Systems Thinking Applied for Constant Program Improvement
High quality programs utilized systems thinking for constant program improvement. The programs were consistently acting on research about learning, program development, and leadership and conducting their own studies for assessment purposes. Programs were continually innovating and implementing new features.
Actions. Stakeholders bring the systems thinking applied for constant program improvement attribute to practice in programs through two important actions. First, programs are developed utilizing current leadership, student development, leadership development, curriculum, teaching & learning, quality program development, and education research and models. Second, program improvement is continual and both practitioner and student led, involving multiple assessment and feedback systems.
Effects on students. Participants are impacted by systems thinking applied for constant program improvement in two ways. First, students gain a scholarly, research grounded perspective on leadership that they apply personally and incorporate the models into their leadership practice. Second, students’ concept of self and leadership identity development is advanced through program alignment with the students’ development and program standards to uphold.
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Content Anchored in Modeled Leadership Values
Practitioners identified the importance of explicit program values and rooting those values in non-neutral grounds. All of the programs in this study were clear about encouraging students to use their leadership for socially just and ethical purposes and to think clearly about the choices one makes. Though students were encouraged to think for themselves, programs explicitly stated the values and social importance of leadership for the common good.
Actions. The research delineated three actions which animate the attribute of content anchored in modeled leadership values. First, program content is developed and offered based on previously established desired leadership development outcomes for the students. Second, programs explicitly state the mission and values of the program and model the values through the curriculum and participant action. Third, programs develop content that infuses student leadership and college student specific issues to make the curriculum real and have utility for the individual student.
Effects on students. Content anchored in modeled leadership values has three corresponding effects on students. First, students turn the magnifying glass inwards to acquire a greater social awareness through servant leadership with a social change focus of how their leadership can be focused on helping others. Second, students acquire a language of leadership and gain an understanding and integration of leadership models in their life through clearer leadership thinking and desired leadership ends and means. Third, students formulate their own values and model program values to be leaders of integrity with credibility cognizant of the social importance of leadership and service.
Flexible Program Design to Accommodate Student Interests
The data indicates that student choice in the program was important for students in driving their own development. Quality leadership programs provided choices of significant components such as specializations or selection in project topic session to attend. This power of choice allows students to take ownership of their own learning and focus more on their passion.
Actions. Stakeholders enact flexible program design to accommodate student interests in three major actions. First, programs consist of a variety of themes, service sites, group & individual project choices, and team memberships to allow students to choose their leadership context and skills to develop. Second, programs incorporate a wide variety of delivery methods to appeal to different student learning styles. Third, programs integrate the various components students can choose into a common, coherent, larger whole curriculum that students experience in unique ways.
Effects on students. Two outcomes are correlated with flexible program design to accommodate student interests. First, students build a leadership skill tool belt through relevant and salient curriculum that allows choice for them to develop practical skills. Second, students explore interests and clarify their conception of leadership by viewing leadership from the lenses of multiple contexts and viewpoints on leadership.
Cluster III: Research Grounded Continuous Program Development
The third cluster in this theory of high quality leadership programs is research grounded continuous program development. Educational practitioners and student staff spoke to this cluster best and in the most detail because of their behind the scenes knowledge of how the programs are developed and implemented. This cluster encompasses three attributes which include flexible program design to accommodate student interests, content anchored in modeled leadership values, and systems thinking applied for constant program improvement.
Students Engage in Self Discovery through Retreats
One other attribute of high quality leadership programs involves a retreat component to accelerate student self-discovery. Sometimes the whole program was a retreat, while in other programs it was a component. The retreats are opportunities for the students to journey inward.
Actions. Students engage in self-discovery through retreats through two actions which animate this attribute. First, programs bring groups of students away from the routine of the campus for an accelerated and in depth exploration of themselves, their fellow participants and leadership. Second, programs use alternative, group based, and experiential teaching methods such as a ropes courses, challenges, or intense exploration into a particular theme or issue.
Effects on students. Participants are affected by students engage in self discovery in a principal manner. Students renew, gain motivation, and reorganize themselves at a higher level of leadership development through stepping back and digging deeper to explore inward.
Students Engage in Service: Society, community, institution, and program
Service learning, an attribute of high quality programs, affected the individual students as well as the greater community. By engaging in meaningful leadership practice, students were able to make positive contributions to their communities and also to their own learning and development. Programs created the pathways, bridges, and corresponding learning space for students to use their leadership for civic purposes.
Actions. Students engage in service includes three actions which program stakeholders undertake. First, programs provide opportunities for students to practice leadership and learn through service learning in groups and individually. Second, programs expose students early to a wide breadth of multiple service sites, people, and organizations. Third, programs allow students to have increasing responsibility and devote significant time for in-depth service to the site in which they are most interested or the cause about which they are most passionate.
Effects on students. Students engage in service has three important effects on students. First, students clarify their passions, interests, strengths, and begin to find their life work by trying contexts and roles at different service placements. Second, students expand their social awareness, empathy, gratitude, and respect for others by encountering issues such as poverty and injustice firsthand with eye-opening experiences. Third, students understand how they can serve to make a difference, and they build an increased desire for servant leadership and involvement in leadership for social causes.
Students Encounter Episodes of Difference: Contexts, people, and ways of leading
The importance of the notion of difference was one of the intriguing findings of this study. It was surprising to students that they had learned so much from this new route. In many different ways, students and practitioners identified an experience with difference as a powerful catalyst for student learning and development. Students encountered different people, cultures, settings, organizations, and leadership contexts first-hand through the program. This first-hand encounter was a beneficial spark for many students’ learning.
Actions. Students encounter episodes of difference is made tangible in leadership programs in two ways. First, programs expose students to different situations, contexts, cultures, groups, and people through their stories and program activities. Second, programs give students opportunities to practice different ways of leading, leadership roles, and engage with others with different leadership styles.
Effects on students. Students encounter episodes of difference includes three outcomes for participants. First, students gain eye opening new perspectives of which they were unaware through experiences and sharing in discussions with people different from them. Second, students learn different ways of leading through witnessing different leadership styles. Third, students become more open minded and less quick to judge while reconciling their worldview and realizing how much there is to learn.
Students Make Leadership Meaning through Dialogue and Discussions
The value of a good conversation was evident from the data gathered. Students gained knowledge and made meaning of the subject matter through discussing it and engaging in dialogue with fellow participants. High quality programs utilize opportunities for dialogue and applied discussions with a variety of activities to advance student leadership development.
Actions. The students make leadership meaning through dialogue and discussions attribute is brought to practice through two primary ways in high quality leadership programs. First, programs engage students in group discussions, debriefings, and dialogues stimulated by events, activities, readings, and presentations. Second, programs engage students in making meaning and connections to readings through discussing their out-of-program experiences.
Effects on students. There is one major effect that was found of the students make leadership meaning through dialogue and discussions attribute. Students improve their listening and speaking communication skills through listening to others and telling their own thoughts.
Students Apply Leadership Concepts to Themselves in Meetings
Student learning and leadership development can happen everywhere, but the meetings of the program are a special space for a coherent development effort to occur. High quality programs utilize simulations, assessment, and a wide variety of activities to engage different students and their learning styles in leadership development. The meetings where students were physically together as a learning community offered ample opportunity for the students to apply the leadership concepts they were learning to themselves through a variety of activities.
Actions. Students apply leadership concepts to themselves in meetings attribute is brought into practice through two ways. First, programs engage students in a variety of curricular activities designed to help them gain a greater understanding of themselves, including personality, strengths, style, skills, and values assessments. Second, programs engage students in simulations to give them practice with specific leadership skills, including strategic planning, ethics, and decision making.
Effects on students. There are two effects of students apply leadership concepts to themselves in meetings. First, students identify their own personality, leadership style, strengths, and opportunities for improvement through self analysis. Second, students develop self confidence, preparation, specific skills and gain rapid experience through simulations.