Because it's not easy - not by a long stretch. It's not easy because the class is so darn unpredictable. It doesn't matter how much I prepare, how many handouts I copy, whether I use power points or not. It doesn't matter how many books and articles I read and dump on Blackboard. Regardless of the level of preparation, I still feel unprepared for whatever comes my way.
Or perhaps the word is not unprepared - the word is not open. Not open to the inevitable successes and failures of a case in point class. I realize as I write this that I'm asking my students to do something I seem unwilling to do: Accept. Accept that adaptive leadership is dangerous and scary sometimes. Accept that I'm not perfect. Accept that I won't have all the answers. Accept that I'll get scared, and I'll get tired, and I'll feel like I want to go back to normal.
So... what's normal?
I guess "normal" is feeling totally in charge. "Normal" is pretending that I'm not vulnerable. "Normal" is acting all professorial and somehow convince myself (and anyone who doesn't dig deeply enough) that I have all my bases covered. Something goes wrong? It was just planned that way. An exercise doesn't yield the debrief for which I hoped? The debrief I got is exactly the debrief I wanted. Someone is upset? I shrug and decide that someone will always be upset. I go back to my office, count my successes, average the past evals, and decide all is fine with the world.
Hum. I reread this paragraph and find myself smiling. I'm not sure there's anything wrong with deciding all is fine - because it certainly is fine. We weren't performing neurosurgery over there. No one died. Imperfect things taught us how to tackle imperfections as a group. Mistakes opened the door to fascinating discussions on mistakes. My own fallacies strengthened the team. In fact, I am so proud of what I saw in that last weekend - a strong group of talented leaders, ready to take on whatever challenges were thrown their way. I reached a key goal. I became irrelevant.
Of course, becoming irrelevant was not in the syllabus. And perhaps... perhaps that's the problem. There's something off in the confluence of syllabus and class - almost as in an example - not almost, as an example, period! of an adaptive challenge. In fact, we do seem to have a perfect example of lack of congruence between desired or expressed values and actual values.
What do I mean? Well, look at the syllabus. In spite of all the attempts at changes, the syllabus is still a syllabus. It includes a set of really low level objectives such as "define" and "identify" concepts. It lists a book (Anderson's OD) which we hardly used. It has all those rules and regulations and grades and points. It's a traditional syllabus, just like a thousand others. Just like a syllabus from any other class.
Instead, the syllabus of a "Case in Point" class needs to be a living, breathing document. The document must change as the class changes. The objectives must be high level and involve only the MOST IMPORTANT pieces... the pieces that will TRULY make the class successful. A few thoughts that occur to me now are:
- Students will take over the leadership role of the class in the last weekend.
- Students will build a learning community.
- Students will be able to reflect "in the moment" moving back and forth between the events and the reflection on the events (i.e., go to the balcony).
- The class will become self leading and self governing.
- Students will demonstrate comfort with ambiguity.
- Students will demonstrate adaptability.
- Students will integrate all class concepts to solve an Adaptive Leadership case.
These are very high level thoughts and hardly "well designed" learning objectives with all the bells and whistles. However, these are really the objectives... aren't they? Weren't these our real foci? In the middle of all that, of course we learned some concepts and followed some definitions - but that was the easy technical stuff.
Heifetz et al. (2009) say it well - when there is frustration, when there is conflict, when technical problems can't seem to be solved - there is an adaptive challenge at hand. So what is the adaptive challenge really?
Here's my first "draft" attempt at it: The adaptive challenge is to introduce a completely new way of teaching and learning and make it "fit" into a traditional graduate course "box." This adaptive challenge requires:
- New ways of grading and assessing learning.
- New ways of preparing for the class (for both students and the instructor).
- New ways of building a "co-governance" of the class (why is the instructor the only one responsible for that task?).
- Adaptation to inevitable mistakes, imperfections, and conflict. For instance, the instructor must adapt to her own mistakes and those of students. The students must do the same. Everyone must adjust to a "higher temperature" (co-governance ain't easy!).
- Greater tolerance to one another.
- Commitment to making it work.
I would love to hear your thoughts...(feel free to write me privately if you prefer to do so). What lessons do you take from this class? How did you handle the adaptations you had to make? What would you do if you were to start all over? What recommendations would you make to your colleagues starting this course next year? And, given all we lived through together... was it worth it?