Honored for enhancing campus community

By Michael Santone, Editor-in-Chief

At the 2019 California Community College Council for Staff and Professional Development Conference (4CSD) on March 7, Contra Costa College won the Innovative Activity Award of Excellence for its annual Teaching Cafe.

The award recognizes and rewards a community college for a single, innovative staff development activity or event.

“We just got the award a few days ago and I went to several of the classified staff who worked on it,” speech department Chairperson Sherry Diestler said. “It validates all the hard work that everyone who participated put in — that this is recognized as an important activity for professional development and everyone on campus.”

The Teaching Cafe, which was created by Diestler with help from other members of the Professional Development Committee, began in spring 2015 as an outlet for faculty, staff, management and students to share their strengths through activities and workshops.

However, surprisingly no Teaching Cafes have taken place, or are planned, for this college year.

“I noticed a lot of our faculty, staff and managers are considered experts and present (workshops) at other schools. And we bring in experts from other colleges too, so I thought why don’t we honor our own campus expertise,” Diestler said.

“Everyone — faculty, staff, managers and students were really enthused to present their ideas, because everyone on campus has great things to share. The Teaching Cafe was a forum for them to do that.”

Over the years, members of each department showcased their expertise in topics like culinary arts with cooking demos, venting and managing stress, tutorials in online tutoring with the Library and Learning Resource Center and student-led discussions on what best works for them in the classroom.

After attending many previous conferences, CCC faculty, staff and management did not attend this year’s 4CSD conference, Diestler said. But a colleague from sister college Diablo Valley was there and picked up the award.

“We had no idea that we had won the award until she had brought it to us,” Diestler said. “We were shocked and thrilled.”

In January, an email went out to community colleges who are members of the 4CSD notifying them that nominations were open in four different categories including Outstanding Program,

Leadership and Outstanding President or Chancellor. Participants were invited to submit a nomination for themselves or a colleague.

After putting together all the materials, including a vision and mission statement, event set up and program ideas, Diestler said she submitted everything for the Innovative Activity Award.

“I don’t know what anyone else was doing, but I nominated us, because it (Teaching Cafe) was so well received.”

At last spring’s Teaching Café, campus resource tables were added to the event.

Diestler said she asked everyone who directs a campus resource, like EOPS, Puente, Per Ank and Safe Zone, to host a table with their respective resources for faculty, staff, management and students.

“One of the responses from previous Teaching Cafes was that faculty weren’t fully aware of where to send students for particular resources,” she said. “We, as faculty, generally don’t have a place or time to explore all the different resources that we can help our students access.”

Retired health education department Chairperson Sandra Everhart said although putting together the Teaching Cafes was a lot of work, it feels great to be recognized.

“We got a lot of good feedback from the participants. And not only the presenters but the people who attended and students,” she said. “It’s nice to know you can come together as a group collaboratively, come up with a great idea and see it through to fruition and that people recognize that what you did was of value.”

Everhart, who was the professional development coordinator in 2015 and also led presentations in music therapy and creating visual interest, said during the professional development meetings members were always trying to identify new and innovative ways to share best practices and strategies for delivering instructions with student achievement in mind.

“Any time you have an opportunity to interact with other faculty members, students and staff it boosts morale because it gives you an opportunity to connect with one another and share ideas in an environment that is not so structured or ridged,” Everhart said. “You have an environment where people enjoy themselves and have the opportunity to take away some tidbits that might help them in whatever aspect of instruction they have.”

However, with the new 16-week calendar and a Professional Development Committee focused more toward the state sponsored Guided Pathways initiative, the possibility of presenting a Teaching Cafe this year looks grim.

Senior Library Assistant Brenda Pless, who also had a hand in establishing the Teaching Cafe, said because it takes a lot of different moving parts it is hard on faculty, staff and managers.

“I don’t know whether it’s the compressed calendar or not, but we just don’t have enough full-time faculty (available),” Pless said. “The ones we do have (available) are burned out and stretched too thin.”

Pless said it would help if the Teaching Cafe was an scheduled event, set in stone on the academic calendar.

Over the years professional development at CCC contributed to the retirement party, holiday parties and bringing the campus community together, she said.

Diestler said what the Teaching Cafe did was expand to not only include students, but encompass each department and the individuals who make them up.

“I think right now, professional development is geared more toward Guided Pathways, and so there’s a little more emphasis on being able to show that your program is in some way contributing to student success and student pathways. And that’s a good direction as well,” Diestler said. “Every person who heads up professional development has a different vision and there isn’t anything wrong with any of them.

“(Teaching Café) was good. What they are doing now is different, but equally good.”