Goal Three: Invest in Each Other

Monday, March 15, 2010

March 15, 2010
by Sandy Shugart

The first two goals in this strategic learning plan – Build Pathways and Learning Assured – are fundamental to our mission as a learning college. They describe where we will focus our attention and resources for the next several years toward improving learning and opportunity for our students. Goals Three and Four are more instrumental in nature, describing how we will work together and in partnership with the community to grow our capacity to achieve the first two goals. They are important means to important ends.

Extraordinary work requires extraordinary people working in extraordinary ways. Valencia has long been blessed with these vital conditions. The college has given regular attention to hiring the best. In recent years, the hiring processes were substantially modified to recruit earlier and more compellingly. The faculty developed a written summary of what they hoped to see in new colleagues (The Competencies of a Valencia Educator), a document that continues to be revised and to guide search committees. Compensation was modified to make Valencia much more competitive in hiring generally and to enable the college to hire more seasoned educators when they are the best fit by recognizing in the system relevant experience outside the college. More important than these pragmatic changes, though, is a deep culture of looking for and hiring the best.

A thoughtful process of inducting new professionals into the organization has also been an important to building the best faculty and staff here. The Teaching and Learning Academy has provided a valuable and challenging opportunity for growth and formation of new faculty. More recently, a program of New Employee Orientation has been developed and used successfully for some two years. Continuing programs such as Destinations, Sabbaticals, Endowed Chairs, and Focus on the Workplace, as well as a robust offering of workshops through Leadership Valencia have been important resources to our shared work.

In the discussions that led to Goal Three, however, a number of new and continuing challenges were noted. Clearly, recent budget constraints have limited the growth and development of our efforts to support faculty and staff in their learning, particularly adjunct faculty, on whom we rely more than ever. Budget woes notwithstanding, it is important to find the resources to build on our already robust programs of faculty development. Commitment to the faculty development component of the compensation plan remains high, but the college will need to address resources for underwriting learning experiences and workloads if members of the faculty are to continue to attend to their own renewal.

It is also clear that staff – professional, support, and administrative – have had fewer resources and a less developed program of learning to engage than faculty. The college needs to establish in its organization clear leadership for staff learning and a coherent program of learning at every level for various staff responsibilities. This will need to be linked to the deployment of a new Performance Development System that has been piloted successfully for two years. The goal here is growth in one’s capabilities and knowledge in current work and career development for the future. Critical early needs include a comprehensive program of development for all supervisors and a need to profile most, if not all jobs in the college to clearly identify competencies, training, and behaviors that lead to success in each of them.

The college is also ready for the next step in our development of a serious program of employee wellness. We have had effective part-time support for this effort for the past few years, but further progress will require establishing a clear full-time leadership role for wellness in the college and supporting programs of health and fitness that yield genuine improvements in our health, such as weight reduction, nutrition, stress reduction, and cessation of smoking. On this latter point, I need to signal to the college that the Board of Trustees and I are ready to move toward a policy of a smoke-free campus. This is more easily said than done; issues of timing, education, enforcement, assistance to smokers who want to quit, etc. will need to be considered. But a task force with student and college representatives will be named to lead us in this direction early in the next academic year. It is also important to note here that many are concerned for the health of our students and wonder how we could have more impact on educating them to make healthy decisions.

These are some of the issues attending hiring and supporting extraordinary people, but what about working in extraordinary ways? By this I mean the culture of respect, inquiry, innovation, evidence, and collaboration that has so powerfully moved our work forward in the past. Nearly a decade ago, we adopted principles of shared or collaborative governance and replaced a single governing committee with four governing councils. Our purpose was to accelerate the work and make collaboration a deep habit, the default mode for our work throughout the organization. We also developed a variety of new ways of engaging more voices in the dialog that carries our work forward. High band-width meetings (also known as “big meetings”), the use of flashlight surveys for iterative feedback from the whole faculty and/or staff, using the discipline of “design principles” to create shared purpose in our work groups, and other techniques that foster genuine collaboration have been essential to our progress.

What we call collaboration, however, is more than a mix of habits, assumptions, techniques…in short, it is a culture that has to be renewed and reinvented from time to time. Over the past year, I and a faculty leader have held a variety of forums on collaboration at Valencia. These have proven very useful. We have learned that the commitment to collaboration as a way of doing our shared work is as strong as ever. To some, however, much of this conversation was new because they arrived at Valencia recently and came from an organization that practiced other models of decision making. Many shared powerful stories of how collaboration had transformed their work at Valencia. Most could also tell a story of how we had failed to collaborate effectively for one reason or another.

Out of all of these conversations, several clear actions for the future have emerged. First, we need to recommit to a collaborative model of leadership and cooperation and be ready to receive criticism when we fall short of this aspiration. Second, we need to define more clearly what we mean by collaboration at Valencia, to write down, share and train staff in a variety of collaborative techniques for leading and participating in decision-making. We should make collaboration an important element of feedback on leaders throughout the college so they can grow in this habit. And finally, we need formally to review our collaborative governance model to determine how it can be improved and refined some nine years since its introduction to the college.

The goals we have outlined for improving the performance of students in the college (Learning Assured) and expanding their opportunities to learn (Build Pathways) will stretch our capacities, with or without an economic recovery. They will require extraordinary practitioners in every role at the college, hired because they are the best and supported with continued learning and growth throughout the whole trajectory of their careers. This alone will continue to create great results in our shared work. And if we can renew an authentic spirit of collaboration, a sense of shared journey in our work, a deep mutual respect and a habit of inquiry, I believe we can surprise even ourselves with results that set a standard others believe to be unattainable. In attaining these extraordinary results, we serve our students, our community, and one another more powerfully.

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