Taking Time for You with the OLC’s IELOL Program


Rachel Clark, Director of Online Teaching & Learning, Appalachian State University |  IELOL 2023 Participant

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Editorial Note: Applications for the 2024 Institute for Emerging Leadership in Online Learning (IELOL) are now being accepted. Learn more, and apply!

It’s funny how it only takes a little bit of distance to shift your perspective, right? This year’s OLC IELOL residency week was held in August at UNC Charlotte, just a two-hour drive from me in Boone, NC. I lept on the opportunity to take on the year’s training with it being so close (and because – full disclosure and shameless plug – I adore Garvey and his team). 

Short distance, huge gain: taking time to just get out of town and immerse myself with 60+ leaders in online learning from across the country was enough to remind me in this still-strange post-pandemic moment what I love about my work: we in online learning are on that most fragile and electric edge of everything that is happening in academia right now. 

That can be both exhilarating and exhausting, sometimes even downright apocalyptic. I love my team, and I love my faculty – we work and stretch and wrestle with ideas, try new things and have each others’ backs, especially on our better days. And, there are moments I tend to keep more to myself that I’m reminded I’m really the only person in my unit (or, really, on campus) who does what I do – and that can be lonely. 

So, to wake up for four whole days with 60+ other folks in the world – from as far away as Washington, Arizona, Maine – who do what I do every day, was potent medicine for that dream-like feeling of isolation that can creep in so easily these days. Just being in the room together was a salve. That they fed us with so much yummy food (thanks, UNC Charlotte team!) and talk on every relevant, current topic imaginable (thanks, OLC!) – from branding to ROI – seemed the icing on the cake. It made me realize I may still have a bit of caregiver’s fatigue after having helped haul our faculty through the pandemic, like so many of us, especially since we are coming out the other end only to be staring down the barrel of an enrollment cliff. 

Not to be overly dramatic, but the OLC IELOL was the oxygen mask I wasn’t even fully yet aware I needed. If we are teaching our faculty inclusivity and trauma pedagogy to better support student success, we need to remember that as leaders we have our own traumas and fatigue to heal as we innovate and support others. This experience gave me a professional community that, frankly, I am not sure how I ever did without – restocking my inner resources so that I not only know now I can keep going, I even have some idea how. And I have a whole cadre of new peeps in my alumni cohort (and so many cohorts before!) as well as an amazing new mentor to lean on if I get fuzzy about that.

If you haven’t stopped recently to take stock of how you’re really doing and connect with your professional besties, take time to do that this week – you can’t keep going if you don’t take care of you. If you’re still growing your group of professional besties, you’re in the right place. To the 2023 OLC IELOL cohort: can’t wait to see you in October! 

Interested in applying to participate in the 2024 cohort of OLC’s premier digital learning leader professional development program? Learn more about IELOL and apply!

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