Sample Educational Narrative: MDS 410, sample 1

MDS 410 Educational Narrative

[Name redacted; Identifying information altered throughout document]

My favorite part of every single job I have had are the people.  Whether it’s meeting new people, talking to people, collaborating with people, teaching people, or learning from people, working with people is what I am meant to do. The experiences I have had starting my own business, working with countless vendors and couples, and now working with high school and middle school yearbook advisors and students has shaped me into an ever improving and adaptable leader. My 15 years of business experience along with my volunteer service has afforded me the chance to grow in many aspects of leadership and into the leader I am today.

  1. Using the terminology of Kouzes and Posner, describe and analyze at least three different leadership styles you know of or have experienced. These can be styles of leaders you worked for, or styles you tried to apply.
  • Describe your experiential learning with each style. Where were you in your career? What was the organizational response to each leadership style?  
  • Also apply Bloom’s taxonomy to summarize each leadership style for you. Some guiding questions: When you apply a style, what happens? Can you evaluate a style’s effectiveness, or analyze why/why not? What college-level learning did you gain from your experiences with these different leadership styles, and how did you apply that learning in a later opportunity?

Part of the onboarding process at Walden Publishing is going through a very intense 3 weeks of training. The first week is at home doing all of the online tech training. The next two weeks are in Kansas City where I was introduced to many different styles of leadership. During training I experienced multiple leadership styles. This experience helped me realize that there are many different ways to be a leader and they all can work well.

The first leader I met  at training is Dr. Bryan Haines.  He has a doctorate in education and he hates when  people use the word doctor to describe him. This man is high energy and  exemplifies the coaching style of leadership. He brings the energy in every room that he enters up  at  least  two notches. He not only is a giant cheerleader for his students, he is the most  “out of the box” leader I  had  met to that point  in my career. He took me to coffee, asked all about my family, and we planned a trip for him to come and ride with me in Idaho. He didn’t just ask about my family because it was his duty or what was expected, he asked because he genuinely cared about them, me, and my success at the company. To this day I know I can call him anytime and he will  be real with me, he will be honest and not scared to tell me what I need to work on, but he  will also be in  my corner, always. I work to be that coach for the students I work with daily.

One example where I used the skills that I gleaned from my experience with Bryan was just recently when I was working with Meadowview Arts Charter High School (MACHS). I was meeting with  the kids and we were brainstorming ideas for their theme. I asked them to really dig in deep and reflect on the year. I could have given them a theme list like many yearbook reps do, but I wanted them to really be inspired and fall in love with their theme. So, we brainstormed theme ideas that started with the very basic ideas of “making memories” and “a year to remember”. I coached them and encouraged their work. We talked about how those themes were good themes, and then I challenged them to come up with why those themes were not great. Then we took the brainstorming process to what personal experiences they had during the 2020 craziness. One student shared about a camping trip where she had so much  fun with her siblings. She shared how her brother ripped his pants on a tree limb, laughing as she recounted the events. No one else laughed nearly as hard, and she ended her story with, “It was just what I needed”. The lightbulb moment happened for me right then, but I knew I still needed to get the kids there. The next girl shared how she completely made over her bedroom and how the design is so happy and inviting. I asked, “Do you love being in your room now?” She nodded and said “absolutely”. The next girl said she read 28 books! I asked her if she would have ever seen herself reading 28 books if Covid hadn’t happened, and she replied with a “probably not”. I thanked them for their awesome stories and asked them to come up with phrases that were represented by the stories we just heard. They came with a list. We then put each theme idea through the wringer testing it to see how well it worked for them.

As a team we worked through Kolb’s cycle. We would take each theme and test it out to see if it was relevant to the kids. I asked them to visualize how headlines and section titles could spin off of the theme. We brainstormed page and section titles that worked with the theme. Then we moved on to the feelings that the theme revealed to us, working through graphic elements and colors that represented that feeling. If the theme made the cut it went on the “keeper” list. After working through about 10 theme ideas this way, we only ended up keeping two. When it came to the reflective part of Kolb’s cycle, the kids decided that many of their ideas just didn’t make enough sense. Once we got it down to a vote, we used a democratic style of leadership and we gave the students that were really championing one theme over the other the floor to try to convince the class why their theme was the best. And then I gave them a quick talk that we were a team and once the vote was made we had to commit. We had to be “all in”. They agreed that the entire team’s support was crucial and we voted. They chose the theme “You Had to be There”, which is a theme I had seen before, but never in the way they were planning on presenting it in their book. They developed real ownership of their book. They bonded over this experience that wasn’t supposed to be a team building exercise, but it worked out to be an amazing bonding experience. I believe that this experience will stick with these kids. As a team we climbed the Bloom’s Taxonomy pyramid. They reached the very top, creating new and original ideas, and all they needed was a little Bryan-style coaching.

The next leadership style that I experienced and learned from at sales training was my regional manager Loreto Henkel. Loreto’s style of leadership is more transformational than Bryan’s coaching style. She isn’t high energy and she is even, at times, sort of quiet. But the leadership style works well for her and she is able to get a lot of results because she encourages serious self reflection. I think of Loreto as the question lady, because she comes up with questions when I think there are no questions left. One example of this is when she rode with me on her last visit, prior to everything shutting down. We met with an advisor that was thinking about switching from a competitor to printing with Walden. It was amazing to watch her in action, like truly amazing. She had the advisor talking 95% of the time. She would sit quietly and listen attentively to her every word. Once she finished, Loreto would ask “the next best question” and get the adviser talking again. That advisor, and me sitting there in awe, could feel Loreto’s real concern for their staff’s struggles. Loreto was “out of the box” and she was asking really deep and thought provoking questions. An example of her deep questions would be when the advisor mentioned that she hadn’t seen her rep since the very beginning of the year. Loreto nodded, let the comment sit a minute and followed up with “would you have liked to have seen him more?”. After a “yes”, she asked if she felt like her rep cared about her kids and her program.  The adviser said she knew that her book was just a paycheck to her rep. Loreto replied with a real heartfelt response of how being a yearbook advisor, from her own experience as a teacher and yearbook advisor, was one of the toughest jobs in teaching and even if they don’t “need” help, it’s nice to have that person in your corner, even if just to listen to you vent. The advisor almost teared up at Loreto’s real concern. She then asked, “how often would you like to see your rep?” “What would the ideal rep be for you?”, “is a relationship with your rep important to you?” “What does rep support mean to you?”. After the rep poured her heart out about her kids, her program, building culture, and having someone to talk to, Loreto let there be a little bit of silence, allowing the adviser to really sit in her emotions and let her thoughts really sink in. While we are in sales, it is a very different kind of sales job and relationships are a huge part of the job. Loreto showed real leadership by guiding the advisor through the process of discovering what was important to her when it came to a yearbook rep. We didn’t try to sell her on changing that day. We let her know we cared, and we set up a time to talk more of the logistics side of the process for another day.

We walked back to the car and Loreto didn’t say a word to me. I asked her what she thought and she said, I think you can sign her, but now that you know what she really needs, can you be that person for her? I know my heart and how I feel about my advisors and staffers, so I knew that the answer was a definite yes. I shared how I actually thought we would be a perfect fit. And Loreto told me that I needed to really show up for this advisor, and that she thought we would make a good team. She advised me to not go into the next appointment “selling”, but to show her a little piece of something and then to ask more questions. Loreto takes advisers through Kolb’s cycle with her questions. She asks a question, clarifies the answer, follows with what if scenario and then rephrases the solution back to the advisor to clarify and make sure they are on the same page. Loreto also took me through Kolb’s cycle that day. We had the experience of talking to the advisor. When I started to struggle I was able to watch Loreto jump in. I watched and reflected on her example. We talked through the process when we got in the car as we drove to the next appointment. She gave me areas to work on for the next appointment. And then I tried again with the next appointment on my schedule.

While I still find myself talking way too much in my second appointments, the one where we are presenting and “selling”, I have really focused on making sure that I am only showing them stuff they care about or need. The only way to do that is to ask lots and lots of questions, and then to really listen to get to the core of the “need”. We have to learn to take the time to unpack the things we are feeling in order to get to the root of the problem. I can only get better at this process by continually working through Kolb’s cycle and learning from every appointment I have.

The last leader I am going to talk about is my “partner” in the territory. Jacob Kean, is my boss, but his leadership style makes me feel like a valid, and equal team member. He does so well in the industry and has for the last 22 years. He has gone from a sales rep, to a manager, and then choosing to build a territory from scratch in Idaho to be able to live his life in his home state. This is possible because he has a lot of great leadership qualities. He understands and knows my skill set well, and when he knows it’s something I can handle, he is very laissez-faire. Micromanaging is not something he has ever done. When he knows my confidence about something might be a little low, he comes in as a coach. But most of the time, I would call him a visionary when it comes to leadership styles. His main goal is for us to be constantly growing and getting better in all aspects of our business. He exemplifies the idea of winning each day, and therefore winning the year. He is also a great leader for me to work under because he reminds me not to sweat the small stuff. I learn from him constantly.

  1. Describe an opportunity you’ve had to intentionally practice leadership skills.
  • Use Kolb’s cycle to trace your experiential learning; where did you start, what happened, what did you learn, how did you apply that learning?
  • Apply Bloom’s Taxonomy upper levels to each part of Kolb’s cycle to display college-level learning that occurred and led you to step to the next stage in the cycle.

From 2011 until today, I have specialized in documenting a very special relationship, marriage. As a wedding photographer, I have captured over 170 weddings. Using the experience I learned from the photography studio I started working at in high school, I worked hard to build a strong reputation in the Treasure Valley, being known for being more than just a photographer. Many of my brides did not have the budget for a wedding planner, so I often also filled those shoes, coordinating and scheduling out their entire day. I tracked down lost aunts at the wine bar, soothed crying babies, and helped move an entire outdoor wedding to an indoor place roughly 5 miles down the road. I have seen just about everything you can see go wrong, and I have seen the most beautiful days feel so right. While I have scaled back to just a few weddings a year, the skills that I have learned as a wedding photographer will stay with me as I navigate my new career as a yearbook rep.  One of those key skills from my photography days  would be adaptable leadership, being able to model the way, inspire those around me to fix the problem together, and recognizing the efforts of my team.

I will never forget the day that I had to help move an outdoor wedding indoors. Right after the first kiss, the rain started coming down. The bride had not planned for the rain, and was distraught. We knew a local bar had opened an event space next to the bar, so we gave the owner a call. She didn’t have an event, so I helped the bride develop a plan. I explained to the bridal party how they could save the day for their best friends if we acted quickly and as a team. I sent the guys for a truck and trailer and we had the entire setup packed up in about 15 minutes. I sent the bridesmaids ahead to the new location to get everything ready for the guests. The rain came down harder and we got the news that the pig in the ground wasn’t going to be ready for dinner. I got on the phone and called the local Mexican restaurant to see if they could do a taco bar for 125 people. Once they heard the story, their cooks got to work. The food was delivered in 30 minutes to the new location. The parents brought the cake. And the party lived on to be one of the most fun and memorable weddings I have ever had the pleasure of shooting. It was successful because we all worked as a team, we worked quickly, we adapted multiple times. After that couple made it home from their honeymoon, I received the sweetest thank you note expressing their gratitude for my quick action, mentioning they could not have made that quick move without my leadership. It was a win for all of us.

My almost 10 years of owning my own business as a wedding photographer, with lots of experiences like the rainstorm and no pig wedding, shaped the way I approach my job that I have today. I currently work as a high school and junior high school yearbook rep for Walden Publishing Company where I use my adaptability, my encouraging nature, and my ability to actively involve others. There is nothing like a global pandemic to test your confidence in your skills and abilities as a leader. I took my dream job and eight months in Covid-19 hit. I was still learning the processes, the rules, the expectations of what I was supposed to be doing, and then I became the person answering the Covid induced problems of 91 yearbook staffs. It was intimidating and it was daunting. Thank goodness I worked for a great company. Walden leaders instantly put on their adapting game face, to help us combat the issues Covid was bringing to our yearbook staffs. Instead of getting angry, giving up, or doing nothing, my team of reps (the Northwest Team) got very proactive. Seeing their proaction inspired me, and I then too took that same approach. I started scheduling zoom meetings, phone calls, and text chats with all of my advisors. I came to them with listening ears, an encouraging demeanor, and some really great troubleshooting plans. I am proud to say only one of my yearbooks delivered late and all of my schools were able to get their books to students. Never in a million years did I think we would be filling pages with trend content, quarantine selfies from home, and empty school building pictures, but we did. My kids took on the challenge and became really incredible journalists. I also never pictured yearbook delivery in the form of a car drive by pickup, but they worked surprisingly well. We, as a team of me and my advisors, came up with a plan and executed that plan. We were adaptable and we stayed strong. I believe much of that came from our approach, and my skills in helping put in place strong and effective plans. I adapted, the advisers adapted, and the students adapted. An example of this would be the yearbook distribution plan that my advisors and I came up with. We took something we had seen work in other industries and applied their concepts to yearbook distribution. The example we used was Chik-Fil-A. Memes everywhere joke about their efficiency for a reason. Through analyzing the way drive-thru restaurants work, we had a basic plan of how ours would work. We knew that organization and preparation were key elements to making distribution work. We talked through the problems that might occur and how to fix those problems. After our plan was complete we evaluated it and created a process that could be put to the test. I am happy to say that our distributions went well across our entire territory, and we learned some important lessons in case we ever have to do a drive through distribution again, like one master list is key, and kids with icons need to be very recognizable on that list. We also learned that kids have lots of names that they use, so before we send them away saying they didn’t purchase or we sell them one on the spot, we check every possible name the purchase could be listed under. I hope that we can have traditional distribution days in the future, but it is also good to know that we have a very effective plan B in place now.

  1. Describe a bad example of a leader who has informed your leadership practice by exhibiting what not to do.
  • Share what you learned from this person in terms of college-level learning and upper-division Bloom.
  • Analyze how this leader shaped organizational culture.
  • Include examples of how you applied this learning from this leader in later experiences by doing things differently.

My first real job was working for a photography studio in Kuna, Idaho. I experienced two very different leadership styles that really helped shape my idea of what it takes to be an effective leader. The first leader was the studio manager, Jason. Jason was a very good photographer, so I was eager to learn from him. Jason, however, was not eager to teach me. Jason was the type of leader that made sure that he stayed the leader, and everyone else knew they were under him. I had a natural eye for photography, and instead of helping me grow my talents and eventually grow the studio’s ability to bring in more profits, Jason made sure that I never had the opportunity to touch a camera. Looking back, I think he was threatened by me. He filled my time with menial tasks, some so mundane that I don’t believe they were even necessary. Jason wanted to keep me down and doing all of the “grunt work”. I wanted to be a photographer and felt like if I could contribute my skills, then we could easily hire someone to do the easy tasks. Jason wasn’t a leader, Jason was a boss who didn’t see how my skills would benefit the entire company. He only saw how my skills could threaten his job. He was insecure, which made him inauthentic. Jason didn’t build a culture of creativity and art, Jason built a culture of everything always being about Jason.

I probably would have stayed at that studio forever had Jason encouraged my skill development. Instead, I left to pursue my own photography business. Because of Jason, I am very aware of things I say that might come across as keeping someone down. I want to build everyone in my circle up. I want us all to succeed together. Most importantly, I want to make sure I am a kind and authentic leader that see’s the people I am leading as part of my team that I want to succeed. It’s also important for me to be able to take criticism and self reflect, when I have done something that has disappointed a coworker. I want to always encourage a culture of creativity and new ideas produced through teamwork and innovation.

The next leader that informed my leadership practice was the owner of the studio. Terry was a believer in my skills. He saw so much potential in me and because of Terry, I was able to learn a new skill of retouching photos. Jason told Terry I wasn’t ready to shoot portraits yet, so Terry insisted that Jason let me start retouching photos and learning the back end of the trade. Terry told Jason he needed to use my artistic skills and stop having me dusting and vacuuming the studio. Because Terry saw something special, I was given a really great opportunity to learn. The downside was I had to learn on my own because Jason was uninterested in helping me or training me. My learning started at the very bottom of Bloom’s taxonomy. It was something brand new to me and it had to be started from the ground up. I watched a YouTube video on the steps for “model” retouching. Using a few photos I had taken, I worked through the steps.

I felt pretty impressed with my new skill and told Terry that I was ready to start retouching the photos prior to placing the orders. Thank you to Terry pushing the issue, Jason let me try out my skills on the next family portraits. I worked through the order retouching all of the acne off the teenager faces and all of the wrinkles off the mom and dad. When the order came in I called the customer to let her know her family portraits had arrived and could be picked up at her convenience. She stopped by that afternoon. She took one look at the photos and asked to speak with Jason. I don’t have to go into details of the things she said, but she was very unhappy with the retouching. She asked my boss if he really believed the images were “professional” quality.

So what did I do wrong? I eventually realized that I over retouched her photos. She looked like she was 18 in the photograph and she was in her 50s in real life. It was back to the steps I had seen on YouTube for another try. I learned that you could mask effects you did and turn down the intensity of those effects. That was not in the video, but one of the most important things about the retouching steps. Through more practice I learned that depending on how close up or far away the subject’s faces mattered to my “dust and scratches” settings. Then I learned that I could make an entire action that did all the steps for me, and with the simple combination of two keys, I could create the retouching mask. After learning that, I decided to make three different actions for different focal lengths. I eventually mastered the skill of skin retouching in a manner that looked nice, professional, but not overdone. I even had some other photographers reach out to me to edit for them. I then created a huge array of actions for all kinds of color correcting, photo straightening, and other photo editing to use. Jason even had me install the actions on his computer so he could use them as well. It took hours of practice and analyzing my results, but I got really good at Photoshop editing. The most important part of this story is the way Terry reacted versus how Jason reacted to the complaint of the customer. Terry looked at the image and found places and things that I did right, like cropping and color correcting. Then we talked through their faces together and what I needed to do differently next time. Talking about “next time” was so important. Terry was letting me know that he didn’t expert perfection round one and that he wanted me to try again. He emphasized my eye for photography and how he knew that with more practice I would become a master at my craft. When the next opportunity came around, Terry had me do the post editing again. Terry believed in me and he knew with some coaching and encouragement that I would be a great asset to the team. He not only saw my potential, he let me know he saw it. I worked very hard for Terry and I owe so much of my photography success to Terry Hill.

Looking at my learning process through Bloom’s Taxonomy I would say that I went through the entire pyramid. I started by remembering the steps and the settings I needed to use. I understood the steps from the YouTube video and understood the language of the menus, etc. I then applied those steps to some actual photographs of my own. After hearing the complaints from the customer, I was able to analyze the results, with Terry’s help, as being too intense. I had to find out how to tone them down, which was a very easy, but important find. I also analyzed exactly what each step did so I knew how to make minor adjustments to each step for a better end result. With lots of practice and critiquing from Terry, I got to a point where I too could evaluate the editing job that I did, or that Jason did as well. I learned that the settings at each step should be changed based on evaluations of how the retouched photographs printed at different focal points. Then I created three different actions to accommodate the settings needed for different focus points. I learned that I could run the action multiple times if I wanted different intensities based on the person’s age or skin type. I then used that knowledge to create more actions to increase the speed and effectiveness of my workflow.

Looking at Kolb’s model I would say I am an assimilator. I started the cycle thinking about becoming a lead photographer for the studio, and learning Photoshop to get there. I then watched a YouTube video, and tried it out on some photos. I experienced the set back of the customer hating my work and went through the cycle again until I mastered photo retouching.

I definitely had to use creativity and some emotional intelligence as well to get to the level of expertise I have as an editor. I had to handle harsh criticism from a customer and understand that it wasn’t personal but it was very important for my growth.

4. Detail an example from a professional or public setting of a difficult conversation or a miscommunication you’ve had, and how that was resolved.

What methods did you use to address the situation? How did different communication methods (written, verbal, electronic, or other appropriate methods) play into this?

One of the most effective communication strategies that I practice, one championed by Loreto and Bryan, is listening. I believe the best leaders are receptive ones and ones that have an approachable demeanor. It’s important to listen for understanding. Understanding is the main goal in all forms of communication, so listening is a very important communication strategy.

Another strategy that I practice when it comes to communication is that if it’s a multi-step action that needs to be followed, or if it’s a standard that needs to always be met, then it is communicated communicated verbally, through body language, and written as well. I teach my yearbook editors that there are certain things that must be in writing. When it comes to their theme package, it needs to be written out and displayed for reference throughout the year. When it comes to yearbook staff behavior, it needs to be in a written and signed contract. My favorite quote about communication is one by George Bernard Shaw and he said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” I tell my editors and advisors all the time that just because the said it doesn’t mean that it was received. Following up with written communication, asking questions, and listening to what people are saying are great ways to make sure our message is received.

Lastly I think that my biggest strength and strategy in communication is being authentic. I make sure people know that I appreciate them, their hard work, and their time. I try to be real and honest, sharing how I am working to always be better and learning. No one is perfect and we all have areas that need improvement. By being authentic and not trying to put out an image of “having it all together all of the time”, the people I work with are not afraid to approach me for any reason whatsoever. I take ownership of my mistakes. I apologize for my errors or my misunderstanding. By modeling that type of communication, my advisors are much more honest with me leading to much more growth in our future.

One last small thing that is a very small tip I learned, but has greatly improved my communication is always asking for a timeline. I have learned that my timeline isn’t always the same as those that I am working with. Agreeing on a timeline helps so much when it comes to the communication that must follow. A recent example of this was when I was shooting pictures for an agent. I didn’t ask for the timeline. I hurried home to edit the photos and get them sent off. It caused me to be late for a dinner I had committed to. Then the real estate agent didn’t list the house for an entire week! I was super frustrated that I had busted my behind to get those images to the agent so quickly. It made me kind of upset with them and feel like they didn’t appreciate my quick turnaround. But after thinking about it, I realized that it was on me to ask the timeline. Just because a bunch of my agents usually need the photos next day, doesn’t mean that is always the case. I could have saved myself the stress had I just simply asked. Waiting a day or two was completely in the agents timeline and he would have been more than happy to have received the photos after a couple of days.

  1. How are your personal leadership practices related to your personal and professional goals?

My personal leadership practices and my personal and professional goals couldn’t be more intertwined. I strive to show up for people, to be a friend, and to be the most authentic version of myself I can possibly be. I dream to inspire others to chase their dreams and to really believe in themselves. By being an authentic listener, being adaptive to both good and bad changes, and modeling the way, I can build meaningful relationships both in my professional life and my professional career. I believe in being a lifelong learner and doing our best to win each day. I have countless amazing leaders in my life that have really instilled in me a desire to make a difference in others lives the way they have made a difference in mine. In order to inspire others, especially the teenagers that I work with, I must continue to actively pursue growth in my leadership practices, ultimately helping me achieve my personal and professional goals all the while helping others achieve their goals as well.



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