August 31, 2017

Professor Dawn Montgomery discusses courageous educational leadership

Leading Together is designed to support school leadership teams (teachers and administrators) building relational-trust and effective collaboration skills, critical building blocks of effective teams, in their schools.
  • Copyright, Steve Hambuchen

For nearly 20 years, Lewis & Clark Graduate School has been offering Courage to Lead programming, including seasonal retreats for leaders working in education and other professions, as well as individualized programs for district teams. These offerings are designed to nurture personal and professional integrity and the courage to act on it.

Courage to Lead is rooted in the belief that effective leadership flows from the identity and integrity of the individual. Participants explore the heart of their profession and vocational passion through sharing stories from their own journeys, reflecting on their practice, drawing upon strategies from the fields of mindfulness, contemplative practices, social emotional learning, and the insights of storytellers and diverse cultural traditions.

This year, we are excited to expand our Courage programming with Leading Together, a new program for school building or district teams. We connected with Educational Leadership faculty member and Courage facilitator Dawn Montgomery to learn more about this unique approach to professional development, and what courageous leadership is all about.

Courage to Lead programs are designed to help participants lead and act with courage and integrity in their work. Can you share an example of how participants might apply what they experience during a retreat to their work once they are back in their work setting?

One of the most crucial components of Courage to Lead retreats is they provide the precious and scarce time for leaders to stop and reflect on their leadership – their challenges and their triumphs – and to share with other leaders in a safe environment, discovering that other leaders have similar challenges. They take back to their personal and professional lives a refreshed outlook about why they got into the work and most importantly, tools to support their faculty and staff. One important example is deep listening and the use of open and honest questions that don’t attempt to solve problems for others, but that help bring the sharer to their own truths.

How has participating in the Courage to Lead program personally impacted your work and passion for education?

It sounds cliché to say, but Courage to Lead saved me! I was a high school principal when I was first introduced to the work. It was an overwhelming job. Taking the time to stop and breathe, to think about my leadership in a new way and to have skills to address some of the issues I faced steered me to a healthier outlook and to better leadership. It was clear to me after several retreats I wanted to facilitate Courage for others. I continue to hear “testimonials” from leaders after they experience the work. They make difficult decisions about their lives and come back to retreat whenever they need to be reminded of their own heart-path and to remember the skills to help others find their true calling.

Many people from all professions are struggling with the current political climate and social unrest. How can Courage programs help leaders navigate these divisive times?

Courage to Lead for Democracy is specifically designed for people in all professions to help them feel supported and empowered now. We explore the five habits of the heart of democracy outlined by Parker Palmer in his book, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit (2011). Embracing and holding the tensions around our differences is a key component. Supporting individuals to exercise voice and agency as they build community in their schools, families, and workplaces is also key. Being with others discussing these challenges supports individuals to think about standing tall in difficult times.

On September 16, you are co-facilitating a Leading Together information session and program sampler. Who should attend, and what can attendees expect? How does it differ from other Courage to Lead programs?

Leading Together is designed to support school leadership teams (teachers and administrators) building relational-trust and effective collaboration skills, critical building blocks of effective teams, in their schools. The September 16 information session is designed for anyone interested in learning more about the work – teachers, building and district administrators - to experience the work and learn more about the 2-day team training and year-long support for implementing the professional development in their schools.

What changes or results can educators and personnel expect to see after implementing the Leading Together program in their school community?

The Leading Together model was studied at University of Virginia during its two-year implementation in 8 demographically diverse schools. They found the school teams who fully implemented Learning Together showed positive changes in professional capacity, relational trust and academic optimism; increases for professional disposition to innovation, school commitment and collective responsibility. Many teachers described an increase in empathy in their ability to listen to one another in a way that was open and receptive. Several districts found the results so powerful, they expanded the implementation across additional schools.