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Progress in the light of Reflective Practice

As we grow into an effective and efficient consortium, it valuable to engage in reflective practice about how and why we collaborate – and the messy journeys and learning moments that accompany transformation and culture change. Engaging in critical reflection “makes professional practice more accountable through ongoing scrutiny of the principles upon which it is based” (Fook, 2007) and – in complement – as a way of exploring Socrates’ notion of reflection as ‘the examined life’ for ethical and compassionate engagement with the world and its moral dilemmas (Nussbaum, 1997).

The Maple League is an organization with scope and complexity, and requires that we navigate diverse sectors at a high level as well as through grassroots conversations in order to fully appreciate the multiple institutional cultures and governance structures that make each institution unique. Balancing transparency and accountability while navigating sometimes fraught conceptual terrains and politically sensitive landscapes is an ongoing challenge, and is one that will become more intuitive – with smoother pathways – as we build relationships, inspire trust, and facilitate communication and collaboration with and among constituent groups.

Building Effective Working Relationships: Since the success of this collaboration depends on setting up eco-systems of support populated by very effective and thoughtful partners, we have worked hard to build effective teams across the Maple League. We have built a student advisory council, created a Maple League TLC steering committee, re-activated the Academic and Communications committees in the existing governance structure, and connected with Recruitment teams for guidance, advice, and logistical support. As part of this process we have started to streamline terms of reference and clear terms of reference and mandates for these committees. This is an ongoing process that will benefit from community engagement and consultations, which we hope to roll out later in the winter 2019 term.

Communication: We designed a comprehensive communications strategy – in consultation with the Maple League Communications Directors – for the TIME course (Fall 2018), enhanced our social media presence, written public scholarship pieces (in University Affairs and a McConnell Foundation publication), taken steps to migrate the website onto a new server and design it as a dynamic and rich site for storytelling, and started to build effective communication pathways. We have also audited our social media presence for key messaging and alignment with our focus statements and created terms of reference for all communications for the Maple League. Communications will continue to be a key pillar as we craft intentional, authentic stories about who we are and what we do.

Community Consultations: Since taking on this role July 1, 2018, I have had the privilege of visiting each campus at least twice, with trips for on campus consultations planned for May and September 2019. With these on-campus consultations, combined with many virtual meetings and conference calls, I have benefitted from numerous conversations with creative, enthusiastic, and imaginative collaborators. They have offered fresh new insights into situations and structures and helped to question conventional approaches, which in turn encouraged new ideas and innovations. In all these conversations I have endeavoured to be inclusive, adaptable and respectful to different institutional cultures and viewpoints in order to take a global perspective on how we can build high impact practices that align with the mission, vision, and values of our communities.

Measuring Impact: We are thinking carefully about what kind of evaluative information is useful for strategic planning, story telling, and building a clear understanding of who we are internally and to an external audience. We have been very intentional with a small menus of signature initiatives: proposed signature initiatives align with the guiding vision not only in project design and implementation but in the ways we think about level of reach, quality of engagement, impact, and clarity of purpose. In these early stages we’ve had to say no to a few proposed projects (e.g. proposed events, sponsorship) because they were still working out some of those criteria – so we are working hard to make criteria around resource allocation clear, consistent, and accessible. We hope to announce dedicated funds, criteria for applying, and the selection process in the spring so stay tuned! We are particularly enthusiastic about taking a scholarly approach to measuring our impact and believe that there are rich and fruitful avenues for research both within and around the Maple League.

Taking a growth mindset: As I mentioned in a recent University Affairs article, this is a learning journey for us all; collaboration is disruptive, which means that there will inevitably be discomfort (cognitive dissonance) as we re-wire mindsets and change institutional cultures. Taking a growth mindset to my own leadership and development, I have leapt outside my comfort zone in many spheres. As I navigate new and unfamiliar conceptual and structural terrains, I am building capacities to ensure we are responsive, adaptive, and inclusive – while also developing sensitivity to and awareness of potential areas of tension and contestation. I have tried become more adept at harnessing technology (not always intuitive for a Shakespearean scholar!) to enhance the values and vision of the four institutions – after some discomfort I am increasingly comfortable leveraging a variety of tools for communication/reporting – including new project management systems.

Reflective practice helps facilitate a process of ‘learning through and from experience towards gaining new insights of self and practice’ (Finlay, 2008). As Amy Hasinoff recently wrote, “Learning is always a risk. It means, quite literally, opening ourselves to new ideas, new ways of thinking. It means challenging ourselves to engage the world differently. It means taking a leap.” (2018). The Maple League is at its heart a hopeful endeavour – an exploration of how we can – as Ira Shor asks us to do – “challenge the actual in the name of the possible.” (Empowering Students, 2007).

To learn more about Maple League SIGNATURE INITIATIVES, I encourage you to visit our newly re-launched website.

Dr. Jessica Riddell Executive Director, The Maple League

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