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Teaching Leadership

Bridging Theory and Practice

Gama Perruci and Sadhana W. Hall

We can teach leadership. The authors share their personal experiences of how they have bridged theory and practice in curricular and co-curricular settings to set the pace and tone for leadership development and life-long learning. Starting from theories of leadership, they share how it can be taught with rigor, intentionality, structure, and organization. Assessment is key from conception to implementation. Scholars, educators, and practitioners from different fields and professions are invited to adjust, adopt, and adapt concepts, ideas, methods and processes discussed in this book to their own institutional contexts and reality.
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Chapter 4: The “smart” classroom

Gama Perruci and Sadhana W. Hall

One of the questions that we often get asked about “teaching about leadership” is: How do you teach leadership? While Part II of this book will deal with some of the co-curricular tools that we can use to teach leadership, we thought it would be helpful at this point in the book to reflect on the classroom setting in which we teach about leadership.

Much has been written about the use of technology in the classroom (Lloyd, 1997; McKamey, 2008; Blink, 2016). In fact, the term “smart” has become associated with a technology-enhanced classroom that gives an instructor access to the latest bells and whistles. The assumption seems to be that the more technology you use in the classroom, the more effective you will become in reaching your educational mission. In this chapter, we offer a different take on the term “‘smart’ classroom” – one in which the educator and the learners alike engage in a transformative process and one which enables them to grow. Technology may be part of that process, but it is not an end in itself.

In the first section of the chapter, we examine the assumptions we make about the term “‘smart’ classroom.” The second section of the chapter will introduce strategies that educators can use to increase engagement in the classroom (e.g., the Socratic method, use of artifacts, case studies). We do not discount the use of technology in the classroom, because we believe that it can be a useful tool when teaching about leadership. The chapter closes with an examination of “nontraditional” approaches to leadership pedagogy; for example, service-learning projects, simulations, the flipped classroom, and the “mobile” classroom.


The rapid expansion of technology use in the classroom has left us with the increasing expectation that educators should be well versed in using the latest gadgets and applications. In our age of rapid technological change, we are eager to incorporate all the bells and whistles that we can find. However, consider the pointed question: What makes a classroom “smart”? In leadership education, we believe that the “smart” quality of a classroom experience is found not in technology per se, but in the way our learners become engaged and contribute to the success of leadership education.

When Technology Replaces/Complements Pedagogy

Technology has always been a part of the learning process (Carr-Chellman and Rowland, 2017). It comes in many forms and shapes. The blackboard and chalk are themselves technological innovations that provide the educator with an effective tool for delivering course content. When words and shapes are written on a blackboard, the learners are drawn to them in a way that enhances the visual experience. The introduction of whiteboards with markers has further expanded visual learning through the use of different colors.

In recent decades, we have seen new technology brought into the classroom through the use of computers, projectors, WiFi access to the Internet, and ultimately “smartboards” – whiteboards that have become interactive. At the risk of sounding slightly nostalgic, it sometimes feels as though technology has invaded our classrooms, now populated by students who are “digital natives” (Prensky, 2012; Blink, 2016).

The advent of computers and projectors revolutionized the classroom by giving the teacher greater access to visual content. Back in the early 1990s, when one of the co-authors began his teaching career in political science, he dreamed of the ability to build lectures that could include photographs of political leaders, thus breaking the monotony of the blackboard. Later in the decade, PowerPoint and the Internet entered the picture, which made that “dream” possible (Knoblauch, 2013). From blackboard, we moved to the whiteboard; next, we dabbled with the smartboard, only to settle on the PowerPoint screen that sidelined the “boards.” In a way, the screen became the new board with pre-fabricated content.

The advent of online learning has further mixed technology and pedagogy (Kearsley, 2000; Poritz and Rees, 2017). Leadership education has become adept in the use of online technology, particularly at the graduate level. Online teaching can be effective in promoting group discussion, the delivery of packaged course content (e.g., PowerPoint slides), and ancillaries (e.g., multimedia clips) for full-time working professionals.

The “Smart” Classroom

We acknowledge the power of technology to make knowledge more accessible to a growing number of professionals who use online education as a way to expand their grasp of complex issues in a marketplace that demands continuous professional development (Lloyd, 2005; Tomei, 2008). Our contention, however, is that undergraduate leadership education requires a different approach.

At the undergraduate level, we can identify two general objectives of a classroom experience. First, the classroom setting can be the environment through which knowledge about the academic field of leadership is transmitted from educators to learner. That is the traditional view of a classroom – the place where educators speak, students take notes, and, later on, an exam is given in order to test whether the students have mastered the material. Many disciplines use this classroom structure effectively. In a way, teaching the leadership canon can follow the same approach, particularly in a course focused on “theories and models of leadership.”

However, the traditional classroom experience does not necessarily mean a rote type of delivery that often frustrates students. Joan Marques, Satinder Dhiman, and Jerry Biberman (2012), for instance, encourage leadership educators to consider using humor as a pedagogical tool in the classroom. There are different pedagogical tools, as the next section of this chapter will suggest, that a teacher should consider to “spice things up” in the classroom. We believe that the traditional lecture style, so popular in many disciplines, does not work well for teaching leadership.

We invite you to consider the second objective of a leadership education classroom experience – the classroom as the setting in which critical thinking takes place. Most leadership programs identify critical thinking as one of their leadership competencies. We want our emerging leaders to gain an appreciation for critical thinking, as an important tool in both leading and following. The classroom can be the perfect setting for bridging theory and practice – the environment in which students learn the canon, while at the same time developing the engagement skills that will serve them well in the workplace.

That is the true potential of a “smart” classroom – one in which theory and practice are connected in meaningful ways. What makes the classroom truly “smart” is its ability to make connections between theory and practice. The key word that links the two is engagement. We do not necessarily mean student participation in the form of answering questions posed by the educators. Instead, by engagement we mean the students being present (fully committed to the classroom experience), listening to their peers’ comments, making a meaningful contribution to the classroom discussion, challenging one another’s assumptions, and intellectually growing in the process.

The Classroom as a Metaphor

The “smart” classroom can be used as a metaphor for the growth component that we expect in our leadership programs. As you recall from Chapter 1, we structured “teaching leadership” around three components: leadership education; leadership competency-building; and leadership development. The classroom is a perfect environment for an emerging leader’s development to take place.

We often treat our classrooms as great examples of transactional leadership. Students see themselves as consumers whose tuition fee “buys” knowledge. In turn, the instructors are paid wages in order to deliver the content expected within the curriculum. This relationship is short-lived. Once the exchange is completed, each side moves on to other tasks – and new transactional opportunities. After all, the semester or quarter has a time limitation.

The “smart” classroom in our leadership programs should intentionally create an environment in which transformational leadership takes place. One of the most common shortcomings of some leadership programs is to focus mainly on competency-building as a transactional enterprise. Leadership programs that truly stand out tend to approach teaching leadership as a transformative opportunity that connects theory and practice in a way that leads to leadership development at the individual learners’ level.

Human-Centered Design

As a student of community development many years ago, one of the co-authors learned from a thoughtful professor that people are capable of solving, and willing to solve, problems they themselves identify. Further, given the appropriate resources, they will find appropriate solutions for these problems. At the heart of these two statements lies the user of any product or service.

The co-author, in her experience in several countries, observed that any community project that actively involves users of an intervention in its design, implementation, and evaluation often meets with positive and desired results. In recent years, the field of design thinking, usercentered design, or human-centered design has further substantiated this. Human-centered design is based on the fundamental idea that the most innovative and constructive solution to a problem can only be found if the underlying human need is properly and precisely identified. It is a creative multilayered process and methodology that invites collaboration among people who have gathered together to address an identified problem. Done thoughtfully under the guidance of trained facilitators, it sparks energy and optimism to find thoughtful, interdisciplinary, and creative solutions to complex problems. Most importantly, these solutions are developed with the user in mind and with the involvement of the user.

Within the context of our discussion in this book, design thinking helps educators approach their curricular and co-curricular offerings and careers with a sense of creative purpose, and it helps them pass this sense on to their students. As a methodology, it helps to develop a spirit of innovation among learners because they are driven to explore new ideas, which are different from their own. The step-by-step process of “guided mastery” helps learners to build, test, and retest ideas or “prototypes” with different stakeholders until one of these emerges as a possibly viable solution to an identified problem. It presents possibilities, which can expand and contract after every step. The pathway to the solution starts with an exhaustive effort to deeply understand the user and the need. The first idea is almost never the right one, and every subsequent proposal is tested against the core beliefs carefully developed at the beginning of the process.

The process of continuous experimentation, though hard and sometimes even taxing, builds grit and determination to “get it right.” The step-by-step approach, and the small successes achieved as a result of such a process, builds confidence in the learner, or “self-efficacy,” as Albert Bandura (1997) calls it. The process also encourages learners to recognize their own potential and capability to address problems with compassion.1 The entire methodology is infused with the practice of empathy, which is a learner’s capability to understand and share the feelings of his or her team members as well as those of the people for whom a solution is being designed. Authentic listening is critical to demonstrating authentic empathy! The viable solution in the end generates joy and a feeling of accomplishment. It instills creative confidence within the learners to tackle the next problem with the same enthusiasm and anticipation. It also helps to build a “growth” mindset, as Carol Dweck (2006) would say, and helps learners to practice working as a team toward a common goal.

Although there are several examples of how human-centered design methodology has been used in different fields such as health, agriculture, and education, we are highlighting one example from the health field. A group of Stanford students was tasked to reconstruct a typical incubator to address the issue of infant mortality in premature and low-birthweight babies in developing countries. After careful research and dedicated work, their first prototype was still too expensive and difficult to use. This prototype required access to electricity or assistance from a medical facility. Only after a visit to Nepal, in which one of the team members truly felt the desperation of the mothers she spoke to, did the team really understand the human need. It drove them to a complete conceptual reframing of their solution’s criteria and purpose. The resulting innovation, the Embrace incubator, is a low-cost polymer blanket which helps regulate infants’ body temperature, giving them a better chance to survive.2 Priced at around $25, the blanket is portable, safe, and reusable, and requires only intermittent access to electricity.3 The key takeaway here is that such an unconventional yet life-changing solution was only possible when the team took the time to gain real insight into the problem by talking to mothers and really understanding their perspectives on the problem.

We conclude our thoughts about human-centered design by suggesting that, without knowing the user and the need, our preconceived notions, however well educated, need to be tested and retested. Claudia Kotchka, IDEO Fellow, who successfully led an innovation culture transformation at Procter & Gamble, says:

The most important thing a design thinking leader needs to do is ask the right broad question. This question is the type that allows a team to brainstorm an infinite amount of possible solutions. The next thing a leader needs to know is that you stifle innovation if you ask your team to prove it works. Instead, ask them, “What are your consumer insights?” or “Show me your prototypes.” The key is to always keep the team customer-focused.4

The true meaning of empathy in human-centered design is to resist the urge to find a solution by looking inward and instead practice the patience needed to test assumptions, reflect meaningfully, and absorb key insights from the users themselves. We urge educators to avail themselves of the resources design thinking opens up for them in their curricular or co-curricular offerings.


In the previous section, we focused on the leadership classroom as the place where all three components come together in powerful ways – leadership education, leadership competency-building, and leadership development. The key word linking all of these components is “engagement.” Leadership students come to classrooms not only open to expanding their knowledge of leadership, but also with an engagement mindset. They need to be ready to use critical thinking in a way that will challenge the educator and themselves to achieve deep learning.

How can educators promote this type of engaging environment? While we recognize that the responsibility does not solely fall on the educators, strategies that allow learners to participate in a transformative experience can be used.

Start with the “Why”

Simon Sinek offers an insightful perspective on product development that he calls the “Golden Circle.”5 Organizations operate on three levels – who, how, and what. Imagine the levels as concentric circles, with “who” occupying the core, “how” being the middle circle, and “what” being the outer circle. Sinek suggests that many organizations fail because they mainly focus on the “what” – e.g., manufacturing computers – and then work their way in to the other circles.

Instead, Sinek says that true innovators tend to start with the “why”: Why do you do what you do? What do you believe in? He offers the example of Apple. Rather than focusing on the “what” (e.g., “We sell computers. Do you want to buy one?”), Apple focuses first on the “why” (e.g., “We believe in challenging the status quo”). This perspective allows Apple to go beyond computers and innovate in many related fields (e.g., phones, music players). Sinek makes the argument that people do not buy “what” you do; rather, they focus on “why” you do what you do.

“Smart” leadership classroom strategies should begin with the “why” and seek to answer the question: Why have a leadership program in the first place? If educators can clearly articulate why they believe a leadership program is necessary for their learners, everything else follows. If they start with the “what,” they are most likely inviting learners to take on a transactional leadership approach.

We fully recognize that most of our learners initially approach our leadership programs from a “what” perspective. They demonstrate a transactional mindset and want to be credentialed in leadership because it will look good on their resume. Admissions offices often encourage this perspective because it easily translates into marketing materials. Prospective students can quickly identify with the success stories that our graduates offer.

There is nothing wrong per se with that initial inclination. Students interested in going to law school, for instance, may choose to major in political science because they know that this particular major will sharpen their analytical skills and will improve their writing and critical-thinking skills. This skills-building strategy is an excellent path toward a successful career in the legal profession. However, leadership programs often use a “bait and switch” approach (hooking our students on the “what” and then later on trying to sell the “why”). That often causes a disconnect between the students’ transactional expectations and the transformational core of our leadership programs.

The “smart” leadership classroom offers a deeper level of engagement. We want our learners to be well versed in the latest leadership theories and models and exhibit strong leadership competencies (e.g., communication, problem-solving). However, the “why” demands a profound articulation of the ethical grounding of leadership development. Our emerging leaders should be questioning their own values as they seek to grow in our classrooms.

Next: The “How”

Once educators have clearly articulated the “why” of their leadership program, they can next focus on the “how.” Many different strategies can be used in the classroom to promote engagement. In this subsection, we focus specifically on three that we have found particularly helpful in a “smart” leadership classroom.

The Socratic method

Students attending law school are introduced to this teaching method from the very beginning. This tool is also common in medical residency programs and in M.B.A. programs. The Socratic method refers to a discussion in which the instructor engages the learner in a continual dialogue that contributes to intellectual discovery. The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates (470–399 BC) pioneered this style as a way to get his students to engage in meaningful thinking about deeply held assumptions. While we tend to associate this pedagogical method with classroom discussion, this tool actually has a deeper meaning in Socratic questioning (Seeskin, 1987; Dillon, 2016).

We are all familiar with instructors who love “cold calls” that strike fear in the hearts of students. The Socratic method works at this most basic level – everyone should be prepared to contribute meaningfully to a class discussion (Shadel, 2013). In order to participate in the discussion, learners must be prepared by completing their assignments and mastering the basic elements of the topics to be covered in the classroom.

Next, the Socratic method takes the learners outside their comfort zone. It is not enough to understand the basics. The purpose of this method is to engage the learners in a higher level of thinking. As the Critical Thinking Community mentions on its website,

The Socratic questioner acts as the logical equivalent of the inner critical voice which the mind develops when it develops critical thinking abilities. The contributions from the members of the class are like so many thoughts in the mind. All of the thoughts must be dealt with and they must be dealt with carefully and fairly. By following up all answers with further questions, and by selecting questions which advance the discussion, the Socratic questioner forces the class to think in a disciplined, intellectually responsible manner, while yet continually aiding the students by posing facilitating questions.6

The Socratic method is designed to lead students in an exploration of their own values. When teaching leadership with the goal of connecting knowledge, action, and growth, instructors can use the Socratic method to explore the canon, sharpen critical-thinking skills, and promote leadership development.

Similar to many highly regarded law schools, educators have the opportunity to build their whole undergraduate leadership studies curriculum around the Socratic method. This strategy will not only move leadership students beyond the traditional lecture format, but also align with some of the educator’s leadership competency-building objectives, for example critical thinking, oral communication, and problem-solving. Its deeper value lies in the way that learners will critically evaluate theoretical assumptions in the leadership literature, while at the same time developing their own philosophy of leadership.

The use of artifacts

While the Socratic method should be appealing to leadership programs that emphasize oral communication as a learning objective, the use of artifacts such as paintings, novels, sculptures, and movies as pedagogical tools can be very effective. These artifacts allow the learners to engage in “textual analysis.” McManus and Perruci define “textual analysis” as a methodology that allows the learner to read and interpret “the themes found in the artifacts and the context in which the artifact was originally produced” (McManus and Perruci, 2015, p.7). Textual analysis uses an inductive approach, drawing insights about certain leadership themes such as power or ethics through the study of artifacts.

Artifacts in the classroom are particularly applicable to leadership studies programs that use a liberal-arts approach – as discussed in Chapter 2. Artifacts from the arts and humanities easily lend themselves to textual analysis. That serves as a method to engage students in deep analytical thinking. Many students by the time they reach college have read Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince. However, very few will have read that book with the purpose of extracting insights about the nature of leadership from a Western perspective. A textual analysis of The Prince will yield important lessons about Machiavelli’s thinking related to the ideal leader–follower relationship.

Similar to the Socratic method, the use of artifacts invites an opportunity for the learners to assess their own value system. When they read Machiavelli’s assertion that the ends justify the means, the instructor can then invite the learners to assess whether they agree or disagree with this statement. Once a learner responds, the instructor has an additional opportunity to invite agreement or disagreement among the student’s peers.

The resulting dialogue allows the participants to test ideas that otherwise might go unchecked. It is essential that the instructor create an open environment that allows students to feel comfortable to challenge one another. The spirit of this dialogue should not be to put others down in order to elevate one’s position. Rather, as in an orchestra, the instructor works as a conductor, inviting point and counterpoint in order to create a flow of ideas.

Case study pedagogy

The use of case studies in the classroom is well documented (e.g., Herreid, 2007; Scarpaci, 2007; Teays, 2015). This method provides the learners with opportunities that include three points of engagement. First, the learners must be able to articulate the essence of the case – its main players, the key issues, and options to be considered. In leadership development, this is an essential skill. Quite often, our learners are eager to offer an opinion on a case only to find out that they completely missed the main points.

A second consideration in the use of case studies in the leadership classroom is the application of creative thinking when brainstorming possible solutions. Leadership requires innovation and diversity of thoughts. The case study pedagogy invites learners to wrestle with different perspectives and difficult choices. Educators should consider using case studies that connect leadership to ethics.

Leaders often confront ethical dilemmas that test their values. Case studies allow them to consider different options in an intellectually supportive and non-judgmental environment. This consideration applies not only to learners individually, but also to teams. In fact, we would recommend that the case studies be used as a team assignment in order to give the students an opportunity to test their views in the context of group consensus-building.

The third valuable use of case studies deals with how learners in teams are able to present their solutions. It is not enough for instructors to say that the teams should make a presentation. They should give the teams a clear prompt of what is expected. Oral communication is a critical skill in leadership development. We encourage educators to expect teams to present their final positions to the whole class in order to practice public speaking with supporting visual aids. Visual tools could include a PowerPoint slide deck accompanying a presentation, or a poster supporting a presentation.

One recommendation is for the educators to set aside a whole class period and simulate a formal presentation. Learners in this instance are required to dress professionally and are evaluated and receive feedback from faculty and community members who serve as judges. The presentation instructions should include the rubric (e.g., delivery, content, body language) that will be used to evaluate the presentations.

The “Good Side” of Technology

Many of us had, at some point in our childhood, an educator who threaded the movie projector or popped the VHS tape in, hit play, and sat at his or her desk passively waiting for the classroom period to end. Obviously, in this case, technology was simply used as “filler,” with very limited educational value. This type of technology use has no place in the leadership classroom.

Used properly, technology can play a significant role in the leadership classroom and assist in further engaging learners to thrive as critical thinkers and problem-solvers (Moore, 2012). We suggest at least three strategies for the incorporation of technology into your pedagogy. First, please consider the use of a presentation through TED Talks or the use of video clips to spark conversations about a particular topic. Tailor the piece to an issue that involves leadership challenges. Educators can move beyond the topic by asking the learners to analyze the presentation itself. The way that the TED Talk presenter delivers his or her message serves as a learning opportunity in itself.

A second common use of technology in the leadership classroom involves movie clips. Students can access those movie clips outside of class and then come prepared to discuss them. The entire class time can then be dedicated to discuss the clips, which become useful in connecting theory to practice. While the movie clips have an entertainment value of breaking the class routine, they are also valuable connectors. Used as artifacts, these clips should be followed by specific questions that educators would like learners to address. Answers to those questions can serve as a tool for critical thinking and self-evaluation – the ultimate goals of a “smart” leadership classroom activity.

A third common use of technology in the classroom deals with the incredible possibilities that platforms such as Skype have created for educators to virtually invite guests into their classrooms. As we mentioned in Chapter 3, McDonough leadership students take a sophomore-level course focusing on global leadership. Several of them then decide to study outside the United States during their junior year. While abroad, they write blogs and Skype with the sophomores taking the course. The students studying abroad are able to frame their experiences within the context of the global leadership issues discussed in class. For the students taking the course, this opportunity to engage in conversation with a peer who is abroad serves as another valuable bridge between theory and practice.

These three examples are designed to spark thinking about how to incorporate technology into a “smart” classroom. Regardless of how technology is used, the goal is to be intentional and thoughtful in considering how this technology engages learners to enhance critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and self-reflection.


Despite incredible changes in the world in recent decades, we continue to approach the classroom in very traditional ways. The classroom has individual chairs facing a board on a wall, with the instructor standing and facing the chairs. The overall set-up screams passivity. The instructor lectures, students take notes, and at a later date students take individual tests to evaluate their mastery of the course content. For many students, that arrangement constitutes their comfort zone. This predictable environment allows students to become passive consumers of knowledge.

That conceptualization of education does not fit the general spirit of the “smart” leadership classroom that we are proposing in this chapter. After all, leadership educators strive to take students outside their comfort zones in order to promote growth and development. Ronald Heifetz (1994), in his celebrated Leadership without Easy Answers, introduces the concept of “adaptive leadership,” which serves as an excellent metaphor for the very notion of leadership development. Heifetz suggests that leaders, when confronted with a challenge, may use different approaches. They can treat the challenge as a technical issue, requiring clear solutions. For instance, if the light bulb in the classroom burns out, it is difficult to teach in the dark. This challenge requires a technical solution – change the light bulb.

Heifetz is not particularly interested in technical challenges. He suggests that many challenges in life require complex solutions, which involve adaptation and changes in values. The civil rights movement, for instance, did not involve a technical solution. Calculated “creative deviance,” such as sit-ins, marches, and boycotts, forced society to confront the absurdity of segregation and discrimination in general. Civil rights leaders challenged society to adapt. Heifetz advises leaders to engage in “creative deviance” as a way to apply pressure on followers and opponents to change their values.

On a smaller scale, our leadership classrooms offer the same type of “creative deviance” opportunities for our aspiring leaders. The classroom should be a dynamic and intellectually supportive environment that challenges students to apply critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. Sometimes even a simple reconfiguration of the classroom physical space (e.g., sitting in a circle or moving desks into pods for smaller classroom discussions) can promote higher levels of engagement. Educators should compassionately take their learners outside their comfort zones and challenge them to engage in adaptive learning. In this section, we suggest some of the strategies that have worked well at both the Rockefeller and McDonough centers.

Service Learning and Group Projects

Leadership programs have long made a connection between community service and leadership education (Wagner and Pigza, 2016; Gardinier, 2017; Shumer, 2017). Aside from making connections between the campus and the local community, service learning has been used to introduce our learners to the global community (Larsen, 2016). In the previous chapter, we introduced a course (Foundations of Leadership) in the McDonough leadership curriculum that uses service learning as an educational method. In this subsection, we can elaborate further on this method. The distinction between service learning and voluntarism is critical to our understanding of a “smart” leadership classroom. While the latter stresses the use of service to meet community needs, the former connects service to specific learning objectives.

In order for service to be truly a “learning” tool, it should have three components. First, a service-learning course should include a “preflection” – the opportunity for the learners to first talk about the service project in terms of the “why” and the “how.” A service project allows the educator to connect the activity to specific leadership concepts, for example power, teamwork, the leader–follower relationship, and goal setting. The service-learning project, therefore, becomes the laboratory through which the learners gain insights about these concepts.

The planning of a project to address a community need provides an important learning opportunity while students are in college. It pays rich dividends for students after they graduate, and many become involved in project planning and implementation in their professional lives. Recently, the leadership literature has stressed the growing use of teamwork in the workplace. Group projects allow our learners to gain a deeper understanding of group dynamics, styles of team members, and conflict resolution.

Second, service-learning projects involve implementation. Our learners leave the classroom and become direct participants in the life of their communities. All the planning is now put into action, which allows our learners to translate theory into action. The strength of the “preflection” exercise becomes apparent during the implementation phase.

The third component of service learning is reflection (Jacoby, 2015). This final phase is where deep learning takes place. Through a carefully designed debriefing session, the instructor is able to engage the learners in thinking about the connections between the concepts introduced in the preflection and the implementation of the project. Through the debriefing process, the learners can extract valuable leadership lessons that will stay with them for a lifetime. In particular, our students can learn the value of failure whenever the service-learning project does not go well (Gail, 2016).

The reflection component of service learning also serves as an introduction to the habit of using critical thinking to assess lessons learned from experiential education. The use of reflection will be applicable to students’ professional lives beyond college. In other words, service learning can provide lifelong learning skills.

The Use of Simulations

Students are always looking for ways to break the routine in the natural flow of a traditional classroom (Letson, 1981). The use of simulations is an excellent means to model “creative deviance” and is an effective tool for creating a “smart” classroom environment. By simulations, we mean the use of role-playing that gives students the opportunity to consider the implications of decisions under specific conditions. There are two types of simulations – passive and active. In the former, students are given a scenario that calls for steps to be taken. The students can run the simulation and offer an analysis of the possible outcomes. The passive type is very similar to the case study pedagogy. The advent of powerful computer processors and, more recently, artificial intelligence now allows instructors to design computer simulations that provide students with opportunities to run complex scenarios with multiple variables. This format is particularly applicable to graduate leadership programs that draw students with more life and professional experience.

For undergraduate leadership programs, consider using the active type of simulations, which get students out of their chairs and moving around. Students are always interested in activities that are fun and thought-provoking, and it is the educator’s responsibility to connect such activities to conceptual lessons. Active simulations, as a “creative deviance” tool, have three components. First, educators can introduce the conceptual framework to ground the activity in a particular theory or model. For this introduction, educators need to ensure that students fully grasp the theory or model.

The second component of the activity is the actual running of the simulation. Short simulations are always popular because they keep the students focused. The longer the simulation, the higher the risk of students losing interest or, worse, turning the activity into an entertainment exercise, with diminishing educational value.

The third component is probably the most critical of all. The debriefing of a simulation should be done in two stages – description and interpretation. In the description stage, students should be asked simply to describe what took place. At this point, learners should be encouraged to avoid jumping right into the interpretative stage and be given an opportunity to practice their observational skills. The second stage, interpretation, involves the intentional connection between theory and practice in such a way that participants derive “lessons” from the experience.

Every leadership class should have at least one simulation during a semester or a quarter. When done right, they leave powerful imprints on learners’ minds that extend beyond their college days. We still receive notes from our students recalling lessons from certain simulations and showing delight in the applicability that they are finding to their personal and professional lives, years after they participated in a simulation.

The Flipped Classroom

We began this chapter offering a word of caution regarding the use of technology in our undergraduate leadership classrooms. Technology certainly has a role in the logistical side of our leadership classes; for example, grading, keeping a calendar, and assignment prompts. On the pedagogical side, we have highlighted useful ways to incorporate technology into the classroom; for example, short movie clips and TED Talks.

More recently, instructors have embraced the use of “flipped classrooms” as a productive way to engage students in meaningful discussions (Green, 2017). The traditional classroom in higher education involves three steps. First, students read the assignments. Next, they come to class, and the instructor explains the concepts. Finally, the students are tested on the material in order to assess how much they have retained and understood the content. This format leaves very little room for discussions, which allow much more student engagement than traditional lecturing.

Recent studies are showing that engaged students not only retain the material better, but are also able to gain a deeper understanding of it (Waldrop and Bowdon, 2016). Therefore, it makes more sense to get the lecturing part “out of the way,” so students can discuss the material. But time is limited during class, and that is when technology plays a critical role. Instructors can deliver their lectures electronically before class meets. For traditional students, that format is truly an exercise in “creative deviance.” The traditionalists see devoting the entire class period to discussion to be a waste of time. Creative deviants see this strategy as the creation of real learning.

The flipped classroom strategy seems perfect for undergraduate leadership programs whose objectives include the fostering of critical thinking and oral communication. Students are asked to articulate (and, sometimes, defend) their positions regarding the readings and lectures. They have to come prepared for the give-and-take of a marketplace of ideas, modeling the Socratic method discussed earlier in this chapter.

In order for the flipped classroom format to truly work, several elements must be in place. First, instructors have to record the lecture material, and that takes time. It is not enough to turn the video camera on. Students are sophisticated consumers of screen material, and they expect a professional-quality presentation (e.g., the use of visual aids, smooth transitions, high-quality sound) – and, again, that takes time to prepare and upload.

Second, students also need to do their part, which includes completing assignments for a class before it takes place. Assignments can range from readings, to watching videos, to analyzing a case. One effective technique that many educators have embraced is to administer a quick online quiz to ensure that students have understood the material before coming to class. Another useful technique is to ask students to prepare a set of discussion questions for a given topic that the instructor may focus on during class.

Third, students should come prepared to discuss the material in a meaningful way. Leadership students do not normally shy away from expressing their opinions about anything. However, if they are not prepared to contribute, the discussion can quickly degenerate into a superficial exchange. Our students often use expressions such as “I feel” and “I believe” prefacing their opinions about issues. There is a prevailing acceptance among their peers that, once their statements are prefaced by these words, their opinions are to be respected and considered of equal value to all the others. While we understand that respect and civility are essential elements in a higher education environment, educators should facilitate discussions in which learners are forced to articulate arguments grounded in facts and thoughtful considerations.

Fourth, in a “smart” leadership classroom setting, instructors may use the flipped classroom as a great opportunity to engage in leadership competency-building. For example, by assigning a different student every class period to lead the discussions, the students also gain valuable skills in the area of facilitation and deliberation. Through an intentional strategy to promote individual leadership development, course syllabi can include the information that the flipped classroom pedagogy is designed to promote the development of facilitation skills. An educator’s responsibility, however, does not end with including this statement in the syllabi. If that is a stated learning objective, the educator should provide resources on facilitation that the students can review beforehand and, when it is their turn to facilitate a discussion, they can practice in the classroom. Educators may also want to facilitate some of the first class discussions as a way to model the use of facilitation skills.

The Mobile Classroom

We often think of the classroom experience as involving four walls, chairs, and a board of some kind. In reality, this traditional view of the classroom has been changing dramatically in the past decades as technology reshapes the nature of learning (Crompton and Traxler, 2016). Online education has certainly challenged this notion of the traditional classroom. For this final section of the chapter, we would like educators to take a further step and focus on the articulated student learning goals. If learning can take place in a wide range of spaces, leadership educators have a lot more flexibility than they may realize. As an exercise in “creative deviance,” we invited educators to explore different spaces that may contribute to higher levels of learning. One such space is the mobile classroom.

In reality, the idea of a mobile classroom is not new. Socrates himself was known to use any public encounters as an opportunity to engage learners in a question-and-answer session. Driven by a deep desire to find truth and promote human development, Socrates can be characterized as the “first leadership teacher” in the Western world. That got him in trouble, particularly when young people began questioning authority and imitating his quest for truth. Socrates certainly took “creative deviance” to the extreme and eventually paid a steep price for it.

A key lesson that can be derived from Socrates’ experience is that the instructor–learner relationship can be nurtured anywhere. The leadership educator should be prepared to engage in leadership education any time a learner shows eagerness to learn and grow as a leader. In our 21st-century, chaotic, hyper-connected, technology-driven world, it seems rather daunting to carve out impromptu time for reflection and deep learning. In a way, the traditional classroom setting offers an intellectual and luxurious respite through which the mind can be quieted and focused.

The mobile classroom provides a “smart” alternative that connects key learning objectives to visual experiences. For instance, an instructor at the McDonough Center, when exploring different metaphors to describe organizations, takes his students to the College’s greenhouse – a perfect environment to discuss “organizations as organisms.” As students explore the interconnectedness of units within an organization, all they need to do is look around to see the metaphor come alive (no pun intended). That is a powerful visual cue that will stay with them throughout their lives.

The greenhouse example serves as a way to drive an important point as we close Part I of this book. Teaching leadership does not solely belong to the traditional classroom. It can take place in a variety of settings. The key in leadership education is the purposeful and intentional ways that we can use our pedagogical tools and course content to promote leadership development.

We chose to end Part I of the book with this discussion of pedagogy because it serves as a bridge between the curricular and co-curricular side. In our leadership programs we often make a clear distinction between “teaching about leadership” and “teaching for leadership.” In reality, we have seen in this chapter that this distinction is often fuzzy. As Part II will show, teaching leadership takes place at all levels – curricular and co-curricular. As we develop our leadership programs, we need to be aware that our activities in and out of the classroom must be carefully examined in order to have the desired impact.


1.  How have you used technology to enhance your students’ learning in a leadership classroom?
2.  Consider the proposition that the leadership classroom can be used as a metaphor for “transforming leadership,” using James MacGregor Burns’s perspective introduced in Chapter 3. How would that differ from a classroom based on “transactional leadership”?
3.  How can human-centered design help shape the way leadership is taught in the classroom?
4.  In this chapter, we suggested the use of several methods to promote an engaged classroom, for example the Socratic method, artifacts, case studies, and TED Talks. Which of these strategies have you found particularly effective for your students? Why are they effective?
5.  In this chapter, we introduced Ronald Heifetz’s concept of “creative deviance” – carefully designed ways to disrupt existing structures. As an exercise in “creative deviance,” we challenged you to explore different spaces that might contribute to higher levels of learning. What are some possible spaces in your particular institutional context?


1.  Kelley and Kelley (2013) refer to this as “creative confidence.”
2.  Website ( Accessed August 24, 2017.
3.  Lisa Sibley (2008), Stanford Startup’s $25 “Sleeping Bag” Could Save Newborns, Silicon Valley Business Journal, April 18. Website ( Accessed August 24, 2017.
4.  Quote from Claudia Kotchka received via email on August 29, 2017.
5.  See his presentation of the model in “Start with Why – How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” TEDxPugetSound ( Accessed August 24, 2017.
6.  As quoted on Accessed May 19, 2017.


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