36 A Staff Learning Community

Matty Leighton

I applied to join the CPLC because I’ve spent most of my nearly four years at PSU trying to figure out how staff can play a meaningful role in the cluster model. I really thought the involvement would come from cluster projects, but despite lobbying the president, the cabinet, and the provost, and running a World Café at University Days three years ago, no workable solution had presented itself prior to my joining the CPLC.

My main takeaway from the CPLC so far is understanding how cluster learning works and having an “aha” moment when I realized that staff could participate in cluster learning, too. The CoLab and the CPLC have really helped me understand the building blocks of cluster learning, including project-based learning, communal problem solving and knowledge sharing, and applying the four habits of mind.

I recently completed a CAGS in higher ed/administrative leadership, and much of what I learned in that program validates what we are doing with cluster learning. In particular, Nancy Puglisi’s class on designing and leading healthy organizations opened my eyes to the value of large-scale communal change methodologies. Many of the techniques we studied in that class are closely related to cluster learning. When I took that course, I contacted Don Birx and told him we needed to “go deeper,” using some of the change methodologies to facilitate implementation and acceptance of the cluster model. Although there were a few attempts along those lines, they weren’t as inclusive as I think they needed to be.

Now, finally, the Open CoLab is doing the sort of work I’ve been yearning for ever since I learned about clusters. Not only that, it’s opening up a new avenue for staff involvement. I’m working with three other staff members to guide a budding Staff Learning Community, which will tackle wicked problems in the PSU workspace. Robin and Cathie have supported us as we start to talk about what this community will be. We held a workshop at University Days and attracted about 25 attendees who completed the yo-yo exercise Cathie led at a recent CPLC session. I will be contacting the attendees shortly to begin regular meetings. Our intention is to do some ground work similar to what we’ve been doing in the CPLC, and then hopefully have small groups focus on issues identified by participants. Once the focused groups begin, the hope is that we will use resources created for Tackling a Wicked Problem and the experience will be similar to that of our first-year students.

I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to help build a staff learning community. I think it’s pretty unusual for staff to be allowed to create and run a project like this, and I have high hopes that it will be a success. We have a lot of exceptionally talented, skilled, motivated, and well-educated staff at PSU and this is a chance for them to apply their abilities in a new and exciting way. I will continue to report back throughout the year.

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