PKAL Volume IV: What Works, What Matters, What Lasts

Creativity & Reflection & Leadership

December 14, 2007

Stories from the community— formal presentations from meetings, interviews with colleagues, notes and comments heard and read in informal discussions— are an increasing thread through all PKAL activities— recognizing the power of stories as catalysts for the kind of reflections that enhance creativity and leadership.

Stories from Richard Hughes— an essay and an interview — connect his work for many years at the Center for Creative Learning with his new role at the United States Air Force Academy. Hughes reflects on this time of transition in his career, his past, present and future opportunities to help people think about culture change. Tools for addressing the essential need for understanding the organizational culture, “how we do things around here,” are part of his story. He challenges us with three final questions:

  • What new capabilities are most critical to your institution’s educational transformation?
  • What changes in your campus culture are needed to support those capabilities?
  • And what role can you play in making those changes happen?

The potential of leaders to make changes happen is demonstrated in writings and reflections from members of the PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century Network. F21 members who had participated in one of the NSF-funded PKAL F21 Summer Leadership Institutes were surveyed to determine the impact of time away from pressing, day-to-day responsibilities to talk with mentors and peers about one’s personal and professional future. Their thoughts are compelling evidence of the value of such time to think about the big picture, and PKAL’s continuing focus on leadership development builds on their experiences.

  • From the institute I learned how to approach institutional change as an educational endeavor, and am now much more able to step back and adopt a much calmer, more reflective, and ultimately more positive attitude in my works as chair.
  • It helped me think beyond the immediate circumstances of the position I was then in, gave me the courage to leave a dysfunctional situation, but to stay in academe— now in a situation in which I am flourishing.
  • The time alone, away from the “campus fray” to think about what it meant to be a leader, for me and in my campus community, recognizing that the culture on my campus is “bottom-up” leadership. The emphasis on strategic planning, on keeping attention on big principles is something I still use in multiple venues.

The PKAL F21 Class of 2007 was invited to share their reflections on leaders, and to speak with colleagues about leadership, institutional culture, and more. In the PKAL Office, we have statements from the seventy-four new F21 members, and we will be posting them regularly in the coming year. Some of the statements integrated reflections and interviews, illustrating the value of collegial conversations about issues and questions of import to the community. From their words, we gain insights about leaders— as artist, as chaos-manager, as educator, as influencer, as learner, and as motivator.

Why are interviews becoming an important part of the PKAL portfolio? We have taken to heart and adapted the “positive deviance (PD)” wisdom of Jerry Sternin, that once a problem (opportunity) is identified and defined, it is important to seek out colleagues who are having demonstrable success in addressing that problem, learn what works for them, and adapt it for your own situation. Our adaptation of the PD concept is being used in a variety of PKAL settings. We here present two PD interviews.

One is from a set of interviews with members of The Mathematics and Science Partnership of Greater Philadelphia (MSPGP), who were charged with identifying and interviewing someone they considered an expert in getting people who did not know each other to collaborate around a common goal. From a coach of a youth soccer program, the importance of celebrating, brain-storming and team-building is stressed. The other is by a first-year faculty member who was asked to identify and interview a senior colleague she wanted as a role model.

The need for passion to make a difference and to take personal responsibility (getting up early and keeping lists) are also insights on how to be more creative, how to make one’s life more filled with wonder and excitement offered by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his classic book: Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. Near the end, he suggests a first step toward a more creative life that resonates with STEM leaders: the cultivation of curiosity and interest— to maintain [one’s] delight in the strange and the unknown…because is no end to the unknown, delight will also be endless.

Then he provides some specific advice, including:

  • Try to be surprised by something everyday; try to surprise at least one person everyday; write down each day what surprised you and how you surprised others.
  • When something strikes a spark of interest, follow it.
  • Wake up in the morning with a specific goal to look forward to. [Creative people] believe that there is something meaningful to accomplish each day, and they can’t wait to get started on it.
  • Take charge of your schedule.
  • Make time for reflection and relaxation.