One pillar of our conceptual framework is leadership. While we might typically think of leadership in terms of formal leadership via serving on committees or in administrative capactities, we consider leadership more broadly. One form of leadership that I’ve begun to incorporate in my teaching is writing as an embodiment of leadership. In this post, I’ll share a brief rationale along with a few examples.
How can writing be considered leadership?
My colleague, Chris Gareis, has a great definition of leadership that has really expanded my thinking. He defines leadership as, “the constructive influence of one teacher on the professional practice of one or more other teachers.” I think when we consider leadership from this perspective, we can begin to consider a range of leadership activities. A teacher might share a particularly effective teaching strategy with her colleagues in the context of a faculty meeting or a conversation over coffee. A teacher might organize a book group or she might offer a session at a professional conference. One often overlooked form of leadership is the sharing of insight, ideas, and learning through writing.
Through writing and sharing the work, educators at all levels have an unprecented opportunity to “constructively influence the practice of others.” In the process of writing to a particular audience as a means to influence their practice, the writer must clarify their thinking and present their ideas in a way that will engage with and inspire their readers. To me, this is a powerful form of leadership that scales well beyond the traditional boundaries of one’s immediate colleagues. I have encouraged, and in some courses required, students to write with leadership in mind in different forms.
Three different forms of “leadership writing”
- Professional blogging and engagement on social media
One of the most scalable and influential forms of leadership writing comes in the form of blog posts or contributions through social media. The ease and reach of inexpensive (e.g., Weebly) and free (e.g., Wordpress.org) blogging platforms provides what Michael Hyatt describes as a platform. This platform can literally reach (and potentially influence) a worldwide audience. A number of educators have built their platforms and achieved significant audiences and influence in the education community. Two examples that come to mind are Richard Byrne and Kelly Tenkley. As classroom teachers, Richard and Kelly began these blogs to share resources and ideas with other educators. The have 77,000 and 17,000 followers on Twitter, respectively. It’s harder to get a grasp of the readership of their blogs, but they have both become international leaders in the field of educational technology. What could be better evidence of writing promoting leadership?
- Contributing to practitioner journals
In many fields, professional organizations and other media companies publish paper or electronic journals aimed at the practitioner community. These journals provide a forum for contributors to share ideas, lessons learned, and strategies that have significant potential to inform and influence others’ practice. I consider Educause’s online series, “Seven Things You Should Know About ,” an excellent example of this. Each contribution in the series is centered on a particular trend, issue or challenge in the field of IT in higher education. These kinds of practitioner publications, written in a practical and accessible format, offer powerful opportunities for leadership in the field.
- Producing peer-reviewed publications
In academia, the peer-reviewed publication is obviously the “coin of the realm.” These publications are not only a way that we measure and quantify our contributions to the disciplines in which we work, they also represent an opportunity for leadership. By sharing our scholarly contributions in these venues, we can influence both thought and future scholarship in our area of study. While the scope and scale of many of these journals is limited relative to blogs and practitioner journals, they offer opportunities for influence within a very targeted field of inquiry.
What do students get out of this kind of experience?
I find that offering students opportunities to share their work with an audience in any of these forms challenges them to clarify their thinking, consider their audience, and consciously select strategies and approaches to communicating their ideas. I have observed deeper commitment, more editing and revision, and more passion in the writing when students know that they will share their ideas with a larger audience than just their professor and classmates. I’m just about to launch an assignment in my Digital Tools for Learning course that will challenge students to mindfully select one of these forms of leadership writing to develop content they can share with the larger community. I am eager to see their leadership potential reflected in this work.
How have you or might you encourage students to demonstrate leadership through their writing?
Please post your comments below.