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Roots and Wings: A Self Examination of Familial Influences that Ground Diversity Leadership and an Assignment that Lifts It

Module by: Angela Webster-Smith. E-mail the author

Summary: Twenty-first century schools demand leaders with roots that ground them yet wings that are designed to soar high above the forces of academic distress and increased diversity that so easily derail them. They must be able to proactively and responsively frame, accommodate and embrace the rich diversity of the school community. In essence, leaders must understand the role that their background plays in their character in general, and in their leadership platform, in particular. To this end, the call for well-examined, revolutionary leaders is strident. This paper offers an assignment that is designed to help professors of educational leadership better prepare students for diversity leadership by affording students the opportunity to examine familial influences on their beliefs and values. It is particularly beneficial for students who will serve in settings where academic distress is perceived to have a positive correlation with cultural and economic diversity.

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Note:

This module has been peer-reviewed, accepted, and sanctioned by the National Council of Professors of Educational Administration (NCPEA) as a scholarly contribution to the knowledge base in educational administration.

Introduction

Hodding Carter once said there are two lasting bequests we can give our children: One is roots, the other is wings. This author is far from being a scientist and exploring any scientific subject is dicey for her. But from her understanding, roots have two primary purposes: to absorb nutrients and to anchor whereas wings are used to produce ­lift and therefore flight. In essence, roots keep us grounded through valleys and wings allow us to soar above mountains.

Rationale

Relatively speaking, some childhood experiences offer aerial roots that grow entirely above the ground, as beautiful as ivy and orchids. Other experiences provide surface roots which grow just below the surface and typically become the dominant roots. Still other life events produce roots that lie deep below the surface. In either case, some of the distinctive features and values of one’s family become fertilizer for roots.

As with roots, there are several types of devices for generating lift. There are natural wings and artificial wings (i.e. wings for insects, birds, bats and machines). Effectiveness of wings is determined by design and design is based on purpose, mission and use. For example, the wings of an insect are intended differently than those of a swan, eagle, sail boat, Formula One car, Boeing 737 or the Concorde. Shape is also typically important in the design of wings, considering the intended speed, attacks or load. There are actually several factors and combinations that must align to produce flight (i.e. airflow, drag, momentum, velocity, angle and lift, to name a few). But even when circumstances are not perfect, if the nose is pointed high enough, flight is indeed possible.

Twenty-first century schools demand leaders with with roots that ground them yet wings that are designed to soar high above the forces of academic distress and increased diversity that so easily derail them. They must be able to proactively and responsively frame, accommodate and embrace the rich diversity of the school community (Marx, 2006; Villegas, 1991; Huber-Warring & Warring, 2005). In essence, leaders must understand the role that their background plays in their character in general, and in their leadership platform, in particular. To this end, the call for well-examined, revolutionary leaders is strident. This paper is designed to help professors of educational leadership better prepare students for diversity leadership by affording students an opportunity to examine familial influences on their beliefs and values. Readers will take away an exercise that helps students grapple with issues that contribute to what is accepted as truth about people. The following assignment would be given in a foundations course offered early in the program. It would be particularly helpful for program graduates who will serve in schools where academic distress is perceived to have a positive correlation with cultural and economic diversity.

Roots and Wings Exercise

As one of the student introductory exercises, have students privately write a letter to the instructor. After thoughtful deliberation, students would share the following information:

  • Ethnicity or primary culture
  • Town or city of birth
  • Town or city where reared
  • Type of neighborhood in which one was reared (low-rent district, working class, affluent, etc.)
  • Other towns or cities student has lived
  • Religion, (if any or if comfortable sharing) and the role it played in their childhood home
  • Type of work parents did during their childhood and type of work parents currently do
  • Political views of parents
  • Whether parents provided nutritious and sufficient food, reliable transportation and healthcare during their childhood
  • Health of family members (genetic disorders, chronic illness, obesity, etc.)
  • Type of K-12 school attended (public, parochial, independent, magnet, charter, etc.)
  • Student’s K-12 co-curricular (academic and social) activities
  • Whether and how parents were active in their childhood activities
  • Why they desire to become a school administrator - calling vs. career advancement.

Students could submit the assignment through some form of electronic delivery. The goal of this exercise is allow students a rich opportunity to consider how family beliefs and childhood experiences are likely to play a role in their leadership platform, relative to academic and family expectations. This exercise would also alert students to the types of compassions or lack of understandings they may well have.

Students should be encouraged to dissect each point (or a few strategic points) to make positive and negative connections between each childhood experience and a current value. Consider, for instance, the notion that a student was reared in a small town. While there are many advantages to this setting (safety, familiarity, cultivation of a close-knit community), it could also lend itself to fear of diversity, intransigence, and a narrow purview of the world. The instructor should be firm about students thinking through this exercise from a broad leadership perspective rather than through the lens of a classroom teacher. The instructor would devote class time to discussing themes and patterns of student analyses. Discussion should also include how the aforementioned dynamics could possibly shape their leadership platform. Students should be allowed to share as much of their personal information as they feel comfortable unveiling with respect and appropriate boundaries. The instructor would delve into student reflections that were not examined widely and deeply enough to translate into positive and effective diversity leadership. The instructor is also encouraged to use the reflections to guide dialectical rationalizations that foster logical reasoning (Gallavan, 2007).

Conclusion

Everyone’s journey is different. Each life has a unique purpose and mission. Each person may travel at dissimilar speeds with diverse fights and loads. Likewise, each of us has a variety of characteristics, beliefs and values instilled in us during childhood. They may be academic, spiritual, physical, emotional, social, and/or street. Some are emphasized, modeled and are more in reach than others. To be certain, there are some roots and wings that may pass one by completely. Nonetheless, the cumulative effect of life experiences shapes the design of one’s proverbial roots and wings.

This author believes with Hodding Carter, all the same, that roots and wings are indeed a great legacy to leave children, especially when the roots ground feet firmly and the wings offer the momentum and velocity to fly. Graduate programs, by design, exist to prepare people for grounding and for flight. Therefore professors of educational administration are compelled to prepare emerging leaders to withstand the force of winds from without and within. There is a moral imperative to train candidates for commitment to ideals as much as there is to prepare them for everyday challenges. Even if candidates do not reach their cruising altitude while in the program, this and other cathartic exercises could be the catalyst for them to arise with intercultural consciousness, to recognize the beauty and value in a rainbow of roots and wings and to keep their noses pointed high enough to fly.

References

Blanchard, K. (2004). What it takes to be a good leader. informIT, http://www.informit.com/articles.

Bocchino, J. (2004). A description of the relationships between leadership, self, and sensemaking: Emergent relationships viewed through a constructivist lens of social theory. Dissertation Abstracts International Section A: Humanities and Social Sciences, 64 (7-A), 2441.

Cashman, K. (1997). Authentic leadership. Innovative Leader, 6, 11, 305.

Clemmer, J. (2000). Knowing thyself, CMA Management, 74, 5, 15.

Gallavan, N. P. (2007). Seven perceptions that influence novice teachers’ efficacy and cultural competence. Praxis: The Center for Multicultural Education, 2(1), 2-22.

Green, R. (2001). Practicing the art of leadership: A problem-based approach to implementing the ISSLC standards, Columbus, OH: Upper Saddle River.

Hall, D. (2004). Self-awareness identity and leader development. In Day, D., Zaccaro, S. & Halpin, S., Leader Development for Transforming Organizations: Growing Leaders for Tomorrow , pp(153-176). Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Huber-Warring, T. & Warring, D. (2005). Assessing culturally responsible pedagogy in student work: reflections, rubrics, and writing. Journal of Thought.

Marx, G. (2006). Sixteen trends, their profound impact on our future: Implications for students, education, communities, countries and the whole of society. Alexandria, VA: Educational Research Service.

Murphy, J. (1992). The landscape of leadership preparation: reframing the education of school administrators. Newbury Park, California: Corwin Press, Inc.

Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (1992). Leadership characteristics that facilitate school change, http://www.sedl.org/change/leadership.

Villegas, A. (1991). Culturally responsive pedagogy for the 1990s and beyond. (Trends and Issues Paper No. 6). Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Teacher Education.

Young, J. (1995). Developing leadership from within: A descriptive study of the use of neurolinguistic programming practices in a course on leadership. Dissertation Abstracts International Section A: Humanities and Social Sciences, 56 (1-A), 0080.

Author Bio

As a former founding principal of a multicultural parochial school, a multicultural independent school and as a consultant for public charter school design, this novice professor of educational leadership is contributing to her department, college and university and to the field of educational leadership and educational psychology by incorporating diversity leadership considerations that foster unifying and healthy academic environments. Her academic research explores social attitudes of leaders, recruitment and retention of minorities and hope-based schooling practices for all learners. She makes conference and other presentations on these topics as well.

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