All Are Leaders

March
2009
Fran Leonard, Retreat Planning Committee Chair, West Los Angeles College

Teaching and learning never stops at West Los Angeles College. Since 2002, our college has held Leadership Retreats once a year. Initially, the retreats were limited to college leaders as defined by those who served on college committees. Most retreats are held off-campus with the focus ranging from evaluating the mission and values of the college to finding ways to make participatory governance more effective; from planning and accreditation to retention strategies.

Over the years, the leadership retreat has grown in importance to the college community. While participation drew primarily from the "leaders" who served on college committees, since the current president, Dr. Mark W. Rocha, has been at West, the emphasis has been that "all are leaders." This year, the 7th annual Leadership Retreat, with its theme of "Moving into the Fast Lane," drew 110 participants from all areas of the college, including a strong contingent of classified staff, ten students, as well as faculty (both fulltime and adjunct) and administrators. Within a short time after the retreat was announced we had reached capacity. Last year's retreat, "Imagine-the Future of West LA College can be as you imagine." drew 103 participants who imagined in lively tables of eight participants, drawn from all areas of the campus. The retreats have gained traction, momentum and "buzz" with each succeeding year. The retreat, scheduled for the Friday before Thanksgiving, is a much-anticipated "pause" in an otherwise full-speed-ahead campus, one that brings renewal and gratitude that our work is primarily about transforming lives.

The significance of this retreat to our college community cannot be overstated.

In 2000, the Accrediting Commission's visiting team observed that West "can no longer afford to continue to operate in a dysfunctional mode that is conflict-based and not resolution-oriented." In 2006, Recommendation 1 from the Self Study asked the college to "create a campus climate that embraces open, candid dialogue that embodies a culture of respect, civility and trust to improve institutional decision making, planning and effectiveness." The retreats have been a potent response to these observations. Rod Patterson, academic senate president of West LA College, notes, "In a spirit of mutual respect, the leadership retreat has served to bring the faculty and staff together as we refine our role and the way our roles fit together under our collegial consultation model."

Sustaining this effort takes commitment and collaboration on a yearly basis, grounded in a belief that this retreat is a wellspring of ideas and good feelings. West is fortunate in that groups such as the academic senate, the AFT Classified Staff Guild and the Teamsters, who represent deans, proudly help sponsor this event, along with the administration. Providing funding is clearly a vote of confidence by these organizations in the value of the outcomes for their constituents of this annual staff development activity.

This year's retreat drew upon the experts from California Community Colleges, exemplars of "best practices" in basic skills, evaluating SLOs, reaching and teaching the iPod generation, counseling in a virtual world, and recharging your batteries in shared governance. While West "moves into the fast lane," we want to do so in the best possible ways, and so our learning continues-collectively and individually. For example, while many of us in a breakout session on teaching the iPod generation could only guess at the meanings of "IM-language" examples, students and younger employees/faculty "translated" for us. The evidence of the efficacy of the retreats is captured in the evaluations submitted. Last year, 81.4% of the participants rated the retreat very high for "interest, importance and relevance.

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