Transforming the Culture: Working Together to Benefit Students

ASCCC Vice President
CSSO President Elect, West Hills College
CIO President, Mt. San Antonio College
CCCAOE President Elect, Moorpark College
ASCCC Secretary

At the Spring 2016 Plenary Session, various constituencies of the California community college system have an opportunity to engage in the most effective practice in serving students well: working together. With the implementation of so many initiatives including Student Success and Support, Equity, Basic Skills, and now the Workforce Task Force recommendations, in addition to our daily efforts in instruction and student support as well as ensuring the health of the institution through effective governance, no one area of any college can exist in isolation.  In other words, to truly benefit our students and our communities, we need to work effectively and collegially across traditional boundaries of discipline, division, and administration.  Every member of the college community needs to develop a larger perspective and see how all areas - instruction, student services, administration, or operations - fit together to create the whole. Now more than ever, educational leaders need to work together to inform and unify our colleges in a shared vision of service to our students.  

Culture of Mutual Respect and Trust

While one might easily recognize that we would like our colleges to work collaboratively, most of us do not live in a world of unicorns and rainbows.  As educational leaders, we are obligated to find commonality and foster collegiality.  To truly ensure that we are working for the benefit of our students and our colleges and meet all the rules and regulation, we must innovate.  Fear can be a hindrance. A culture of trust and goodwill is necessary for innovation to flourish.  Some ideas to promote a collegial and collaborative environment are as follows:

Assume the best in each other.  While ascribing malicious intent is easy in the absence of information, most leaders are doing the best they can, as quickly as they can, with the information at hand.  All of us should start by assuming the very best of our colleagues before seeking to engage one another. 

Recognize the altruistic reasons why we all entered the world of academia.  Our colleagues have a great deal of skill, knowledge, and expertise. Nearly everyone in the academy entered the education field because they want to make the world a better place.  We chose community colleges.  We all want to help students achieve their goals and their dreams and to change the lives of individuals in our communities.  If we can all remember that one common goal, we can build our respect and admiration of each other from there. 

Recognize that innovation is risky, and celebrate the risk.  If we are asking for innovation, or transformation, any idea takes boldness of thought and bravery. Innovative ideas are inherently risky to propose.  We need to trust and encourage each other to try new ideas as well as critically evaluate the idea and, if implemented, its effectiveness. We must accept that some ideas will fail.  We should celebrate the attempt to try something new and cultivate a culture where ideas for change are not only accepted but celebrated.  To serve our diverse student body well, innovation is an inherent component of a dynamic culture.

Steps to Take at Your College

Those colleges that have great relationships among all leadership groups on their campuses should cultivate those relationships.  Misunderstandings should not be allowed to fester, and questions of motives should not taint the communication or the relationship.  Colleges that do not enjoy collegial and collaborative relationships among college leaders might consider the following ideas:

  • Have lunch with your colleagues.  If you are reading this article at the ASCCC Spring Plenary Session, find your senate president, CIO, CSSO and CCCAOE colleagues and plan to sit together and share what you have learned.  Otherwise, initiate this conversation when you return to your college.
  • Have an honest dialog among leaders about what the college must accomplish and whether the college culture facilitates achievement or if it may need to improve. Determine how does each group contributes to the shared vision of the college.  Keep the discussion informal and global if you can.  Each educational leader will need to go back to constituent groups to discuss the details and process. 
  • Do not let the colleagues of your constituent group devolve conversation into negative personal attacks about other groups on campus or their leaders.  Stay committed to the idea that each group represents specific interests and perspectives. All are required for genuine deliberation and effective decision-making. Retreat to respect the authority each group must have for the college to operate if you cannot find any other way to guide the conversation. 
  • Remember shared values, ideals, and vision. 

Our students need us to work collaboratively and collegially to innovate so that our colleges remain dynamic, vital, and effective in our communities. We should all work to harness that power for change together.