A worthwhile faculty retreat can breathe new life into the academic community. The structure and content of a good retreat can contribute to the development of college or school identity and can inspire a shared sense of reflection and forward motion.
As many of us know, a retreat also can be seen as a dreadful bore, an unwelcome obligation that faculty may regard as a distraction from their real work. How many faculty feel that they cannot pause and enjoy the possibility of refreshment in the confinement of the obligatory faculty retreat? So often, retreats are positioned against the momentum of fall, of new students, of new classroom power realized from good summer reading, of the desire to be focused on the future. Retreats, by their nature, seem to speak to the past, and to reflection, just when faculty are getting warmed up to look forward.
The School of Media Arts at Columbia College Chicago recently had its second annual faculty retreat, a cost-effective one-day event that was developed with faculty input. Based on our success, we think we have created a model that could be useful for other academic communities.
How did we do it?
Rather than anticipating that the faculty retreat committee’s programming ideas would be interesting to everyone, we elected to survey the faculty to discover their interests and to engage them in the retreat. The survey provided us with ideas that the committee hadn’t considered. Here is the survey:
Retreat Survey of Interests
Name three things that you had to learn the hard way and wish someone had told you about the college, your school, or your department:
Among these discussion topics, check the three in which you would most like to participate:
_____Mentoring: How I have been/How I would like to have been mentored
_____Should the campus be a political environment?
_____The Juggling Act: Managing energy and time across academic, professional, artistic and personal life
____ Censorship in the media arts
_____An all-school scholarship
_____Our role in the lives of our alums
_____All school course offerings
_____The cognitive development of college students
_____Getting students to work in teams
_____Generational values in the classroom
Is there a discussion topic you would like to add?
Would you like to chair one of the discussion topics recommended?
The committee used the responses to build the day. Breakfast included individual presentations from the various academic departments. These reports were not meant to be comprehensive, but rather like news briefs about interesting projects or new initiatives.
The afternoon programming included break-out discussions on the topics of interest to the faculty, as identified in the results of the survey. These round table discussions were scheduled to offer access to at least two break-out opportunities, with plenty of time for groups to present.
One-day Retreat Schedule:
8:30 Breakfast and check in
8:45 Welcome from the School Dean
9:00 Individual presentations from departments: What’s new in ___?
11:00 Break and announcements
12:30 Break-out discussions of choice
1:30 Reports from discussions, with at least one action-able step
2:00 Second break-out discussions
3:00 Reports from discussions, at least one action-able step
3:30 Sabbatical presentations
Later, at a date to be decided by the dean, groups will report specific action steps to be implemented. The retreat then becomes a recommending activity/body, not just a source of ideas.
This retreat gives participants an opportunity to enjoy the results of news and developments in every academic department, as well as a sense of the state of sabbaticals, and a view of the college future as presented by the faculty and the dean.
These ideas are part of broader recommendations brought to the dean of the School of Media Arts at Columbia College Chicago by her committee of faculty representing all of the departments in the school.
Margaret Sullivan is chair of the marketing communication department in the School of Media Arts at Columbia College Chicago. She can be reached at email@example.com.