We aren’t a large faculty and staff, but there are just some people with whom my regular paths don’t cross. Last week, I had opportunities to just sit and chat with two of those colleagues. I felt as if Christmas had arrived early. Our conversations were rich and the take-aways were many. The one that was consistent in both conversations concerned leadership as it is perceived and practiced by our students. In general, our students are great human beings. They are surrounded by a nurturing school community that encourages them to be kind to others (and themselves…often, a forgotten skill), challenge their thinking, and strive to become agents of change in our world. I regularly see signs that they are succeeding in those areas. What I am not seeing is an understanding of the complete function of leadership. My colleagues agreed that this was the case with their students, as well. Our students are not unique in this area. I know this because I’ve observed it in other high schools and on university campuses, too.
What we are observing: Students embracing the mindset that to lead is an absolute that equals being in charge. I’ve learned that starting a dialogue about such models of leadership is best approached gently (and patiently), especially since this traditional view of leadership is what we’ve been taught to accept. I work with students who are typically involved in a variety of activities and organizations on campus (a good thing, since I want them to be well-rounded humans). It is common to see the same faces overseeing elements of campus life that could/should be engaging more students. Unfortunately, this kind of leadership brings with it the need to keep reinventing the wheel. Plainly put, younger students are not being brought up through the ranks. They aren’t given the opportunity to experience the organization from the inside – out. They are spectators. Perhaps the worst aspect of this is the collateral damage brought upon those students who haven’t reached the pinnacle known as leadership. Sadly, I have observed students watching the action from below and hearing them express the fact that they can’t contribute thoughts, ideas, debate, or action because “it just isn’t their turn.” I view this mindset as responsible for stunting the overall development of the community. It cheats us out of what can be offered by any and all of our members. Also, from a purely practical perspective, it gets really old having to teach a new crop of students how to do the same activities each year, especially since they’ve watched them take place (from the outside).
Over the past 8 weeks, I’ve had the chance to read and discuss Kevin Kelly’s (2016) book, The Inevitable. I thoroughly enjoyed Kelly’s voice as a writer. Even as he provided us with his predictions for technology’s impact on our world, he expressed himself with the tone of a poet . I suppose it was his writer’s voice that helped ease the specter of technology on our doorsteps for me. I went back to the author’s own introduction to help me work through the titles he chose for the chapters, and the potential it represented to me (yes, I still have issues with the robot cruising the local supermarket’s aisles). Kelly (2016, p. 3) clarifies that he was speaking about the “momentum” that continues to move through our lives. He even goes so far as to describe it as a “wave.” As someone whose place of peace is on the outermost beaches of Cape Cod, this concept described the force technology imparts and the degree of change it leaves for us to appreciate.
As I revisited his book for this week’s post, I took Kelly’s (2016) choice of this verb form as a challenge for us to maintain the momentum of each one. We bear the onus of responsibility to continue: becoming…cognifying…flowing…screening..accessing…sharing… filtering…remixing…interacting…tracking…questioning…beginning. I perceived Kelly’s (2016) choice of verbs as a poetic way of telling us to be continuous participants in the momentum known as technology. Continuous participation vs. passivity. I’m more than ok with that.
So, about my students and developing their concept of leadership.
They might be adolescents, but they are still humans (even on tough days). They see needs around them and believe they can fill them. Many times, they are successful in their endeavors. Seriously, we might not need a full committee to pull off a successful coffee house. Now, they know what to do (they survived their maiden voyage a few months back) and they can do it again. They are following the example set for them by last year’s seniors who followed the example of their predecessors. For many in our community, those seniors = “great men” (and, hopefully, more than a few “great women”). When they are successful in planning and executing a coffee house, blood drive, semi-formal, or anything else that is part of the high school experience, they are frequently perceived as heroes. It is common for leaders of this type to be described as “born”…not developed. No great wisdom was shared by graduating seniors to those who followed them. The new leaders simply replicated what they observed: Leaders do it all themselves. As I write this, I can just imagine my first-year students shaking their heads and telling me, “See? We told you. We don’t have the ‘leader smarts’ to even consider helping out. We’ll just wait until someone tells us what we’re supposed to do.”
While considering my students and their leadership, Michele Martin‘s blogpost on developing a Professional Learning Community rang a bell. Her citing of Umair Haque had me at: “They want to be who leaders are, but cannot: they want the benefits of leadership, without the price; they want the respect, dignity, and title of leadership, without leading people to lives that matter; they want the love leaders earn, act by painful act, without, in return, having the courage, humility, and wisdom to love.” Sounds hollow, doesn’t it? Although this might be taking place in the halls or classrooms of a high school campus versus corporate America, this sums up what I’m observing in my students. There has to be more to leadership than what we’re seeing.
Martin goes on to share her concept of leaders as being social artists. The 7 points she uses to frame the concept of social artists all made sense to me, but I do admit to getting stuck on her first one; the fact that social artists do not invite followership. This would be a good time to explain that my definition of followership doesn’t necessarily match Martin’s (at least, I don’t think it does). My definition, formed by Ira Chaleff’s (2009, p. 13) theory, namely:
Chaleff’s (2009) theory mirrors Martin’s other points. He tells us that followership is practiced in an organizational environment that encourages risk-taking, bravery, honesty, and trust, and welcome innovation. Learning followership is learning how to lead from the middle versus from the top down.
Question: Can technology and increased connectivity help develop a more collaborative model of leadership (read followership)?
I believe Martin’s 11 essentials are quite suitable for using technology to develop healthy leadership in my students. Here’s how I visualize them: *Hosting space/convening-– providing “safe spaces” that will encourage my students to gather. These days, my students are working at establishing an a cappella group on campus. I am encouraging them to dialogue about repertoire, scheduling, and other organizational/creative aspects that come with starting a new group. I could take care of these items on my own but prefer to have my students share in the work (leading to their investing themselves in the effort). There are times when we can gather everyone in one, physical space, but life get complicated and so do our afternoons. For times like these, we depend upon group chat. Anyone can start a conversation at any time, and all members are welcome (and encouraged) to respond. *Observing and Listening is part and parcel of our hosting/convening. So far, this has yielded valuable discussions as the members are working hard to set goals and guidelines that best suit the group. *Asking powerful questions: These days, the biggest question is, “WHY?” I’ve been so impressed by the openness and trust my students have been demonstrating, especially as they’ve shared their vulnerability. *Constant, self-directed learning/Connecting: My students have been provided with online resources to support their development in the area of a cappella. This is a relatively new style of ensemble work for them, so they is much to learn. We are all benefitting from the connectedness we have with the A Cappella Education Association. A great network with much to be learned/shared. We are connecting with one another in relative real-time (being respectful of class time, etc.) *“Kindling and fanning an extravagant hope”: This group is a step out in faith for my students. Their goal is to establish a group that will challenge its members. Connectedness with each other and students from other schools (from all over the country) who share their passion for music (especially a cappella) is helping to keep their enthusiasm stoked. *Co-creating – What are they doing? They are listening to covers, trying their hand at programming, arranging, considering best voices for solos, and they are doing this as members of a team…no silos (yes, this is “music teacher heaven”)! *Transparency and “working out loud”: These students are taking pride in the discoveries they are making and ground being gained. *Media literacies: We’re staying connected via ethical use of the school’s FB page, our own Instagram accounts, and Twitter. *Working in-person and virtually: As we’re heading off to our Christmas break, this is especially significant for us. There will be several opportunities for us to perform over break, but our connectivity will provide us with the chance to share. If we’re not there to receive the message immediately, it will be waiting for us when we pick up our end of the connection.
So many tools…so little time. During the last 8 weeks, I’ve been able to investigate a variety of online resources and their purposes, and am already making use of a number of them. Some of them are instructional in nature, while others are organizational. Technology and connectivity has a great deal to offer my students and me, not the least of which is the opportunity for my students to learn how to lead…from the middle. I described what my a cappella group is experiencing through technology and connectivity, but this is just one example of how I, along with my colleagues, am trying to turn the tide from a leader-centric to a healthy, leader/follower dyad model. This is a pretty large ship to turn, so we don’t expect signifiant change to come overnight. Our hope is that we will be able make inroads by providing examples of healthy leadership models for other students and groups to observe.
Chaleff, I. (2009). The courageous follower : Standing up to and for our leaders (Vol. 3rd ed). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.cuhsl.creighton.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=311024&site=ehost-live
Kelly, K. (2016). The inevitable: Understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape our future. NY, NY: Penguin Books.