Tuesday, March 31, 2009

get real

Later this afternon I will be heading to Louisville, KY where I will attend the IACBE conference (International Association of College Business Education). This is our official accreditating body for the College of Business here at Concordia University Texas. While there, I will be presenting on the topic of Student-Centered Assessment: How I abolished grades and established real learning.

So what is the difference between real learning and...fake learning? I'm not sure there is an exact opposite to real learning, but let me try to describe what I mean by "real learning." I believe real learning takes place when:
  • students take responsibility for their own learning
  • students are engaged in real-world projects and assignments
  • students direct the conversation
  • students are asked to think deeply and critically
  • students focus on excellent work rather than receiving a grade
  • feedback is about improvement, not a percentage
  • students ask questions about how to get better, not how to get a higher grade
  • students are excited to come to the classroom (or at least optimistic about what they will be doing)
  • there is less heard from the teacher - and more heard from the students
  • assessment is less about memorization and more about application
  • projects and assignments build on one another toward a culminating event
  • projects and aassignments have enough meaning that students will keep and use them later in life
  • students are able to articulate what they learned - rather than what grade they received
  • students learn about and practice skills and competencies while learning content int eh subject area

I have worked hard to create this type of classroom - some ideas work out spectatcularly...others flop! However, when I asked a student the other day about not receiving grades during the class, she said she actually worked harder on her assignments and in class because of that. Those words gave me enough incentive to keep the experiment going and tinker with the syllabus a little bit more, trying to make my classroom more about "real learning."

Thursday, March 19, 2009


It would seem to me that a leader should have many friends. They may not be "best friends"...they may not hang out together on weekends...they may not vacation together...but there should be a number of people leaders can call at any time for a "pick-me-up" or a boost of energy or a good shoulder to cry on. I believe leaders have friends because leaders are people who are INTERESTED rather than INTERESTING (those words came to me via a new friend). As a leader, you know how important it is to ask questions of others - about what they do...about new ideas...about the way things are. When you ask questions, you get information, which you as a leader then use to do new and cool things (that sounds a lot like Tom Peters - not a friend, but someone I like to read). And when you are interested, it makes the other person interesting, which soon makes them a friend.

I have had the wonderful opportunity of talking with or about some of my friends over the past few days. If you don't mind I would liek to share them with you (and maybe they'll become your friends - if you care enough to be interested in them):

Nancy Schill - Nancy is the owner and director of Executive Intelligent Coaching, a service that helps people move to that next step in their lives. Nancy has become a friend by coaching some of our students at Concordia University Texas. We are working together to find a way to help young people transition from school to career in a postive manner that builds their confidence and abilities to cope with the changes. The other day Nancy stopped by and filled me with confidence and hope.

Amar Ramakrishnan - Amar is a very new friend of mine, as he recently joined the Advisory Board for Concordia's College of Buisness. Because Amar is so passionate about what he does, he met with me to ask how he could better help our students. After a good cup of coffee at Starbuck's we came away with a bunch of new and cool ideas (there it is again) to help students connect their classroom learning to the real world.

Jeff Sandefer - if you have not yet met or heard of Jeff, you are in for a treat when you finally get to meet him. Jeff helped to found the Acton MBA Program here in Austin which trains men and women to become amazing entrepreneurs. His philosophy and method of teaching absolutely blows me away - and anytime I need a new idea for the classroom, I visit with Jeff. It has been awhile since we have seen each other, but next Wednesday I get to visit with him and a whole bunch of his friends at one of his "salon dinners." That's another reason leaders have so many friends - they love to network.

Ron Kessler - Ron was introduced to me several years ago through our President Dr. Tom Cedel. Ron runs The Kessler Group, a consulting firm here in Austin that helps people grow their businesses. He is an excellent coach and an amazing person. We talk about business, leadership, and church growth whenever we are together (he is a member of Mesa Community Church where his son Matt is the pastor). Ron is also the chair of our Business Advisory Board.

So who are your friends? Pause for a moment and consider these people as true treasures in your life - people who inspire you, think like you, and are also committed to your mission and vision. If you haven't talked with them in awhile, set up that appointment right now...and don't forget to make new friends (but keep the old...one is silver and the other gold).

Friday, March 13, 2009

how would they know?

Leaders teach.

I could finish this post with those two words, but I will continue and expound an what I mean by "leaders teach."

Why is it that so many of us expect people to come into any position knowing exactly what to do? Let's begin with students - should we expect them to know how to write a formal research paper...or to work effectively in teams...or to think critically...or to make an effective presentation? So many of my colleagues gripe and moan that students are not able perform the above tasks when they come to college. Maybe instead of griping, we should engage in teaching these aaspects of what it means to be a student...because leaders teach.

We often look at new hires and wonder why they can't perform basic tasks or duties...or why reports aren't written in a certain style...or why they don't understnad the importance of being on time...or why they don't dress professionally...or ___________________ (you fill in the blank with your favorite pet peeve). For the majority of the people, it's because they have not yet learned how to act in a professional manner. So instead of griping about our new hires, let's teach them how to be professional...because leaders teach.

What about college faculty? I hear fellow administrators (both at my school and at other places) talk about how faculty act in meetings...or how they don't engage students in the classroom...or how they fail to provide adequate assessment for classes or programs...or how they _____________________ (again, you get to fill in the blank). I believe with all my heart that no faculty member wants to do a bad job on any aspect of their calling. People want to do the right thing and want to be recognized for doing the right thing. But how can someone do the right thing if they do not know what the right thing is - or how to accomplish the right thing? Our job as leaders is to teasch them get to that point...because leaders teach.

So who are you teaching today? Think back to the past 24 hours - who or what have you griped about? Do they need teaching? Maybe they know what to do but do not understand your expectation? Maybe they do not know how important it is to act/behave/perform in a given manner. Why don't we commit to teaching them something...because leaders teach.

Friday, March 6, 2009

reading leadership

How do you read? Is it merely for pleasure...do you let the words just soak into you and enjoy the pleasure of the writing...do you bask in the action that takes place between the good guys and bad guys...do you read to learn and gain new knowledge...do you read because you think your should?

I often find myself reading through what I call "leadership lenses." And I have found that fiction provides a great opportunity to learn about leadership and its many facets in life. We are shaping a new leadership course here at Concordia University Texas and I recommended that we look at including a work of fiction because it allows students to talk about leadership from the human experience - and isn't that what leadership is really about?

Here are a few of my favorite examples:

Lord of the Flies by William Golding: Sure we all read this in junior high or high school but reading it through leadership lenses provides a whole new picture of groupthink, use of power, and the difference between management and leadership (think Piggy and Ralph). It is a quick read - and full of good action.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card: I am not a science fiction fan, but I could not put this book down once I began reading it last summer. It's leadership themes include leadership development, leading peers, and whether leadership characteristics are innate or not.

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier: A young adult classic, this novel talks about standing up for what is right, leadership courage, and speaking up to authority. Another great story with leadership implications (and a quick read).

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand: Not such a quick read (694 pages in the paperback edition) but a fascinating story of power, focus, vision, and organizations. Many people do not agree with Miss Rand's philosophy, but the story is incredible and has many discussion points on leadership.

So start reading - only this time read through leadership lenses. And if you have any suggestions to add to this list, let me know so i can add them to my own summer reading list.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

we do what we say we do

MISSION - it tells us what an organization does. Sounds simple, but often times the mission is nothing more than a nice statement that no one knows, remembers, or even cares about. More often, even when people know it, they seldom live it out.
I am proud to announce that Concordia University Texas lives out its mission of developing Christian leaders. I had the chance on Saturday, February 28, 2009, to witness this happening in three different venues:
1. Four of our students were at the Hatton W. Sumners Student Leadership Conference hosted by the UT Center for Ethical Leadership in the LBJ School of Public Affairs. They heard great speakers, did some self-reflection, worked in teams, and palnned for their own leadership development. Concordia made it possible for these four students to attend this great conference and develop as Christian leaders.
2. I watched the Concordia baseball team win yet another game. As I was talking with our athletic director, we both commented that our coach, Mike Gardner, is a class act that cares more about student development than winning (and by the way, he also does win). It struck me that as these young men learn about baseball, they are also developing into Christian leaders.
3. CTX's music department hosted a one-day conference on contemporary worship on Saturday. I sat in on a couple of sessions, and they were crowded with students and other adults from the community (and even from as far away as Dallas). The thought struck me that through this event, Concordia was - you guessed it - developing Christian leaders (both its students and others from the community).
So how cool is all of that? That's one day - a weekend day at that. Imagine what happens at Concordia in a week's time? We really do live out our mission...because we do what we say we do!