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Kallion’s mission is “to develop better leadership across all sectors and communities through the humanities.” As the Director of Pedagogy, it’s my job to help instructors develop course materials and teaching methods that transform learners into leaders. But I have to admit, as a teacher myself, I’ve often worried that I fall into the trap of teaching my students about leadership more than I teach them to be better leaders. It’s this gap between content mastery and personal leadership development that Kallion is working to bridge with the Leadership and the Humanities: Study-to-Practice (S2P) Workshop, the first of which took place August 2-3, 2019 at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, DC.

Back row, left to right: John Esposito, Paul B. Ellis, Matthew Roller, Stephanie Barksdale, Lucy Verheggen, Lanah Koelle
Front row, left to right: Dasia Smith, Mallory Monaco Caterine, Shana O’Connell, Rhonda Knight, Rebecca Frankel, Daniella Sebastian

The model for the S2P workshop is to bring together a special combination of individuals with complementary expertise: leadership development professionals from various non-academic sectors, who can bring a “real world” perspective; recent college graduates who are able to speak to the ways their education trained them to lead; and humanities educators, who bring their content knowledge and teaching experience to bear on the challenge of integrating leadership development into their classrooms. In DC, these groups all came to the table to be learners and teachers of each other, in a truly egalitarian and inclusive dialogue. This community of professionals, academics, and young leaders is the social glue that Kallion hopes will bind all of its initiatives together and makes it stand out from other organizations making similar claims to improve leadership.

The Study-to-Practice participants buzzed with excitement before the first panel of the weekend in House A at the Center for Hellenic Studies.

The workshop began on Friday afternoon with a panel featuring four professional leadership developers, who each spoke on a different leadership behavior:

  • Mieke Eoyang (Senior Vice-President, Third Way) discussed the challenge of setting a new vision in the US national security space;
  • Monique Maley (President and Founder, Articulate Persuasion) shared her perspective as an executive leadership coach on the storytelling skills leaders need to cultivate in order to communicate their vision to their followers;
  • Benjamin Crockett (Assoc. Dean of Academic Affairs and Professor of Practice, Africa Center for Strategic Studies) spoke about the US Army’s approach to leadership development, with a special emphasis on values-based leadership; and
  • Jarinete Santos (Political Pipeline Director, She Should Run) explained how her organization helps women overcome the internal and external barriers that prevent women from pursuing elected office.

In the discussion that followed, Rebecca Frankel (SAGE Publications, Harvard ‘15 graduate) brought up a question that caught the attention of all the participants: how do you teach someone to make meaning out of failure? The interest this question sparked inspired me to include it, along with vision-setting and storytelling, as one of the three themes for the faculty workshop groups to explore the following day.

The second part of Friday’s program was a panel on “The Student Experience of Leadership”. Rebecca Frankel , Paul B. Ellis (campaign manager for U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin and national director of Democracy Summer; Ohio State University ‘18 graduate), Lucy Verheggen (Tulane ‘19 graduate) reflected on their college experience and which specific leadership behaviors they developed, and in which contexts they sensed this training to take place. Dasia Smith (teacher in DC Public Schools, Howard ‘19 graduate) and Maddie Watson (assistant in leadership studies at the CHS, sophomore at Yale) also completed a pre-workshop survey sharing their experiences, but unfortunately weren’t able to participate in the Friday panel. A few interesting themes emerged:

  • Extracurricular activities (clubs, sports, Greek life) are often better, or more transparent, about being engaged in leadership development.
  • Professors act as both mentors and leadership models to their students, whether they intend to or not.
  • Although students may complain or fret about public speaking assignments and group work, these kinds of activities give them the greatest opportunities for practicing leadership behaviors in class. In large part, it’s because these specific activities force students “to become comfortable with the uncomfortable.”

The ensuing discussion was not unlike a miniature focus group, where the teachers in the room could ask the recent graduates how various pedagogical ideas and practices might be received by their students, without any fear of judgment or formal evaluation in either direction. The whole group came away from this second panel with a recognition that there’s a lot more leadership development going on in humanities education than either students or faculty often appreciate. One very helpful outcome of discussions like this is that they can give humanities faculty one more angle from which to view and value their humanities courses based on what’s already happening in them.

After plenty of pizza and a good night’s rest, we reconvened on Saturday morning to begin the pedagogical design workshop. Educators and recent graduates were divided into three groups of 3-4 people each who collaborated all day to develop class activities and assignments that would help students move from a cognitive understanding of leadership behaviors to a lived, experiential practice of them. Each group was assigned a behavior inspired by Friday’s panels: Vision-Setting, Storytelling, and Overcoming Failure. Norman Sandridge, John Esposito, and I rotated through the groups as facilitators throughout the day. The design process consisted of three stages:

  1. Define + Collect: Each group had to agree upon a definition for their leadership behavior, and then begin brainstorming the raw materials (texts, images, movies, music, etc.) they might draw on to teach students about that behavior.
  2. Act + Reflect: Groups then had to determine what leadership practice they wanted their students to do, or do better, after completing their to-be-created assignment. In addition, each group had to identify ways that they might assess student progress, as well as ways to encourage student reflection.
  3. Curate + Create: Finally, each group had to devise an in-class activity and out-of-class assignment that would move students from understanding the behavior defined in Step 1 to practicing the action identified in Step 2. 

I’d like to share with you a few of the products of this process…

Lucy Verheggen, Lanah Koelle (program manager and librarian, Center for Hellenic Studies), Paul B. Ellis, and Shana O’Connell (Master Instructor in Classics, Howard University) worked on the issue of “overcoming failure”, which they defined as: “Making meaning of a failure and acknowledging that it exists, and then changing and adapting your behavior within your means in order to not repeat the failure.” To that end, they devised an assignment in which students would have to identify their own support system — a “personal board of directors” — who would help them work through the emotional impact of failure, assist them in assessing why they failed, as well as the positive things they did, even if the overall outcome was negative. One suggested priming activity for this assignment was to ask students to observe how T’Challa does this with his mother Ramonda, Shuri, Nakia, and Okoye in the 2018 Black Panther film, before they attempt that process for themselves.

Dasia Smith, Matthew Roller (Professor of Classics and Vice Dean for Graduate Education and Centers & Programs, Johns Hopkins University), and Rhonda Knight (Professor of English, Coker University) defined storytelling as: “an informed rhetorical strategy that provides a narrative (e.g., historical, fictional, parable) for a group that outlines the origins (of the group itself, of the members themselves) and their roles going forward. Rhetoric here may include anything like the character of the speaker (confidence, composure, clarity), the emotions of the audience, emplotment, and language (metaphor, metonymy), but its main purpose to create a space in which the listeners can see themselves as agents.” For an in-class activity, they came up with an idea to assign students specific roles to take on as they read a text like Iliad 1 (e.g. Agamemnon, Achilles, Nestor, Chalchas, a Greek soldier, Briseis, etc.), and then discuss what different characters heard vs. what others meant to say, how leaders’ stories made different characters feel, and what those feelings motivated them to do. One of the benefits of this activity is that it’s easily translatable to different texts and adaptable to both high school and college classrooms.

Rebecca Frankel, Stephanie Barksdale (director of University Partnerships and Social Innovation, Cowan Institute; and adjunct instructor of Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship, Tulane University), and Daniella Sebastian (middle school English teacher, DC Public Schools) focused their efforts on vision-setting, a behavior they defined as: “imagining a more just future based on an understanding of what has been, what is, and what will be”. One way to get students to start thinking about vision-setting is doing case-studies, either by having them bring in vision statements for organizations they are involved in (or aspire to be), or by looking at examples of successful and unsuccessful vision-setting (e.g. Theranos, FyreFest, Aeneas, Solon, Black Panther). They suggested that to gain experience with vision-setting, students could intern with local organizations to see how they develop a vision and communicate it with stakeholders.

At the end of the day, we all came back together to reflect on the process of the workshop and what our make takeaways were. Emotional intelligence — especially in terms of perspective-taking, emotional self-awareness, and relationship management — stood out to the group as a common skill set that was integral to all three of the leadership behaviors we focused on. Critical reflection was another common thread, and was recognized as an important way for students and instructors alike to take note of what they had learned and bring it forward with them into the world. We also discussed the difference and interrelationship between fostering student’s personal development, an action that benefits them, versus fostering leadership development, which requires students to look outside of themselves to the communities they wish to lead and impact.

What explains the Kallion paradox?

The final few minutes of discussion brought us back to trying to better understand the “Kallion paradox”, a concept which Norman had introduced the group to in his opening remarks on Friday. In brief, the “Kallion paradox” observes the following:

  • We need better leadership.
  • The humanities can make a defensible claim that it trains students in certain leadership behaviors.
  • Yet the humanities is commonly viewed as not central to higher education, much less an education in leadership.

Kallion Leadership is working to understand and bridge this disconnect between the desire for better leadership and the marginalization of humanities education, and the S2P workshop is one of the ways in which we are trying to recenter the humanities in the training of today and tomorrow’s leaders. 

Kallion’s tagline is “Elevating Leadership Through the Humanities”, and I came away from the DC workshop ever more certain that one way to do that is by integrating more intentional leadership development work into humanities courses, so that as many college students as possible are exposed to a human-centered model of leadership. This is the goal of the S2P workshops, and I was happy to see light bulbs going off and humanities faculty buying into this pedagogical model. At the same time, though, I left the workshop thinking that Kallion can also “Elevate the Humanities Through Leadership”, both in its public reputation and its work in the classroom. Few of the assignments created during the workshop were truly radical, revolutionary, or novel in terms of traditional humanities pedagogy, but simply reframed time-tested “best practices” of teaching in such a way that both instructors and students were explicit about how those activities translated into better leadership practice. Adding a leadership development layer or focus to humanities course requires faculty to be more intentional and transparent in their teaching practices, which surely leads to better learning outcomes. Moreover, this intentional and transparent pedagogy helps faculty and students build a common language for communicating the value of a humanities education to the world outside of our classroom bubbles, whether that’s administrators, potential employers, or the general public. If the humanities are to regain a central position in education systems, and especially in leadership education, we will need as many eloquent advocates as we can get.

In the coming months, I’m excited to hear from our participants about the ways that S2P workshop has impacted their teaching, whether it’s through using some of the newly created assignments, or a more general shift in thinking about what, how and why they teach the humanities. I hope to share some of these updates with you as I receive them. Until then, if you would be interested in hosting a Study-to-Practice workshop at your institution, or in participating in an upcoming workshop, please reach out to me at mallory@kallion.org. I’d love to collaborate with you and support you in bringing this Kallion event to you and your colleagues.

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