Working Together for Student Success: Communication, Collaboration, and Breaking Down Silos

Like most institutions, community colleges are organized into sub-units, often called departments or divisions. Referring to the work of these areas as belonging to this or that side of the house – e.g., academic, workforce, student support, administrative – is common and reinforces the prevailing order. Although this type of organizational structure can create certain efficiencies, it can also contribute to the development of silos that inhibit communication and collaboration across the college. The inherent insularity of silos can lead to limited perspectives, misperceptions, duplication of effort, territorialism, and other factors that can hinder progress toward reaching collegewide goals. When these goals are related to student success—learning, retention, goal completion, and transition to employment or transfer—silos can impede the fundamental function of an educational institution. Departments and divisions make working in silos an easy default position, so identifying ways to help ensure that the various pieces function well individually and as a whole is crucial to working together for student success.

The Learning Summit is designed as a team activity, and colleges are particularly encouraged to bring cross-college teams to this Summit. Teams should bring a project to work on at the Learning Summit, using this time to plan a new or emerging initiative, redesign or strengthen an existing program or project, reinvigorate a postponed or stalled effort, or solve a persistent problem around collaboration and communication. Although the Summit is designed for teams, individuals who are not part of a college team are welcome to participate. These individuals will form a team that works on a project applicable to the Summit theme.

*The general schedule provided below is subject to change.

Tuesday, June 18

8:00 - 8:45 AM             Check-In and Breakfast

9:00 AM - 12:00 PM    Communication and Collaboration

Starting from the premise that student success and achievement are overarching goals that involve the entire college, the Learning Summit begins with a focus on the role of each position in the institution in reaching these goals. Participants will explore individual and team roles in student success and achievement to better understand the benefits of improved collaboration and communication, and to better understand the various roles in supporting student learning and success.

Creative collaboration requires diverse insights and perspectives—from popular and common to marginalized and rare—and the clear communication of these perspectives. Teams will evaluate communication and collaboration processes at their institutions, identify barriers that obstruct or prevent communication and collaboration, and identify ways to overcome these barriers.

12:00 - 12:45 PM         Lunch

12:45 - 4:00 PM           Mapping and Planning

Using the work from the morning session, and understanding the value of differing perspectives, teams will explore opportunities for cross-college collaboration and map collaboration and communication plans for their project. Participants identify opportunities for collaboration across silos (e.g., divisions and departments) to improve and expand student learning and achievement.

The afternoon continues with an exploration of knowing: What do we know? What don’t we know? How do we know what we do and do not know? How do we share what we know and don’t know with others? This may sound like a nesting-doll riddle, but teams will use a few basic guidelines to find answers and identify the types, sources, and uses of data they will need for their projects. These include data to support cross-college collaboration and to inform collaborative efforts around student learning and achievement.

Wednesday, June 19

8:00 - 8:45 AM             Check-In and Breakfast

9:00 AM - 12:00 PM    Rethinking Collaboration for Student Achievement

Applying learning from Tuesday, teams will explore their individual perspectives on student achievement and student accountability and consider the relationship of these factors with their projects or other work. Teams will identify data and skill-set needs as well as ways to meet those needs. They will examine their own accountability by identifying gaps in and resources for their own professional development or training. Facilitated questioning will guide teams to examine what they’ve learned and worked on so far so they can refine project plans in preparation for presenting them to colleagues, funders, or other stakeholders.

12:00 - 12:45 PM         Working Lunch

1:00 - 4:00 PM             Collaboration and Communication: Breaking Down Silos

Requesting feedback from others is a valuable tool teams can use in thinking through their plans, as is developing questions to ask of other teams and themselves. This process also sets the stage for engaging all constituents in the conversation on campus as teams consider ways to launch their collaborations. Part of the afternoon session involves time for teams to present their plans, including techniques for breaking down silos, to other teams, and to receive feedback and questions to consider from those teams.