Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Beginning the academic year with Retreats

I had the pleasure of exploring a number of leadership and community issues with student organizations this last weekend. Because both groups wanted to get a good start, the Associated Student Government (ASG) Cabinet and Scholar Leaders had back-to-back events with one retreating Friday/Saturday and the other Saturday/Sunday. I was a little tired upon my return to Oxford on Sunday afternoon. However, the net progress and momentum achieved by both groups was wonderful.

The ASG Cabinet retreat was designed to get the new team acquainted, introduce them to the unique strengths each brings to their work, and to begin the process of planning for the new year. Megan Fletcher designed the retreat and did a terrific job. One of the parts that I contributed was an interpretation of the StrengthsQuest instrument. This is an assessment designed by the Gallup organization and available in Miami's Career Exploration & Testing as one of our Leadership Assessments. The beauty of the StrengthsQuest is that it identifies 34 different strengths, five major strengths for each person who takes it. My experience with the instrument is that it is usually very on-target from students' perspective. It is also extremely helpful when looking at a team that needs to work together. Individuals and groups can look for the strengths they have and then focus their energy on utilizing the strengths and finding others who complement them. In addition to the StrengthsQuest, the Cabinet discussed what they can do to become a more effective organization. The challenge ASG always faces is how to be more responsive to student needs, to represent all students, and make the difference that students, faculty, and administration all desire.

The Scholar Leader retreat was the largest of the two retreats - involving 64 participants. This is a very diverse group that is learning to live and learn together. Scholar Leaders are given much greater latitude in designing who they will be and what they will do during the year. The staff role is focused to support students taking responsibility for their own learning and group development. I used the ideas of community advocated by Sharon Daloz-Parks - hearth, table, and commons to stimulate their thinking of how they would work together. The hearth, table, commons ideas can really help a group think of how they establish a welcoming place for all community members to explore the deeper questions of leadership. I intend to continue to revisit this question as we move through the year. One of the areas in which there may be interest is the idea of creating a convenant or honor statement among the Scholar Leaders. This could also lead to serving as a catalyst for the rest of the campus community, which would fulfill the aspiration of the Scholar Leaders impacting the broader Miami community.

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