Students Engage in Reflection Activities: Connecting leadership theory, their experiences, and themselves
Reflection activities emerged as a vital tool for leadership development, especially in concert with action and observation. The reflection activities took many forms, from a written journal to reacting to something a fellow participant said to simply remaining still and thinking about a question. High quality leadership programs use reflection and activities designed to help students make meaning of their experiences as a tool for leadership development and learning.
Actions. Students engage in reflection activities is brought to practice within programs in three ways. First, programs engage students in written reflection activities in the form of journals, essays about readings, and other projects. Second, programs engage students in verbal reflection in reaction to discussions, questions posed, and current events. Third, programs formally engage students in completing vision and goal setting activities and other projects to personalize the concepts to the individual.
Effects on students. There are two student learning and leadership development outcomes from students who engage in reflection activities. First, students learn more about themselves, develop future visions and goals, and become more purposeful with being themselves and making congruent decisions. Second, students develop a meaningful leadership philosophy, model, or framework to analyze their own thoughts and actions to ultimately integrate improvements in their life and leadership.
Students Practice Leadership Individually and Collectively
Across the sample it was clear that students practice leadership individually and collectively was one of the most significant attributes that emerged in this study. Quite simply, students learn leadership by doing it, and programs that provide opportunities for student leadership practice create ripples of positive outcomes for students and society.
Actions. Students practice leadership individually and collectively is animated in programs in four different ways. First, programs engage students in practicing the leadership skills and concepts they are learning through group development processes within the program, in class projects, and with individual leadership plans. Second, programs engage students in practicing leadership in various out of class projects in the community and on campus. Third, programs engage students in practicing leadership through assuming positions and roles within the program to share responsibility in operating the program and teaching fellow students. Fourth, programs create opportunities for students to become involved in tangible ways outside of the program in the community, campus, and within other organizations.
Effects on students. There are four significant effects of students practice leadership individually and collectively for program participants. First, students find their voice, gain self efficacy, and see leadership as something they and others are capable of through experiencing first-hand that one can overcome fear, challenges, and lead. Second, students think about who leaders are and what leadership is in broader and inclusive ways. Third, students gain a greater understanding of organizations, group dynamics, and how to develop a team through motivating others. Fourth, students learn balance, time management, and problem solving from the demands and imperfection of their projects.
Cluster II: Student Centered Experiential Learning Experiences
Student centered experiential learning experiences is the second of three clusters of attributes in this grounded theory of high quality leadership programs. Stakeholders spoke most frequently about this cluster area in the interviews when considering what was done in the program to help students develop as leaders. Seven attributes were identified within this cluster: students practice leadership individually and collectively, students engage in reflection activities, students apply leadership concepts to themselves in meetings, students encounter episodes of difference, students engage in service, and students engage in self discovery through retreats.
Participants Cultivate One-on-One Relationships
Across the sample of study participants, students and practitioners identified the value of one-on-one relationships in helping students to become better leaders. These relationships happened between practitioners and students and also between students of different classes or between peers within program activities. For mentoring and developmental feedback, the relationships were both formal and informal in nature.
Actions. Programs animate participants cultivate one-on-one relationships in two major ways. First, programs facilitate participants giving and receiving feedback to one another in critical instances after they have had time observing each others’ leadership style. Second, programs utilize a wide variety of teambuilding activities and structures at the beginning of the program and throughout to allow participants to meet and connect on a one to one basis.
Effects on students. There are two effects of participants cultivate one-on-one relationships. First, students learn how to give and receive feedback through practice of giving and receiving feedback that contributes to their ability to implement positive changes in their leadership. Second, students learn the skills to develop better interpersonal relationships through listening to others and seeking to understand.
Participants Foster a Culture of Challenge and Support
One crucial element which matters for student leadership development and learning is the culture within a program. This culture is one of both challenge and support that is fostered by the program participants themselves. This culture is not always easily visible or structural within the program but it is present and felt by the participants.
Actions. There are two primary actions taken by leadership development programs to enact participants foster a culture of challenge and support. First, participants challenge each other to risk and learn from mistakes, ask difficult questions, and think for themselves all within a safe encouraging atmosphere. Second, practitioners set community standards and encourage participants to be approachable, encouraging, and willing to help fellow participants outside of the program as well as within.
Effects on students. Two major effects on students were discovered when participants foster a culture of challenge and support. First, students develop courage and expand their comfort zone through being challenged and encouraged to risk while supported. Second, students establish trust with self and others through vulnerable honest dialogue focused on their personal growth when confronting important issues.
Participants Unite Through Small Groups
Program size can oftentimes be large, and a structure is needed to make the program smaller, not only for the usual “smaller class size” sake of learning but also for the social fabric the students experience in the program. Students wanted to develop real relationships with others, be a part of the larger program community, and also be a part of a smaller group. Students cited the forming of groups within the large program as very effective for their development in a variety of ways. Learning happened for students when programs structured the learning community in smaller ways that allowed the students to interact with each other.
Actions. Programs enable participants unite through small groups in three significant ways. First, programs make the large learning community enrollment smaller through a structure that places students within smaller groups in the program. Second, programs allow students to shape and share in a group identity and work together to develop the small group, cluster, or team to which they belong. Third, programs utilize the small group as a laboratory to learn about leadership where students teach each other, engage in activities, work on projects, overcome challenges, and bond through developing as a team.
Effects on students. There are two major outcomes that students gain from programs that have the attribute of participants unite through small groups. First, students learn how to have a positive relationship with individual group members and how to develop relationships within a group. Second, students learn to practice collaborative leadership by identifying their own skills, taking on team roles, and utilizing skills of different people for a common group purpose and achieving as a team.
Educators Model Leadership and Support
The students interviewed spoke often about just listening to or observing their teacher or program administrator and modeling from their leadership. The support that practitioners provided also mattered greatly for students’ leadership development and ability to be successful in the program and afterward.
Actions. Programs enact educators model leadership and support within their programs through three actions. First, educators reduce status differences, are open and accessible, empower students, demonstrate integrity, care, and model exemplary leadership practice through their interactions with students. Second, educators tell their stories, share real experiences, and ask thought-provoking questions. Third, educators mentor and support students outside of program meetings.
Effects on students. Educators model leadership and support had a notable effect on their students. Students develop holistically and gain courage to be more authentic and congruent leaders from practitioner modeling and support. This effect was significant for an individual’s development as a leader and as a person, and it is derived from the relationship with their practitioner.
Experienced and Committed Practitioners
Students and stakeholders spoke consistently about the importance of teachers, facilitators, administrators, and staff members for student leadership development. Educational practitioners who are committed and experienced in working with students and teaching leadership had a very positive impact on students and modeled leadership practice. Practitioners emerged in forms other than the traditional one teacher leading a class. Guest leaders from the community as well as team-facilitated programs from a group of facilitators all played instrumental roles in advancing student learning and development.
Actions. Programs enact the experienced and committed practitioners attribute within their programs through two actions. First, programs hire student-centered educational practitioners as teachers and administrators to facilitate students’ leadership development. Second, programs create opportunities for leadership practitioners from a variety of fields and careers to serve as guest leaders, sharing their experiences through panels, discussions, and conversations with students.
Effects on students. Experienced and committed practitioners had two primary and distinct effects on students. First, students clarify and broaden their leadership thinking including assumptions of who a leader is and how a leader leads from observing practitioners. Second, students acquire a realness of how leadership can be used, supplemented by motivation to formulate a future vision for themselves from the guest leader real world practitioners.
Diverse and Engaged Students
Students who participate in a program determine the quality of a leadership program. Indeed, students themselves bring to the “leadership learning table” their previous experience and background. Not only the quality of students but also how they differ from each other and their level of commitment play a great role in a successful leadership development program. This notion was repeatedly emphasized in interviews from both students and educational practitioners.
Actions. Stakeholders enlisted diverse and engaged students in the program through two primary means. First, programs utilize an application and selection procedure to select students who are invested in their own and others’ development and are committed to engaging fully in the program. Second, programs recruit from many sources and bring together a mix of students from a variety of backgrounds to create a diverse learning community.
Effects on students. There are two primary leadership development and learning outcomes which students experience from actions taken to enact the diverse and engaged students attribute. First, students learn to form collaborations and a network rich in social capital for their leadership endeavors. Second, students acquire new ideas and an enriched understanding through hearing personal experiences and perspectives offered by diverse students in the program.
Cluster One: Participants Engaged in Building and Sustaining a Learning Community
High quality leadership programs contribute positively to student leadership development as a result of the contributions and perspectives of a community of stakeholders whose participants collaborate to engage in building a learning community. This community fosters leadership development and learning for participants. The attributes of the participants engaged in building a learning community cluster include:
• Diverse and engaged students
• Experienced and committed practitioners
• Educators model leadership and support
• Participants unite through small groups
• Participant foster a culture of challenge and support
• Participants cultivate one-on-one relationships
This is Cluster One of Three. Each cluster contains 3-7 attributes of high quality leadership programs. Each attribute is described in terms of actions taken to enact it and the learning and leadership development outcome it relates to achieving in the learner. I will blog attribute by attribute over the upcoming weeks. Next up, “Diverse and engaged students.”