Sample Educational Narrative: MDS 410, sample 2

MDS 410 Educational Narrative

[Name redacted; Identifying information altered throughout document]

I have been in a Leadership role for quite some time in several different venues. I have been a youth leader for several different groups in my church, as well as a co-leader with my husband in our own ministry, The Orchard, which has distributed over 1 million scriptures to various countries. I also have assumed a leadership role in the high school that I work in. I directly lead my student assistants and college interns in various projects, overseeing the development, completion, and implementation of those projects.

  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?

Kouzes and Posner have several different leadership styles that they have written about. The one that I can identify mostly with is: Model the way. I have found that this is one of the best ways that I learn, so this is also the method that I employ. Some of Kouzes and Posner’s leadership traits are honesty, competent, fair-minded, and supportive. All of these traits can be encompassed when modeling the way. I had an amazing supervisor when I worked for Southwest Airlines. Chris exemplified all of the traits I mentioned earlier. We had a very stressful job, but it was much easier done knowing that he showed up every day, earlier than his scheduled shift, to make sure everything was ready to go when we started our day. He was an example of what an excellent leader was, showing us by his example. I have tried to employ this when I have been in the leadership role. Working closely with Chris provided Kolb’s concrete learning. Watching him deal with customers was always a learning experience. Next in my learning process was Kolb’s reflective observation. I would watch him deal with around 100 people a day, and each time, he would treat them as I would want to be treated by someone. Kolb’s next step is abstract conceptualization. I would think about the way he treated people, and I would try to emulate him, but with my own personality. He was a 40 year old man, I was a 20 year old female, so needless to say, we had different routes getting to basically the same conclusion.This brought whole new meaning to Kolb’s active experimentation. It was definitely experimentation! Chris was calm under the most stressful situations, and was a master at using his soft voice to deescalate a situation. I, on the other hand, was not born with a soft voice but was very good at making people laugh and smile. I tried to incorporate Chris’s mild demeanor while adding a very small amount of my own personality, and it seemed to work out quite well. I also appreciated another of Kouzes’ and Posner’s leadership styles: Enabling others to act. There was never a doubt that Chris would always back up any decision we made, and we never had a doubt that he trusted us implicitly. Being confident in our jobs and decisions helped us tremendously to be able to make educated decisions, and know that they were the right ones. Because he made us feel confident that we would do a good job, it encouraged us to want to take on more responsibility, which in turn, made his job easier.

Without even specifically thinking about it, we would mentally work through Bloom’s taxonomy. I would remember how Chris handled a similar problem in the past. For example, I would make sure that I understood the problem that was in front of me, but discussing it with those involved. Then I would apply new details that were specific to this particular instance. Usually we did have the same issues come up, but as different people have different temperaments, sometimes when working through the process we would find it needed to be modified. When that happened, we would analyze what details were different, evaluate the best solution, and create a solution. I have also used Bloom’s taxonomy when working on a project with our church middle school kids. We do a lot of volunteer work, and our last project was raking up leaves. Trying to direct 15 preteen girls is like herding cats. For about half an hour, we basically camped out on Bloom’s “understand” step. That was a tough one. Once I was able to really break down our tasks into tiny jobs, the other steps went by pretty quickly. Every time I have applied Bloom’s taxonomy, it has worked, and is a great tool to use to be organized.

  1. Describe an opportunity you’ve had to intentionally practice leadership skills.
  • Use Kolb’s cycle to demonstrate your experiential learning; where did you start, what happened, what did you learn, how did you apply that learning? Put the names of each part of Kolb’s cycle directly into your answer. 
  • 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. How did you apply, analyze, evaluate, or create something to move to the next stage?

Due to the weather we are having right now, it made me think of a particular example of intentionally practicing my leadership skills with my middle school kids. We were in Donnelly at winter camp for our church, and had a competition to build the highest snow tower. For most of these kids, this was the first time building a snow tower, so we started at Kolb’s concrete experience. They knew what was expected of them, so we all jumped in and attacked. I was counting on their enthusiasm to be extremely high, and I was going to ride that wave for as long as I could before they got bored. We started building, and immediately it started falling. Within just a few minutes, we were already in Kolb’s reflective observation. We looked at the tower that was produced and determined that it was not a tower but instead it was a very pitiful mound. The method of a free-for-all probably was not the best way to go about this.

We then moved on to abstract conceptualization. I asked the kids to tell me something that they did, and to try to think of a way that they could do it differently so we could have a better outcome. They were much more insightful than I had anticipated. They concluded that just piling up snow with their hands, arms, and whole bodies was not very effective. It definitely was a 10 out of 10 for fun factor, however. But in looking at how much higher the other teams’ towers were, it took away from that joy.

We quickly moved on to active experimentation. It was suggested that we make giant balls of snow and stack them like you would a snowman. The kids got so excited and made a huge snowball, which became our base. They started on the second one, and because the first one went so well, they made this one even bigger. I reminded them that it probably was not the best idea to have a bigger snowball on top of a smaller one, and even though they made a beautiful gigantic snowball, it would be quite a challenge to lift it, and add the subsequent ones.

That is when we went back to reflective observation. They concluded that the original plan might be a little overzealous and not very practical. There was no way that the group would be able to lift so much weight. As they discussed and I guided the conversation, it was really fun to watch them start to pick up momentum and work through the stages more thoroughly and deeply, but much more quickly, as the idea really started to take shape. They then attacked abstract conceptualization, and we determined that if they used the huge snowballs for the base, it could be wider and then much more stable as the tower grew. This also encouraged them as they realized that their previous efforts were not in vain, they could just be repurposed for something that was better towards the final product.

Back to concrete experience. They rolled all of the snowballs together, which was no small feat because several were bigger than some of the kids. Then just stood and stared a bit, all wondering what to do next. Skipping reflective observation and abstract conceptualization, and jumping into active experimentation. They are now grabbing five gallon buckets and packing with snow so they can move a large, but manageable amount of snow. It is taking two kids per bucket, so they are now working as a team, and their tower is taking shape, and growing like they had envisioned. Through this process, I learned that sometimes steps would be skipped as children of that age are simultaneously thinking through an idea as they are trying it out. Sometimes it felt like we were on a crazy merry-go-round going through the cycle as it would be barely moving at times, even though I was pushing it. At other times, I was hands off and it was moving at warp speed. It was a really interesting experience to be able to have Kolb’s cycle in my head while leading these little ones, and watching different personalities start at different places on the cycle. Some were just ping-ponging all over the cycle, with no rhyme or reason, while others were methodical, although they started at different spots. It was very satisfying to be able to attempt to guide the whole group through the cycle together.

During this adventure, I learned something at each stage in the cycle that allowed me to progress to the next level. When we were in the reflective observation and abstract conceptualization stages, it allowed us to utilize Bloom’s taxonomy to analyze what we had done in previous tower building attempts, and to brainstorm as best as they could about different ideas that they thought would work. Evaluating came into play as we were in active experimentation. They all had great, and not so great ideas on how they thought we should proceed. Some were very deliberate in what we should do while others were in a panic mode that we would never get around to building our tower. This was a really fun stage because I do not think they realized that they were really engaging their brains that would manifest in an amazing tower. I think the most rewarding was during the active experimentation stage when the kids were deep into Bloom’s taxonomy level of creating. They were able to see their ideas being born and grow, and in the end were able to see something that started out in their imaginations being transformed into an amazingly high tower. Comparing my team with the other two teams, my team, as a whole, was much more engaged and invested in their tower. I gave them all a chance to voice their opinions, and encouraged them to really think it through and explained the process as we went. I tried to bring Kolb’s cycle, Bloom’s taxonomy, and even Kouzes and Posner’s leadership traits together, to be able to hold the kids’ attention and make it a really fun and successful activity.

  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.

Up until last year, I had a direct supervisor. She had no previous leadership experience, and was quite resistant to having someone else on her team. She shaped our organizational culture as a whole, in a negative way. She lacked the social skills that enabled her to make friends easily as she was very direct and had no tact whatsoever. No one wanted to work with her long enough to see that she had a heart to help the students, and tried her best. Unfortunately, the students themselves were not patient enough to give her the benefit of the doubt, and would come to me on a regular basis instead of coming to her. This led to a heavy, tension-laced work environment. We did very little collaboration, and just tried to work independently of one another.

It was not until after she left that I realized just how much she taught me. I was left to my own devices for the most part which was very challenging in the beginning. I would be given a task or a project to complete, but no direction. I did not realize it, but I was working through most of the stages of Bloom’s taxonomy. For example, I was in charge of promoting and implementing the process that our students go through in order to choose classes for next year. It was a bit daunting at first, as everything hinges on the students knowing what they were supposed to be doing, and having enough knowledge to be able to do it.

This was probably the first time that I realized that even though I was not necessarily supposed to be in a leadership role, that is where I found myself. I started higher in Bloom’s approach by beginning with analyzing the situation. I looked over what had been done in the past, and ways that the concept of choosing classes was presented to the students. I really picked everything apart, and looked at how they were front-loading the information by going to different classrooms and preparing them for what they could expect, and having them start thinking about what decisions they will be asked to make. I then moved on to the next step, I tried to evaluate the different aspects that were used when communicating to the students. First, the counselor would go into each class and talk to the students. She would then email the instructions that were covered, along with different supporting documents. Then the students would get several more followup emails detailing it all again. The emails were very detailed and thorough. So much so, that they were not effective at all. For older students, this would have been an invaluable resource. For the high schoolers though, their attention was held for about three sentences of the first email, then they just deleted the others without even opening them. She took a tremendous amount of time and was imparting very valuable information, but somewhere along the line forgot who her demographic was, so quite a bit of it was just going to waste.

After analyzing how this was done over several previous years, I sat down to create something new, which is Bloom’s final stage. I determined that this plan of attack needed to be centered around the attention spans of the students. It would be a complete failure if I could not get them interested long enough to hear me out, and be willing to complete the tasks set before them. I would not be as detailed, like going into certain Career Technical pathways, that although can be a huge benefit to some students, the few that would be interested could be dealt with on a one-on-one basis as to not make other students lose their focus. I was able to just hit the major points, and tried to emphasize that the reason that this project was so important was that they would be taking ownership of what their schedules would look like for the coming year. If they chose not to give it their full attention, they would live with that decision. If they did not choose classes, they would then have a 46 year old woman decide what classes they would be taking, and one of my favorites was ballroom dancing. It worked like a charm and the kids had a great time making their next year’s schedules. In this example, I took a leadership attempt that at its foundation was a great idea, and looked extremely good on paper, and tweaked a few aspects to make it more functional.

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?

I believe one of my most effective communication strategies is that I am completely transparent and genuine. This has been extremely effective, especially working with teenagers. They wrote the book on lying and can spot someone who is insincere from a mile away. There is no option except to deal with them directly and honestly. What I have found is that they respect that so much more than if they are handed something that has been sugar-coated. This also is essential in working with my interns. Sometimes I have not explained exactly what was wanted when I gave a project, or they did not understand completely, but were afraid to ask. A great example is some posters that I needed made, and maintained. We were encouraging our students to hit certain academic marks. I needed four large images representing the four different grade levels that could be manipulated in such a way to show which grade level was ahead in the competition. We had a quick meeting, I gave them the information and a few guidelines, and answered a few questions. They were very excited and dug right in. This is also when I realized it is very important to reinforce the directions I had given them. They were making a beautiful eye-catching poster, but in no way would high schoolers connect to it. It was way too intricate and fancy for what was needed and it would not speak to the demographic for which it was intended. We went over what we needed, and brainstormed for a while. After fleshing out some of those ideas, we had a great foundation on the project.  Even though they were off track in the beginning, I pointed out the things that they did which were spot-on, and would fit into the new design. I made sure I conveyed well deserved compliments, while encouraging them in a different direction. They didn’t feel attacked or discouraged, just excited about what the end product could be. Which, as a matter of fact, was phenomenal.

Another practice I find useful is setting aside a specific time with my interns and students to have an informal conversation about how they are doing, both personally and professionally. I try to really encourage feedback, and have a dialogue not a monologue with them, and I strive to make sure our environment has a steady and secure feeling. It is imperative that all know and really believe that their opinions matter. This builds confidence, which in turn can contribute to the group as a whole, to reach and exceed their personal goals and full potential. This is especially evident in my students. By talking with them and not to them, they understand that I care about them and what matters to them. The best part of my job is when I have been working with a student and they finally see the fruits of their labor. They have worked so hard on their grades, they’ve applied to their college, and have submitted as many entries for scholarships as they possibly can, and now they graduate high school and their dream starts. When I get to help lead them through that process, and see the joy on their and their family’s faces, that’s when I remember why I do what I do.

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

My personal leadership practices are integral in my personal and professional goals. I really try to live Kouzes and Posner’s top ten leadership traits, a few of these being honest, competent, fair-minded, supportive, and inspirational. These are foundational in my morals and ethics that were instilled in me at a very young age. These traits, and others like them, were encouraged in me and were solidified in my church life. By living the Golden Rule, I have tried to be transparent and show others who I am. By building that reputation in my personal and professional life, it makes being a leader much easier. When those that you are leading realize that you are trustworthy and everything that you present yourself to be, it puts much more credence when it comes to expecting the same out of them. As the trust builds, so does the teamwork and creativity, which will equate into a much better outcome for tasks and projects. It also creates a more stable work environment that fosters all the positive traits I have been discussing. In summation, my personal leadership practices are intertwined with my personal and professional goals. My personal and professional goals will not be reached without being a proper leader.

 

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