Academic Leadership: Embracing Civic Responsibility

by: Stefanos Gialamas, PhD, President
American Community Schools of Athens

Kathimerini English Edition, September 15th, 2007

New challenges have arisen, from globalization to developments in technology and demands for a better life. Education, creativity and entrepreneurship are the necessary ingredients for a productive society by providing all citizens of the world with a better place to live. Educational institutions and, in particular, academic leaders, more than ever are challenged to adopt a leadership enhanced and enriched by a commitment to encourage and foster civic responsibility among students, faculty, staff and administrators.

Academic leaders must inspire their team members to adopt leadership in a partnership with flexibility, in which the leader and leadership team establish a partnership that is based on accountability, as authority, decision making and civic responsibility. The flexibility allows the leader and team members to occasionally adjust the accountability level and spectrum of authority. The leader must embrace the “human factor” and adopt it into the educational goals of the academic institution. Today, in order to create a better community, societal leaders must not only have the required skills to lead, but must also have empathy for their fellow man.

Instilling Social And Personal Responsibility

Strong academic leadership often requires meeting challenges head-on. Inspiring others to accept and value the potential for promoting civic responsibility within an institution can be a challenge in itself. Educating students, parents and faculty on the merits of instilling civic responsibility in the culture of the academic institution is necessary. There are other important factors to consider that may interfere with a successful program, such as a weak infrastructure, financial constraints, local government, laws and bureaucracy.

An educational philosophy that values civic responsibility can enrich teaching and learning by engaging students in creative projects that utilize their knowledge, skills and abilities to address complex community issues. Learning through service helps students to develop a higher level of self-esteem and efficacy while building integrity and ethos, teaching modesty and humility, nurturing empathy and acceptance for others, and fostering a deep sense of civic responsibility for the well-being of their community.

This type of learning also helps students to develop intercultural sensitivity by exposing them to people of different social, economic and cultural backgrounds.

On an academic level, participating in service projects in the community can result in a higher level of motivation and collaboration between administrators, teachers, students and community members that can foster a more productive, caring and motivating learning environment. On a community level, by engaging young people as resources, we enable them to shape the communities they will lead in the future with the understanding, sensitivity and empathy that is needed to make significant changes and improvements in the quality of life. A well-rounded student with knowledge, skills, values, ethics and an appreciation for civic responsibility is better prepared to adapt and contribute positively to an, often, erratically changing world.

Integrating Civic Responsibility In A Personal Leadership Identity

Transforming a school culture to value creativity in learning and problem solving with the ability to profoundly impact the local community begins with a personal leadership identity that radiates enthusiasm, ethos and empathy and a commitment to civic responsibility. Embracing and adopting the following steps can ensure the success of two vital objectives: to establish an action plan that is precise, relevant, organized, measurable and expeditious and to inspire students, parents and faculty in the institutional environment to endorse civic responsibility.

Academic leadership embracing civic responsibility can be instrumental in helping youth to feel connected to their community, care about their environment, and conscientiously strive to improve the quality of life around them. We cannot expect to see positive, long-lasting changes within any community unless we strengthen the leadership quality of youth so that they reflect values, initiative, and social and personal responsibility.

Implementing a leadership philosophy and action plan to educate students, parents, faculty and staff about the value of civic responsibility does not necessarily need to be complex during the initial stages. Once the idea is activated, it has a domino effect: More and more people are inspired to collaborate with team members to initiate challenging and rewarding projects that not only benefit students but also create community partnerships as well.

Doing good deeds and feeling good are contagious!