Philosophically, I design collaborative opportunities that can lead to innovations for student and community success. During my first week at Austin Peay, our provost introduced me to that mindset. As Dr. Denley explained, people in isolation have trouble escaping their preconceptions and, therefore, make only revisions, not innovations. Course redesigns, one of Dr. Denley’s areas of expertise and the topic of our conversation that day, encourage faculty to come together and work beyond their individual perceptions. Since that day, I have read book after book about creating innovative climates, and they all repeat that same wisdom: only diverse perspectives in collaboration create innovations.
I use that philosophy in class. I use that philosophy in professional development.
But you can’t just throw diverse people together and expect celestial trumpets. People need to feel comfortable with each other. They need to become active members of a diverse community.
Our programs facilitate that sense of community through participant immersion. The Faculty Leadership Program (FLP), for instance, meets all day each Tuesday for fourteen weeks; that detail by itself forces a sense of community on participants. In all of our programs, we limit participation to fewer than ten people, another detail that encourages a sense of community. Additionally, we utilize ceremony and other symbolic features to distinguish the cohort. Once the sense of community takes hold, we assign a team project that further unifies participants.
That project is also where the celestial trumpets might sound — providing the participants have developed enough knowledge on the front end and that the project arises organically.
Our programs foster a sense of not only cohort community, but also campus community through the information-gathering phase. Generally, after every hour or so, I change guest speakers or initiate a reflection activity. In a three-hour-per-week program, for example, we would meet with either two speakers each day or only one followed by group reflection. Because we encourage discussions over presentations, our guest speakers build a rapport with the participants that breaks down campus barriers and facilitates future interactions. The FLP even goes so far as to include a Shadow Day, in which each participant shadows a different campus leader generally outside his or her purview, preferably from a different division than Academic Affairs. We’re trying to build campus capacity for collaborations, as well as facilitate cross-campus knowledge transfer for rapid response in the face of threats or opportunities.
Diverse campus participants + diverse campus contributors = campus integration.
Once they develop significant knowledge and sense of community, the cohort devises a project. After many iterations, I now charge the participants with as few specifics as possible. In the past, I’ve charged the participants with solving very specific problems. This semester, I’ve charged the FLP participants only with investigating a personal frustration that negatively impacts student success and that is a high-priority for the institution to resolve. If the participants have predominantly external motivations to complete the project, the cohort might not take ownership of it. Only if the cohort takes ownership of it will they continue to work on it after the program ends.
We’re at the point now that I’m working on expanding program access to not merely faculty, but also staff. As a university, we’ve done an excellent job of breaking down departmental and collegiate divisions between faculty, and now we’re at a stage when we can begin the process of socially integrating faculty and staff.
We’re also not too far away from opening our programs to participants from neighboring community colleges or universities. The expanded reach will create revenue streams that can subsidize our programs. It also will create deeper channels that can ferry students, workers, knowledge, funding, and other resources back and forth for mutual sustainability, growth, and community development.
That’s what I mean by, “I design collaborative opportunities that can lead to innovations for student and community success.” I can’t stress enough how rewarding this journey has been, and I attribute a large portion of that sense to this philosophy. It has shaped my interactions with faculty, staff, students, and the greater community. And it’s starting to shape my interactions with the greater community of higher ed.