Linnette Werner, Jessica Chung, Katherine Kessenich, Leonard Taylor Jr., Ph.D., Anna Capeder DOI: 10.12806/V15/I4/C1
Bridging Theory and Practice in the Leadership Classroom: Intentional Emergence as a Modern Pedagogy
Linnette Werner, Ph.D
Director of the Undergraduate Leadership Minor
Instructor Coordinator and Teaching Specialist
Curriculum and Instructor Coordinator
Program Evaluation Coordinator and Teaching Specialist
Leonard Taylor Jr., Ph.D
Research Associate and Teaching Specialist
Assistant to the Coordinator
With leadership education expanding at an unprecedented rate, there is an acute need for an evidence-based leadership pedagogy that can bridge the gap between leadership theory and student practice both in the classroom and beyond its boundaries. This paper will give an overview of the Intentional Emergence Model as a way to teach leadership to emerging adults that specifically addresses this gap between theory and practice. It will discuss the model, research and evaluation data associated with the model, training requirements for instructors and teaching assistants, and the implications for leadership education as a result of the research on, and application of, the model.
While many professional fields have teaching tools and experiences that explicitly bridge theory to practice, the field of leadership education continues to search for a way to best ground theory in practice for its students. This paper presents the theoretical and practical roots of a new model, Intentional Emergence, as an evidence-based pedagogy for teaching leadership in a contemporary world. By the end of this paper, participants will understand how the Intentional Emergence Model addresses the gap between theory and practice, research and evaluation data associated with the model, training requirements for instructors and teaching assistants, and the implications for leadership education.
Review of Related Scholarship
While contemporary models of leadership argue that leadership can be taught and learned, many are unable to address the gap between theory and practice in the classroom. Some appropriate models for teaching leadership to undergraduates have been explored and explicated (Komives, Longerbeam, Owen, Mainella, & Osteen, 2006). However, these models primarily identify the ways students develop in their understanding of leadership. Alternatively, particular models identify specific elements of an unidentified general pedagogy, rather than putting forth a comprehensive model. Elsewhere, models and methods for learning about leadership provide useful frameworks, but rarely specific practices for teachers that bridge the gap between learning about theory and integrating theory into practice (Astin & Astin, 1996; Komives, et al., 2011).
Sharon Daloz Parks’ seminal text Leadership Can Be Taught: A Bold Approach for a Complex World (2005) documented an approach used at Harvard Graduate School with mid- career executives called Case-in-Point (CIP) teaching that explicitly acknowledges the need to address the gap between theory and practice. However, while CIP recognizes a need to create curriculum that engages students in developing skills and strategies for practicing leadership in a complex world, the strategies used within CIP are difficult at best to translate from its specific Harvard graduate context to more universal contexts, which require addressing several major differences in student characteristics and experience including: 1) a lack of extensive and shared lived experiences of leadership, 2) students’ consumer mindset toward education, 3) often the inattention of large and/or research universities to student development, and 4) the differing places students fall along developmental trajectories.
Description of Practice (Overview of Lesson/Project Plan). The Intentional Emergence (IE) Model for Leadership Education relies on three components (intention, emerging moments, and the alignment of these two) to define the most optimal bridging moments to engage within the classroom.
Intention. The first component of the model, intention, may seem deceptively simple because many instructors rely heavily on planning for the class. Such intentional construction of a unit, lesson plan, or assignment is critical to the academic rigor and success of a leadership course, but it is not uncommon that intention falls along the lines of interesting activities or simulations without a deeper scaffolding process from one moment, class, and course, to the next. For example, without intentional scaffolding from one core concept or skillset to the next, students may lose the larger educational goal amidst a sea of disconnected activities. It is the planning (intention) that allows an instructor to answer the most critical question, “To what end?” To what end are we using this simulation? To what end are students conducting interviews of local leaders? To what end will this activity lead us today? Tomorrow? At the end ofthe experience?
As Figure 1 demonstrates, sources for intention are available to the leadership educator through many planning venues and tools, which create the foundation for intention in the classroom.
Figure 1. Examples of planning sources which create the intentional foundation
Emergence. It is often clear to see how necessary well-scaffolded lesson plans are to moving students along the continuum of development in their understanding and leadership skill- building. However, highly controlled and well-planned lessons are not enough to transform theory into lived practice. The ability to connect content to moments of consequence is where transformation is possible. Emergent moments in the classroom hold the key to this bridge from theory to practice. Jeffrey Goldstein (1999), in the inaugural issue of the Journal entitled Emergence: Complexity and Organization, states “Emergence…refers to the arising of novel and coherent structures, patterns, and properties during the process of self-organization in complex systems. Emergent phenomena are conceptualized as occurring on the macro level, in contrast to the micro-level components and processes out of which they arise,” (Goldstein, 1999, p.49).
There are three important aspects of this definition to consider in the context of teaching: arising patterns, self-organizing, and macro vs micro levels. The first aspect of this definition to consider is the “arising of novel and coherent structures, patterns, and properties,” which is the heart of the work. In traditional CIP teaching, people call this working with “the here and now.” When instructors create the holding space and set an intention, they actively create space for the work that needs to be addressed by the group. It is the intentional orchestration of these novel and coherent structures that bridges the gap between theory and practice so profoundly.
Second, is the idea that “[e]mergent phenomena are conceptualized as occurring on the macro level, in contrast to the micro-level components and processes out of which they arise,” (Goldstein, 1999, p.49). In leadership terms, this would be the idea of the big picture versus the details (or the balcony and the dance floor in terms of Heifetz’s (1998) Adaptive Leadership model). Instructors must be able to engage at the micro level (the dance floor) as an authentic member of the community, but our primary responsibility is to be vigilantly aware of the patterns that are emerging at the macro level (the balcony overlooking the dance floor) in order to call these out to the class.
Finally, although Goldstein posits that it is the act of self-organization in complex systems that creates emergence, within teaching, self-organizing is also a result of using what emerges. What follows after the arising and overt identification of patterns, is a process of spontaneous self-organizing around a new level of understanding–it is the bridging of theory to practice.
This spontaneous self-organizing process also surfaces a key element of the IE model and how it differs from classic CIP teaching. While the foundations of both theories are similar and vital to learning (noticing and engaging what is happening in the moment), IE focuses more on what the system does with the here and now through organizing, bridging and leading to the next moment where effective and compassionate action can be taken.
Figure 2. Examples of sources for emergent moments
Arising Teachable Moments. Instructors who are new to emergent pedagogy can sometimes err too far on the emergence side of the model which leaves students confused as to the larger point of their learning and experiences. However, it is the confluence of intention and emergence that creates the ideal teachable moments in the leadership classroom–those moments where theory and practice are most likely to support long-term changes in default leadership behaviors.
Figure 3. When intention and emergence meet, ideal teachable moments arise
However, not all emerging teachable moments can or should be engaged in the moment they arise. In an average 90 minute course period, there may be a plethora of emergent moments that overlap with the deeper intention for the course and the class period, however, only a few of these moments will be engaged during that time.
Figure 4. Teaching moments actually engaged
Engaging with these emergent and relevant moments creates a vibrant learning environment, where students are connecting what is happening with larger leadership concepts. At its best, IE helps students make rich connections between theory and practice through various inductive and deductive reasoning activities, adding connections between concepts and students’ current mental schema of ideas. Deepening these connections and building them even further allows the learning to “come alive” and be taken from inside the classroom to outside of it. That is the ultimate leadership educator’s goal: to take the learning into the world.
Figure 5. The Intentional Emergence Model
Discussion of Outcomes/Results
Proof of the effectiveness of the IE model comes from an ongoing program evaluation and research initiative. The IE model has nearly a decade of evaluation behind it, through which we have established a culture of curiosity, exploration and ongoing improvement. Through complex survey techniques that embed demographic data into student responses, we are able to identify, better understand and adapt to students’ unique needs as well as recognize the nuances across course sections and instructors. We found instructors employing the IE model consistently receive 30% higher student satisfaction ratings over their counterparts. After standardizing the IE model across sections, the gap dissipated, increasing the average course recommendation rate by 10% and the overall course experience by 23%. With 40% of students enrolling in our courses through peer recommendation, the rapid enrollment growth of 15% each year also demonstrates increase in student experience.
Moving beyond student self-report, we adopted a research agenda to better assess the impact of the IE Model on its students. The initial research findings on the IE model also indicate that the model is highly effective in retaining students, persistence toward graduation, and campus engagement when compared to matched samples of peers. For example, students who took even one course using this model of teaching, were six times more likely to be retained their first and second years of college than students who were not exposed to this model (n=528, eβ= 6.692, B = 1.901, p < .001). A comprehensive analysis of SERU (Student Experience inthe Research University) data corroborated these findings. Students who participated in one course using the IE had significantly greater academic engagement (β = .211, p < .001), more engagement in advanced scholarship (β = .129, p < .05), and greater development of an understanding of diversity over their peers (β = .200, p < .05).
Reflections of the Practitioner
The success of this way of teaching and learning hinges on the quality and ownership of the instructor base. The foundations of IE requires that instructors hold several core practices and assumptions, most of which are opposed to those of the classical education model. As such, instructors must do a lot of unlearning of core assumptions, for example: the expectationswe have of the role of a formal authority in facilitating and decision-making, stepping outside of competency and giving control to the students and the moments that emerge, using the class as a metaphor for real moments in the world, and allowing for students to be teachers as well.
As part of this unlearning, a cohort of new instructors proceed through a rigorous nine- month on-boarding process (see Figure 6). For one semester, instructors observe at least 10 class sessions while engaging in monthly trainings that discuss core assumptions like the foundations of students learning, the assumptions we bring about power and authority into the classroom, weaning off our need for complete control and appearance of competency. After a successful teaching demonstration, instructors are placed with a mentor instructor to co-teach fora semester. This immersive training experience allows for new instructors to practice these core tenets and assumptions every day, and how to merge the intention of the curriculum with the daily execution. Here, instructors learn how to make questions about assignment deadlines or attendance policies into leadership lessons and give the work back to the students.
Figure 6. Instructor Training Process
Even when instructors move into teaching independently, they are invited to continued training sessions with the program. These trainings focus on developing “Instructor Artistry,” continuing to develop instructor knowledge about topics like cognitive learning theory, creating strategies to connect concepts and current events, and exploring the impact of instructor identity on authority and power in the classroom. These training opportunities are not only great professional development experiences, but they also aid in creating a robust instructor community. As leadership is a practice, teaching is also a practice, and these trainings offer new ways instructors can keep practicing (see Figure 7 for an example of concepts covered).