by: Stefanos Gialamas, Ph.D., President, ACS Athens
The Department Chair, Winter 2009
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. More than ever, department chairs are challenged to adopt and implement leadership qualities that are enhanced and enriched by a commitment to encourage and foster civic responsibility among students, faculty, and staff.
Academic leaders must inspire their team members to adopt leadership as a partnership with bounded flexibility (Gialamas, 2005), in which the leader and leadership team establish a partnership based on accountability, authority, decision making, and civic responsibility. This flexibility allows the leader and team members to occasionally adjust the accountability level and spectrum of authority. The leader must embrace the “human factor” (Cherif, Gialamas, & Ofori-Amoah, 2000) and adopt it into the educational goals of the academic institution. In particular, chairs can promote social responsibility by modeling constructive social behavior with respect to diverse opinions and styles of life. Depending on the nature of the department, chairs can create a better rapport with the community.
Increasing Social and Personal Responsibility
Strong academic leadership often requires meeting challenges head on, including inspiring faculty to value the potential for promoting civic responsibility within the department. Educating students and faculty on the merits of integrating civic responsibility into the department culture may be necessary as time, energy, motivation, and cultural values may vary from place to place. 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. Although these factors can be intimidating, the benefits far outweigh the obstacles and are well worth the effort to persist and overcome them.
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 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.
Students, faculty, the academic institution, and the community benefit from the experience of creating valuable bonds with community members. By understanding the needs and resources of their community, active students are more likely to become active citizens. Students can develop socially, emotionally, ethically, and cognitively as a result of well-structured service-learning programs (Eyler & Giles, 1999) and academic leadership that inspires civic responsibility in the school culture.
On an academic level, participating in community service-learning projects can result in a higher level of motivation and collaboration among the department chair, faculty, students, and community members that can foster a more productive, caring, and motivating learning environment. On a community level, by engaging students and faculty as resources we enable them to shape the communities they serve. 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 into a Personal Leadership Identity
Transforming a department culture to value creativity in learning and problem solving with the ability to profoundly impact the local community begins with a department chair that radiates enthusiasm, ethos, 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 time limited, and to inspire students and faculty to endorse civic responsibility.
- Identify the needs and resources of the local community.
- Create lists of organizations that reflect civic responsibility in the community.
- Discuss with civic leaders the needs of the non-organized sector of the community.
- Collect information on available resources that may include local programs and businesses.
- Analyze available local, state, and government funding to determine whether your institution is qualified to receive
- Understand the needs and resources of the local community.
- Get to know your community through your own perception; walk through the streets and talk to the people.
- Engage in dialogue with community leaders of civic organizations.
- Understand needs on an individual and community/societal level.
- Prepare a list of needs in the community.
- Assess the significance of community needs.
- Understand how the community group functions.
- Assess the goals of the group or institution.
- Understand the implications if these needs are met on an individual, group, academic, or community level.
- Understand the implications if these needs are not met on an individual, group, academic, or community level.
- Prioritize the goals to address community needs.
- Assess the strengths and limitations of the department.
- Examine the strengths of the academic department and the institution.
- Identify available resources on human, financial, and technological levels.
- Examine the availability and feasibility of resources.
- Optimize the department’s strengths and resources for desired outcomes.
- Engage the department in community service projects.
- Identify curriculum concepts or content that can be related to community needs.
- Communicate these concepts to faculty and invite them to join the department’s Civic Responsibility Think Tank (CRTK).
- Develop shared goals with the CRTK.
- Communicate these goals and ensure that they are measurable and attainable within a specific time frame.
- Solicit input from all department faculty.
- Explain the importance and relevance of these goals to the curriculum on an individual and department level.
- Identify and establish an efficient, realistic, and effective way for faculty to contribute time and resources to the action plan.
- Build a dedicated implementation team.
- Build a team to focus on the initiative.
- Give everyone in the department the opportunity to join the team.
- Identify the values and skills of each team member.
- Assign specific duties.
- Provide incentives to every team member (released time, etc.).
- Develop strategies and a plan.
- Align steps 1-6 with the mission and vision of the institution.
- Draft an action plan.
- Share the action plan with team members and consider their input.
- Readjust the plan to ensure that goals are feasible and attainable.
- Present the proposed action plan to constituents.
- Ask for feedback.
- Modify and refine the final action plan.
- Implement strategies.
- Planning is an evolutionary process.
- The plan must be clear, concise, focused, and attainable.
- The team must understand and embrace the plan.
- Provide all necessary resources needed to implement the plan (human, financial, technological, etc.).
- Begin implementation.
- Assess progress and adjust where necessary.
- Evaluate periodically to assess if goals/vision have been met.
- Evaluate the success of the implementation strategy.
- Educate the community to establish and meet new goals.
- After several goals have been accomplished, engage community leaders to identify new goals to enhance civic responsibility and continue the process.
- Share with the community the goals that have been accomplished and point out the natural extension of other goals.
- Convey the message that progress is a continual process that either leads to an extension of the previous goal or to entirely new goals.
- Evaluate the outcome.
- The secret of success is to continually assess and evaluate accomplishments.
- Frequent assessment allows for reflection on the process and the outcome, helping to determine more efficient ways of accomplishing the desired goals.
- Improve the outcome.
- After the initial evaluation of the outcome, further adjust and/or modify the original goals.
- Establish an improved set of goals within a specific time frame.
The strategies presented here can help chairs integrate civic responsibility into their departmental mission. Leadership that is inspired by civic responsibility can be instrumental in helping students 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 our faculty and students so that they reflect values, initiative, and social and personal responsibility.
Implementing a leadership philosophy and action plan to educate students, faculty, and staff about the value of civic responsibility does not 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.
Dr. Stefanos Gialamas is the President of the American Community Schools of Athens in Athens, Greece, and Ellen Froustis is a high school counselor also at the American Community Schools of Athens. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
Cherif, A. H., Gialamas, S., & Ofori-Amoah, B. (2000). Can human factor concept be taught? A preliminary institutional survey and report. Journal of Human Factor Studies, 5(1 &2), 89-114.
Eyler, J., & Giles, D. E., Jr. (1999). Where’s the learning in service-learning? San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Gialamas, S. (2005, Summer). Academic leadership: A reflective practitioner’s approach. Leadership: Journal for Post-Secondary Leaders, 12(2), 26-32.
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