Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Leadership Journeys: Paths to Professional Practice

Carol A. Mullen
Past President, NCPEA
Virginia Tech

Do educational leaders experience breathtaking, all-consuming, transformative leadership journeys? Do they see themselves on a journey of growth and development, as humans and as leaders?
If educational leaders intuit that their lives and/or professional journeys/development are on a path, what are some implications for thinking about leadership, conducting research, and preparing future educational leaders?
These are overarching research questions that NCPEA Past Presidents Carol Mullen and Fenwick English are asking in a new book of theirs on the leadership journey as it intersects with the lived experiences of educational leaders, with relevance for the preparation of leaders and the educational leadership field. A primary source of inspiration for this book is American mythologist Joseph Campbell’s description of the university mythic pattern. We think that it very well may have applicability to your experiences as a leader, both in your work and in your life.
General Description of the Journey Theme
The educational leader (i.e., hero) begins in the ordinary world, and receives a call to enter an unknown world of strange powers and events. The leader who accepts the call to enter this strange world must face tasks and trials, either alone or with assistance. In the most intense versions of the narrative, the hero must survive a severe challenge, often with help. If the hero survives, s/he may achieve a great gift or “boon.” The hero must then decide whether to return to the ordinary world with this boon. If the hero does decide to return, s/he often faces challenges on the return journey. If the hero returns successfully, the boon or gift may be used to improve the world (Campbell, 1949/1973).
While Campbell describes 17 stages or steps along this journey, in fact very people (e.g., mythic heroes, educational leaders) experience all 17 stages. These 17 stages can be compressed into the following major phases.

Please share a transformative leadership experience that you have had that could very well contribute to the greater good of our profession. Thank you in advance for your time!
~ Carol Mullen

Specific Description of the Journey’s Phases ~ please comment
Departure deals with the hero's adventure prior to the quest
What call have you accepted (or rejected) in your work as an educational leader that turned out to be a significant decision? What feelings, thoughts, or struggles did you experience during this phase of your leadership journey?

Initiation deals with the hero's many adventures along the way
While on the journey, what experiences did you encounter? Who or what helped you, challenged you, or blocked you? What trials did you undergo? These take the form of a series of tests, tasks, or ordeals that the person must undergo to begin the transformation.

Return deals with the hero’s return home with knowledge and powers acquired on the journey.
What did you experience upon your return home to the ordinary world? What new insight did you gain from your journey? What wisdom did you come to and have you had the opportunity to integrate the wisdom gained on the quest into your work, life, consciousness, or being? Have you shared your wisdom with friends, colleagues, networks, or even the rest of the world?

Campbell, J. (1949/1973). The hero with a thousand faces. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University


Anonymous said...

This is an interesting concept. I am a believer that a student should exit my class as a different student than the one who started the journey. It is my desire that the student is more aware, more thoughtful, and more willing to lead.
As a leader, I learned from many others along the way, and I am not the person I was. It is the difference between "being" and "becoming." I am still in the process of becoming, and as I experience that process, I hope to affect change in the world around me.

Anonymous said...

I find the connection between professional leadership practice and one's existential journey wholly refreshing. As an emerging scholar of existential philosophy and philosophy of education, I believe that a renewed focus on the individual - from student, to educator, to administrator - is necessary to understanding education as human endeavor. I also embrace the concept of "becoming." At all levels within the realm of education, the individual can choose "becoming" as ongoing possibility for personal enrichment and for contributing to the social good.

Anonymous said...

A true revelation! This journey is one that every educational leader travels through, but at vastly varying levels of cognition about the journey and varying outcomes at journey's end. Below is such a journey, for which I am very familiar.

As a young K-12 educational leader in the ordinary classroom and AP ranks, I received an opportunity (Call) to enter the EDL doctoral unknown monstrosity...a scary chance to leave K-12 tenure, paychecks and stability all for a temporarily shot at being graduate assistant and grad fellow with the temptation of obtaining strange new teaching college powers. I reluctantly accepted the call and began the strange journey through a whole new world with many tough trails and life straining tribulations, for most of which I was wholly not prepared! Often times I felt alone, even though faculty and staff were, so called, 'available'. After being repeatedly told often that 'what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger', I dug deep and somehow, someway, persevered. Actually, this huge challenge motivated me in a strange way. After sinking at first, somehow, not only did I survive, but I thrived in the rush and excitement.

Teaching undergrads and passing doc classes was truly my "boon". I was on the top of the world. If I could just keep up somehow and triumph through the rest of the courses and keep up with grading undergrad work, I could return to K-12 with three letters behind my name and doors would fly open for me, hopefully...or would they?

The latter thoughts and at least 17 steps coupled with the former motivation, completely transformed me somehow! I couldn't go back...I didn't want to go back. This was too much excitement and had opened my eyes to much more that I could accomplish. Most of my colleagues went back and thrived. I chose the different path and am not enjoying the benefits. Now, I am still teaching college and loving it! A life changing journey that has given me new insights, wisdom, and amazing unparallelled networking opportunities.

I think the further one is away from the journey, the cleared it all becomes. It is hard to see while you are in it. The best wisdom I can offer is summed in one word, "perseverance"....apparently a strange phenomena to so many in the newest generations.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the Call to a challenge seemingly greater than one's self-perceived abilities, the subsequent Trials, and the needed aid that often comes from an unexpected source, I'm reminded of W. H. Murray's observation about committment:

"Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way."

Anonymous said...

Leadership is a journey needing skills and qualities each step along the road. The initiation of a project--the creation of programs and policies-- that get people energized for action tends to be the easy part. The day-to-day support and attention to maintenance details that make the program or policy work is as important a quality of leadership as the skills and qualities that brought about the initiation of a project. Carrying out the program by the people who do the implementation is where the real success lies. Woody Allen said, "80% of success is just showing up." I'd paraphrase Mr. Allen and say, "80% of a successful program is just showing up when the work needs to be done."

Anonymous said...

I see a variation of the authors' ideas in the transformation of some of my doctoral students as they make their way through the leadership program.They all bring biases and goals they want to accomplish as a leader. In many cases those biases and goals are somewhat parochial and derive from their experiences in the place they work. In some instances candidates come with romantic views of education and are unaware of the neo-liberal forces conspiring against public education.

I equate Initiation to the internal struggle some candidates face when confronted with evidence and data that challenges their biases and raises their awareness that they have additional responsibilities beyond that of "running" a building. They also have the responsibility to advocate for the public school system, democracy's incubator. They have a responsibility to understand the big picture in terms of policy and politics, and get involved in "setting the record straight" at the local, state, and/or national levels.
You can see the transformation from Pollyanna to leader in the candidates who are willing to examine their biases and seek evidence. They change as people. These types of students often say that they can no longer look at the world the same way.

I think the Return phase can be seen when those candidates who transformed go out and do things differently in the places they work. They also begin to spread what they learned to others who might still be stuck in the romantic realm of schooling.

Anonymous said...

I entered public education as a teacher and loved being a teacher. About 5 years later,I had the opportunity to help start a private school where I taught for a few more years, became principal of the elementary school and then became the headmaster. By this time, the school which had started with fewer than 100 students, now had 1,000 students in grades 1-12. I loved this job and could have done it for many years . . . but after nearly 20 years in this setting, I became uncomfortable. Within me there was a desire to "do more." Why would I want to leave what I loved? Why was I not satisfied? Based on this experience, I would say that my Departure began with Discomfort.
So, I acknowledged this discomfort and acted upon it to leave the K-12 school setting and entered Higher Ed as an assistant professor in an Educational Leadership program. As I embarked upon Initiation in this new setting, my learning adventures have been far more than I ever anticipated. I have worked with school leaders from all over the United States and beyond. In my quest for "more" I've developed friendships that have extended my personal and professional borders. I've had mentors who were younger and older, but wise in their understanding of the many facets of leadership. Some of these mentors were already established as leaders in the field, others were students from whom I have learned so much about leadership and more importantly about myself as a human being.
When I critically reflect upon the Return phase of my journey, there have been many important acquisitions. One of the important learnings has been that leadership learning is reciprocal. I lead and you learn about leading; you lead and I learn about leading. We grow from our experiences with others when we allow ourselves the freedom to accept and acknowledge our weaknesses and emphasize our strengths. Thus, the leadership journey is about being transparent to others, ever becoming who we desire to be, and accepting the weaknesses and strengths of others as a natural part of our shared and respected common humanity. In this way, we learn to celebrate the journey - not as a way to lead others, but as a way to lead WITH others in creating a better world today and for those nameless leaders who will journey later.