Re-Imagining Leadership Retreat

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By the Innovation Hub Implementation Leaders: Gabriele Simmons, Vincent Tu and Clara Luca as well as Max Tojicic a second year student participant at the retreat.

As Innovation Hub Implementation Team Leaders, Clara, Vincent and I (Gabriele), had the chance to attend Student Life’s Re-Imagining Leadership Retreat in Peterborough – it was a fantastic opportunity! We got to meet other student leaders like ourselves at the retreat and develop skills in collaboration, innovation and thinking “outside of the box”. We met a fantastic collection of people from across the tri-campuses and gained both new friends and new perspectives! Here are some of the highlights…

“Converge-Diverge-Converge Workshop” – Gabriele

Woman looking pensively at chart paper

Like Clara and Vincent, I’m a recent work study addition to the Innovation Hub family. In our student positions, we’re conceiving how best to implement the five prototype ideas inspired by Innovation Hub participants’ thoughts. These include: Chill Spots, a UofT Concierge, a Student-Faculty Exploration Café, Neighbourhood Communities, and a Future Readiness Course.

On our second day at Trent, I had the opportunity to facilitate one of five concurrent conversations on these prototypes. We were to treat the ideas as case studies, so in six-person teams we considered what the final “product” might look like, what obstacles we might face in implementing it, how best to measure its success, and the steps required to put it into action. My group got to think through the Student-Faculty Exploration Café, and we followed the convergent-divergent-convergent conversational model designed for the exercise. Each of the five teams brainstormed ideas separately and then paired up with folks from other teams to discuss their thoughts. After these brief divergent chats, we returned to our home teams to identify the themes that surfaced in our previous converging. Working in this way allowed us to bounce ideas off others, hear and share new perspectives with one another, and re-focus on “our” case. I found that while this workshop allowed us to further the work of the Innovation Hub, it also helped us to build community and relationships with each other.


“Active listening” – Vincent

Group of students at leadership retreat reading from handouts

Have you ever wanted to become someone’s best friend? Well, then, let me tell you all about active listening! Active listening, is listening to someone while not proposing any of your personal assumptions, this makes the person you are listening to feel fully understood. By limiting your responses to attentive body language, and only asking them to speak further by saying “tell me more”, you establish a strong connection, and build empathy for the speaker.

As part of our empathy-based leadership training, we listened to each other’s personal stories of the worst experiences we’ve had at U of T. I listened to my team facilitators story, she spoke about feeling a lack of inclusivity on campus because her program consists of students older than her, and there are only a few students her age to connect with. As I listened, I felt her feelings of frustration and saw that she had a need for connectedness. What was amazing about this exercise was that I felt as though I could relate to her experiences as if they were my own. Active listening is a powerful instrument of empathy. Although I’m not sure if I’ve become my team facilitators best friend, but I know that we shared a connection that would not have been built without active listening.

“Building your Why” – Clara

We woke up on Sunday morning excited for our third day at Trent, and eager to present our team’s findings from Saturday. But before we could present with our team, we took a few moments to do an exercise called Build Your Why. Our facilitators asked us to reflect on what we wanted to achieve through our everyday actions, and how we fit into the world – to find our motivation, our WHY. Although this may seem like a HUGE question to tackle, our facilitators broke it up into smaller sections, making it (a tad!) easier.

Basically, we were to name the contribution we wanted to make, as well as our impact. After contemplating these factors, they fall into place:

To (your contribution) so that (your impact).

In our teams, we first created a list of things we were passionate about, and things which motivated or made us happy. Then we shared with our team, and heard feedback which helped us fine-tune our Why, this helped us discover how our passions emerged into themes which connected to our strengths. At first I had a wordy sentence – and I mentioned a lot of things I care about – but a group discussion allowed me to focus my thoughts. Our facilitators gave us craft supplies to create a piece of artwork that reflected our thoughts. By the end of the workshop, I had written a preliminary version of My Why beside my art piece:

To contribute creatively to the community and natural world around me
so that I can help people feel supported in their lives.

Piece of yellow paper with paper flowers on it

Of course, this is just a rough draft! I believe that My Why will grow and change alongside me as I go through life – or else it would be too easy!

“Reflecting” – Max

The Re-imagining Leadership Retreat gave students the opportunity to take some time away from their personal agendas to challenge themselves to come up with ways to realize projects introduced by the Innovation Hub. A positive, working atmosphere formed.

Each activity was insightful in its own way and inspired different people. For example, I found that the “active listening” activity gave me the opportunity to reflect on my strengths as a listener, while also allowing me to reflect on my tendency to get really caught up in an idea so much so that I forget to stop and listen.

Leaving the retreat, I felt that two days wasn’t enough time to fully create the outlines for the projects introduced by the Innovation Hub, as well as to get to really get to know everyone! I hope that the foundation of ideas (and friendships) formed at the Re-Imagining Leadership Retreat is built upon. The projects introduced by the Innovation Hub are big. As such, I would hope that the time is taken to consider how these projects can be used to improve student life!  

Group photo of smiling students on a school bus


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