Leadership: Inspired by Civic Responsibilty

by: Stefanos Gialamas, Ph.D., President, ACS Athens
Ellen Froustis

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.

  1. 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
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.).
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

Conclusion

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: gialamas@acs.gr, vriniotise@acs.gr.

References

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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