Spring 2013 was a good semester. My classes were both familiar and new. The two classes I taught, Educational Leadership and Administration of Complex Educational Organizations, were not entirely new, but it had been two years since teaching the organization class and about four years since teaching the leadership course. Although I’m pretty happy with the way I led both courses, there are some things I’ll do differently the next time I teach them. What I want to reflect on here is how I might change up the classes, including some ways I might work with those students who never speak up and those who dominate class discussions.
I already know of one change I’ll make in relation to the assignments. Students didn’t do as well as I had hoped on the personal case analysis and I’m not sure it’s an assignment that really requires students to apply theory to practice. So, instead of this short assignment, I’m going to assign an annotated bibliography. The master’s students will read and annotate three articles, books or book chapters related to leadership theory; the doctoral students will read and annotate six articles/books/book chapters. To ensure that students are reading throughout the semester, I’m going to require the annotations be submitted at different points in time. I’ll ask students to upload both the annotation as well as the actual article/book/book chapter. When they complete their final project – the narrative interview – they’ll be asked to analyze the interview through the theoretical lens(es) discussed in the annotated pieces. My sense is this will strengthen their own analyses and reinforce the importance of a theoretical framework as a tool for analyzing data. The writing guide I made for this assignment helped clarify expectations and yielded better outcomes from students. I’ll make some minor adjustments, but will keep the guide for future classes.
Another change I’ll likely make is in relation to the readings. The Leadership Challenge was a good text, but probably took up too much time in the semester. I can either shorten the time we spend on the text or use a different version that will allow us to move through the materials more quickly. I’ll also bring in articles related to social justice, a perspective that includes Afro-centric leadership as well as feminist leadership theories. I may ask students to create and submit more discussion questions (this worked quite well this semester) and perhaps at other times, “talking points” based on the readings. Although most students completed the readings, there were weeks when some (many) didn’t, which impacted the overall discussions.
I brought in a lot of external resources and also *loved* it when students brought in videos, web links, and so on, to add to our class discussions. I want to look for ways to continue cultivating student contributions – one way might be to simply assign something to different groups each week. They could bring in a resource related to the readings and lead a short discussion, which would allow us to create an even stronger sense of shared ownership for the success of the class.
Administration of Complex Educational Organizations
Overall, the assignments for the class went really well. The text, Reframing Organizations, was well received by students. I’ll also bring in the new text by Kathleen Manning that will complement the Reframing text in positive ways. Manning’s book also includes some case studies, which will lend themselves to small group discussions. What I’ll do is assign different group leaders for each week so we can break into groups of four or so. Having small groups may help alleviate some of the tension created by the conversation dominators. I’ll include many of the same articles as I did this semester but I might bring in concepts related to privilege, power, and difference earlier in the semester. I won’t teach this class again until Spring 2015; even so, the materials and assignments from this semester should continue to work well.
Classroom Management/Classroom Facilitation
The one thing that surprised me during the semester was that classroom management became an issue in the doctoral class. There were 19 students in the class – some are in the first year of the program while others are further along. Three to four students tended to dominate many of the large group conversations. As the semester progressed, their dominance became an increasing point of tension, in particular when we were discussing women and men in organizations. The conversation dominators, all white male students, continuously reflected male dominance that is often found in organizations. As the discussion facilitator, I frequently felt challenged by the need to interrupt the students and create space for others. I know I didn’t succeed on all occasions yet I learned several things about teaching in the process. When faced with similar dynamics, I’ll meet with the conversation dominators one-on-one to discuss their behavior. If that doesn’t resolve the issue, I’ll be more direct in class – even to the extent of telling students that they need to hold their comments until others have had an opportunity to participate. We ended the semester with some very challenging conversations about race and gender; conversations that were left unresolved as the semester came to an end. Many of these same students will be in a class I’m teaching in the Fall so I plan to spend the first evening working on ground rules for how we want to be/act together as a learning community. I want to challenge the conversation dominators to make space for others and to self-monitor their own participation so that we can create a more inclusive environment. Similarly, I want to ask those who may not typically speak up, to identify ways that they might contribute more to our conversations.
Creating the ground rules will have some challenges, but will be necessary for our work together during the semester. I’ll have more time with the students during the beginning of the semester which, hopefully, will facilitate our work together and allow us to have some truly courageous conversations about inclusion. I’ll also look for ways I might shift the dynamics in class — more small group discussions can help. Creating some expectations that everyone will speak once before anyone speaks a second time might be a good start. In large discussions, I might use “equity sticks” — typically used in K-12 environments, each stick has a student’s name on it, then the discussion facilitator just picks a stick to call on someone. This keeps the teacher from always calling on the same student(s) and also lets all students know they have an equal chance of participating in a discussion. I wasn’t sure this would work with adult learners, but recently attended a day-long workshop where the facilitators used these and they worked great. So, I might just give these a try come Fall.