We all have the choice to lead or not. So the question becomes: Why does someone choose to lead? I believe the answer is, fundamentally, that they believe strongly enough in something that they want to take action and are willing to take on the responsibility of being a leader. Such is the case for me with regards to teaching. When I was young I simply wanted to be led.
As I matured, however, opportunities to assume leadership roles presented themselves and, with support from my peers and mentors, I found myself taking them on and have grown to enjoy being a leader and helping those around me succeed. My values and beliefs about teaching can be summarized quite simply: good teaching is important to me, and we should help each other become better teachers. As such, I strive to develop a culture of good teaching by contributing to all activities and initiatives that support it.
This includes initiating new programs and courses which help enrich the university experience, attending social activities and welcoming new members to our teaching community, presenting professional development sessions, volunteering to be on the “bleeding edge” of educational technology pilot projects, and serving on committees that provide university administration with informed opinions on teaching related matters. My motivation for leading and my style of leadership are nearly perfectly classified by Robert Greenleaf’s “Servant Leadership” model: “The servant-leader is servant first…
It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. ” ~ Robert K. Greenleaf, 1970 The characteristics of servant leaders are: Listening, Empathy, Healing, Awareness, Persuasion, Conceptualization, Foresight, Stewardship, Commitment to the Growth of People, and Building Community (“The Understanding and Practice of Servant Leadership”, L. C. Spears, 2005) but this is perhaps better embodied by the following: “A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong.
While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible. ” ~ Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership When working with colleagues on projects and committees, I have often found myself either formally or informally in a leadership role. When formally responsible for leading a group I use my strengths in problem solving and group work from my own discipline (Engineering) to lead project teams.
Specifically, adapt my style such that I use my strengths to provide what a team needs (i. e. If a team needs an organizer then be that, if a team needs someone to look to for leadership and/or strength, then be that). Recently I have found myself leading teams where Tam less knowledgeable than others so I have successfully adapted my role to serve to coordinate people with expertise and/or talents to get projects done. Often in these cases, my knowledge of university administrative structures, procedures and policies compliment the other team members’ strengths and have led to successful completion of our projects.
On a recent project where I led a large group of faculty and selected staff to design a first-year university skills course, I had very little expertise so I adopted a strategy that ensured everyone brought their ideas and concerns to the table. I was then able to merely act as a coach by stepping back and letting a consensus develop and grow, intervening only if an additional nudge was needed. This worked very well on this particular project as the people involved were both highly motivated and knowledgeable.
While reading “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference” by Malcolm Gladwell | discovered that I am what Gladwell calls a “Maven”. Gladwell’s “Maven” is someone who is an “information specialist” (p. 19), who accumulates knowledge and is “almost pathologically helpful”. Gladwell’s idea of a “Maven” explained why I feel the unyielding need to help people solve their problems, especially if it pertains to something I know about, and why I like to hear about how other people have solved their problems; I want to acquire their knowledge and expertise both for my own use but so that I may also share it with others.
I read the passage several times; I had discovered why I like to help people so much. It should come as no surprise that I enjoy pushing the boundaries of what I know by researching new and existing teaching strategies to improve my “repertoire”. The more difficult part, however, is finding the resolve to implement them. Having come from a very traditional model of education, this necessitates a significant amount of determination and selfconfidence.
Having gained many years of teaching experience and some success in implementing new methods and techniques, I am now able to research and adapt them much more readily. If what I learn is not shared with my colleagues, however, then this does nothing to improve my teaching community. I firmly believe that one of the best ways to foster a “teaching culture” and “excellence in teaching” in one’s own community is to be actively involved in teaching related activities such as discussion groups, workshops, and committees.
To achieve this I attempt to lead the spread of “teaching knowledge” by not just saying it is a good idea to share knowledge, but to share what I know with others, and to encourage others to do the same. Often this necessitates helping people conquer their inhibitions about sharing their “teaching knowledge” by providing them with the confidence and a safe forum in which to do so. I attempt to lead by example in this regard through a variety of forums which range from informally training and mentoring my colleagues to formal professional development presentations.
Often my topic is related to my passion for uses of technology in teaching, effective teaching strategies and course design but, regardless of the format, I relish opportunities to share my own knowledge with others. In addition to the sheer enjoyment that I get from discussing teaching with my colleagues, I also use it as an opportunity to provide informal mentoring. When sharing my own stories and lessons learned, I am always conscious of their level of interest and, if they do show an interest in something | do or know then I endeavor to make myself available to them to teach and or mentor them on the relevant topic.
Furthermore, make every attempt to not put it off until a later date by doing it right there if we can or setting a firm time to address the issue. If a colleague is struggling with something then I attempt to help them by discussing the issue. If they seem open to help then assist them in developing a solution based on my own experience and knowledge or identify possible resources that may help. Being deeply engaged in the teaching community is critical to achieving the latter. I then follow up to see if they have resolved their problem and assist whenever possible.
In closing, since I have an unyielding desire to help where I can, I must often make conscious decisions about which projects I take on. I have developed the following “Golden Rules” that I use to assist me: • If it is important to you then help. • If you cannot do it well then find someone who can. • If you say you are going to do something then follow through, on time, and to the end. • Maintain a positive attitude; it’s infectious. • Enjoy your work and your colleagues, and celebrate your successes and your failures together.