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Monthly Archives: March 2012

Potential for Servant-Leadership

At our latest World Cafe conversation, little was directly said about leadership and its function in learning, leading to some follow  up questions. What could leadership look like in 21st Century education? What role does a more traditional model of ‘leadership’ play? I placed quotes around leadership as I wonder what we understand by the word leadership. Management and administration seem more descriptive of the leadership in many public institutions but are not synonymous with leadership. Leaders occasionally do manage or administrate, so is it more important to consider that a leader potentially has several roles, including that of a servant?

Indirectly, the concept of leadership emerged in conversations. Comments were made about switching from institutional settings to alternative settings; breaking free from institutional modes and getting away from government “standards” or “numbers” to take control of and for our children. What does this suggest about leadership? Is it calling for a fluid leadership model premised on each person’s strengths within a community rather than counting solely on ‘experts’ removed from classrooms? I suspect we should re-conceptualize educational leadership to reflect the relational nature of learning. Adding technological layers and human buffers between the classroom and decision-makers is not the reimagining leadership I have in mind.

Leaders require personal confidence to step back and place trust in others to do the job at hand. Who in the community has skills and wisdom to steer the enterprise at a given time? When a leader says, “I don’t know” it can be a sign of strength and courage, not weakness and timidity. Stepping back should not be confused with offloading jobs the leader does not want. Leaders have to follow through and allow those, able in the moment, opportunities to succeed and risk failure while affirming their worth. In this manner, leaders serve the community, its goals, and its members. The servant-leader is as necessary today as at any time in human history regardless of the nature of community and the institutions it serves. Servant-leadership and consensus require courage and spirit from leaders and followers, based on communal values shared by each member, not merely a privileged few..

Community and the institutions that serve them, including schools, can reimagine leadership. Reimagined leadership will allow more than one hand to guide the ship. Without shared vision and service from all, those ships will sink under the weight of misplaced and misunderstood accountability. In bureaucracies, accountability is an external force of regulation and monitoring. Accountability, as a shared and understood communal value, calls on both followers and leaders to accept and fulfill responsibility. One aspect of servant-leadership will be to model leading in the role of a follower as each person takes on purposeful and respectful roles.

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Summary and Poster Images for World Cafe Event March 12, 2012

I uploaded the World Cafe Summary and the World Cafe Poster Images for March 3, 2012.

The notes were amazing with the depth and richness of ideas. I am going to enjoy pulling out concepts and themes to write about over the next couple of weeks.

Balanced Holistic Education and Values

As I reflected during a morning commute on a recent conversation, I discerned a glimmer of wisdom about the role values can play in learning and education. I use the word wisdom purposefully as it is not knowledge and represents an essential counterweight to compassion. Like my recent musings that passion without com-passion is potentially blinding and harmful, compassion without wisdom can be equally damaging. Discernment allows wisdom to emerge and helps us ask and answer, “What do we value that keeps us true to what we love?”

Discernment leading to wisdom is not ‘relativism gone wild’ where everyone is entitled to an opinion regardless of the cost it exacts on others. Compassion is patient, humble, and less judgmental, allowing wisdom to be more than one’s opinion or the reiteration of ‘edutrivia’. Wisdom individually and collectively springs from within to be shared.

Community values and community provide stable cultural anchors and emerge from relational and internal processes. Community, itself, is a value, but too often contemporary advanced society turns it on end and replaces it with expedient catch phrases: collaboration, cooperation, and team player. Values such as community, wisdom, compassion, and integrity also appear under the corporate and organizational rubric of corporate mission and vision exercises. I am not dismissing these activities, but question their arbitrary, hierarchical, and limited implementation as pronouncements from the executive suites.  Can we actually engage community voices in what appears to be merely a greasing of bureaucratic wheels? Institutions truly serving community will reflect community values and not those of bureaucratic, technocratic elites seeking conformity arrived at through groupthink or oppressive processes.

What values do we want children to learn? Perhaps we would like them to care for themselves and, in the words of Martin Luther King, show compassion for the beloved community and act accordingly. Perhaps we would like them to make wise decisions as stewards of the Earth and its gifts. Perhaps we would like them to be one with Creation to provide a sense of integrity. Values emerge from within us, individually and collectively. What we want for children is accomplished by finding balance in learning ways to safely and reasonably express communal values. Learning as a cognitive exercise only will not produce the adults we desire; physical, spiritual, cognitive, and emotional balance is essential to educate children of the 21st Century to learn the values of that beloved community. It is an imperative. This no longer a new millennium. We are 12 years into it. Will we wait longer?

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