Friday Campus Connections: Leadership Academy Reflections

The following reflection was written collectively by leaders from across higher education who attended the 2018 Summer Leadership Academy.  With a high level goal of connectedness (in every aspect of that word), attendees with both teaching and administrative backgrounds came together to learn how to better create a successful experience for students, no matter the institution.  The following are their words:


Participants at the 2018 Institute for Inter-Connected Education (IICE) Leadership Academy came with more than 73 combined years of leadership experience and were in different seasons of our respective careers. Still, there was much insight we each gained from three days of training that will strengthen our respective leadership roles at various institutions. It is important to note that the IICE Leadership Academy is not just for those who are new to leadership, but also those who have been leading people for many years, especially when responsibilities and leadership shift within an organization. The academy provided a strong focus on leadership growth and innovation combined with practical strategies for increasing learning and collaboration on campus.

The academy opened with a focus on concrete strategies for building relationships on campus using a deep awareness of the existing strengths of individuals. We began with a deep dive into our own personal strengths and how we can best leverage those strengths. Using the Strengths Finder tool, we learned about our top five strengths and how we can use these to innovate, bridge, and communicate effectively in our roles. In particular, reframing relationships for strengths provides opportunities for institutional innovation and progress. These insights provided a necessary and powerful self-awareness piece in the context of institutional collaboration.

Each day of the workshop we learned about and subsequently applied tools to increase our own learning, retention, and problem-solving skills. We discovered ways to heighten engagement, promote innovation, cast a broader net for solutions, and change the way we approach problems - all of which will bring value to our individual institutions.

In thinking about innovation and institutional change, we focused on strategic stories.

The goal is not to deliver a report, but to share a memorable vision that inspires and unites. Together we brainstormed solutions using our past and current experiences, identifying challenges and tools that we can use to improve our message and approaches to better channel the strengths of an entire team. We focused on tools for tailoring the message to fit our audience and anticipating the questions and needs of other stakeholders so that our narrative ultimately addresses those questions and needs. Ask your audience, “Who are we and what do we want?”

Pictures as well as story are important when it comes to recalling and retrieving information; we’d like to encourage ourselves and others (especially including students) to take time to draw notes rather than just writing notes. This is a great test for determining whether a message has memorable, digestible problems and patterns.

At the same time, humans are hard-wired for engagement with stories, not dry facts; building relationships and gaining a broad base of support is much easier when other stakeholders can embrace the way in which you have located the problem, identified the pattern, and framed the situation.

As we focused on learning and retaining information, we frequently returned to the role of desirable difficulties. Reframing challenges in this manner helps stakeholders see how encountering the appropriate level of difficulty facilitates learning and improves engagement and retention. When learning requires work, it is deeper and more memorable. Interleaving is a form of desired difficulty that introduces a learner to a concept and then moves away from the concept before this has been fully mastered. The concept is then revisited and woven in with newer concepts and understandings which are refined over time; this is helped along by generative learning. Generative Learning allows learners to experiment, use prior knowledge and even safely fail before they are actually taught a task or concept. It is a problem solving approach - learning by doing - which incorporates constructive feedback for stronger understanding of the content. Ultimately, the desirable difficulty process along with generative learning not only have purpose and create "stickier" learning, but also build engagement and investment in the success of a project. Desirable difficulties can build bridges to move you and your institution’s initiatives forward. We also discussed other brain processes that heighten engagement and make the learning “stick”.  For example, identifying patterns can lead to new processes and solutions, and reward successes.

As leaders we discussed how we deal with change and innovation. Good leaders love and embrace change. Leaders must be intentional, specific, and learn to accept chaos and some degree of messiness - because learning and growing is associated with a degree of fluidity and disequilibrium, both in the classroom and within organizations. Innovation itself is a process in which we identify a problem, respond to or create urgency, grab opportunities that further multiple goals, choose the right moment to act, all while focusing on the change narrative and the measurement(s) of success. An awareness of this process as well as our own strengths as leaders allows us to leverage opportunities to drive change.Understanding the difference between being a creator and innovator is also an important part of being a leader. In seeking solutions, innovators also look for what works in other contexts and bring this purpose and vision to their initiatives; the work is in the identification of the pattern, the selection of the frame, and the application of the solution - not necessarily in the creation of a wholly new paradigm.

Good leaders are not only good innovators, but they also facilitate innovation in others. Effective leaders and innovators look for opportunities and resources to move forward, building better learning experiences, teams, and campus solutions.

IICE Summer Leadership Academy Participants Reflection
July 10-12, 2018