The term "courageous conversation" has been thrown about a bit in reference specifically to our ongoing long range planning work. The term has been meant to imply that that we will have open and honest dialogues about aspects of our work emerging in the long range plan as important to student and institutional success. Yesterday's first Campus Forum discussion of one long range planning group's work to date provides an example of what I would describe as a courageous conversation.
The conversation yesterday happened to be about developmental math and ways to improve pass rates among students required to take developmental math courses. The conversation could have been about a number of other big questions emerging from our long range planning work, all conversations that we will have in the coming weeks and months. While at times difficult and charged, yesterday's conversation set the bar high for future Campus Forum discussions on other aspects of the long range planning work.
We talk often about communication here at the college. I have spent a good deal of time with the President's Advisory Team this fall in discussion of communication and collaboration, as minutes reflect. What I often hear is that our communication and collaboration breakdowns, when they occur, occur across departments and divisions. One hand does not know - or sometimes care - what the other hand is doing. Or we see what the other hand is doing as 'not our business' regardless of whether we care and might have something to offer from a different perspective - if only it was our business to do so.
Yesterday's discussion set the stage for a different way to think about and 'do' communication on matters of college-wide importance. The discussion flowed from the central premise that student success is everyone's business, just as the successful enrollment efforts of this past summer flowed from the premise that enrollment is everyone's business. This is, frankly, a new way to begin to think about communication and collaboration at an institution that has grown rapidly over a relatively short period of time and in the process has probably 'unlearned' certain key elements of strategic communication and collaboration or simply lost the mechanisms for these through sheer size.
There is another element of yesterday's conversation that gets more centrally at the courageous aspect of the dialogue. This is the willingness to ask and answer questions about what is working, what is not, and how we might work together to improve student and institutional success. This is hard. It is hard especially for those who find themselves in the center of the conversation. And there are several important conclusions that should not be drawn from such conversations if we are to truly become a more collaborative organization across divisions and departments.
We should not conclude that because we are seeking ways to improve a given practice or area that those involved up to now have been doing it wrong. We should not conclude that those involved in the given area are not both passionate about student success and expert in their field. We should not conclude that by broadening input into a given area or practice we are seeking to broaden control or leadership of that area. We should not conclude that there are easy answers or quick fixes to any of the questions or concerns discussed. If there were we would have found them by now. And we should not conclude that students themselves do not bear a responsibility for their own success, whether in completion of developmental math coursework, charting a proper academic path, or persistence to degree completion.
What we should conclude is that multiple perspectives on any given problem very often shed new light on the problem and on possible solutions. We should conclude that student and institutional success are everyone's business. We should conclude that what we do in our particular role at the college and with students cannot be viewed in isolation from the totality of that student's experiences at the college and the roles others play in relation to that student. We should conclude that the more willing we are to share what we know about how to help students succeed, and the more we are willing to hear what others know, the more likely we are to create an environment where obstacles are removed and paths are cleared to greater student success.
I applaud those who attended and contributed to the discussion yesterday afternoon. I commend the leadership of the planning group involved in this discussion for bringing it to the Campus Forum setting. I thank the members of the Math department who attended and contributed to a sometimes difficult discussion of something they care very deeply about. And I challenge us to use this discussion and those that will follow on other aspects of our planning work as an example of how to surface new perspectives, share new ideas, and pose new strategies for success. True collaboration requires this of us.
Happy Holiday Season 2013
2 weeks ago