the instructor/professor).  It has shown some promise in his course where he experimented with it earlier this month.  I think this idea along with Maguire’s ideas can all do something that is very important; find a way to bridge (I worked that in for you Maguire) the communication gap.


How we got here!

During my third deployment to Iraq, I filled out some applications for different positions at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York.  My main purpose was not to teach or to lead cadets.  To be honest, my main goal was to gain some stability for my wife and I to allow us to start a family without the concerns of me deploying again in the short term.  It was hard watching our close friends raise families with one of the parents at war and I could not see myself not being present for one of the first years of my child’s life.  I followed the advice of my Battalion Executive Officer and applied to multiple departments and was surprised to get picked up by the Math Department.  When you visit the Math Department website, they have a funny little story about being an instructor in the department. Here it is:

Ulysses S. Grant, USMA Class of 1843 and the 18th President of the United States, applied four times to become an instructor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences, but was turned down every time.  He was informed by the Department Head that his mediocre performance in undergraduate mathematics did not qualify him to teach in the department.

This fact demonstrates conclusively that it is easier to become the President than it is to become an instructor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences.

After almost two years of working towards my Masters at Virginia Tech, my wife and I, along with our nine month old daughter, are only four short months away from moving to West Point and we are very excited.