Academia, Leadership, Uncategorized

Engaging Students: What We’ve Learned in Developing and Teaching a Leadership Development Course (Part 2)

 By Leah Teague & Stephen Rispoli
Title Image - Engaging Students: What We've Learned in Developing and Teaching a Leadership Development Course - Part 2

Leadership Development Syllabus Series • Part 2: Engaging Students

Part 1 of our LEAD Course Series can be found, here.

In this second post of our LEAD Course series, we share our thoughts on interesting methods to engage law students. This year marks the sixth year of teaching this course and we are constantly making adjustments to the syllabus and our teaching methodologies. In addition to carefully selecting topics, exercises, and speakers, below we discuss three ways we engage the students.

1. Journaling

As noted in a previous post, we require students keep a journal throughout the class. We have come to believe this is one of the most beneficial elements of the class. Not only does it help them personalize and internalize the lessons, it allows us to evaluate their progress in real time throughout the course. We use Box as a file management system and create individual folders for each student. At the end of each class, students are assigned two or three journal entries which are then added to the class syllabus. Students answer these questions and prompts before the next class which allows us to read their answers and gauge understanding and progress.

2. Leadership Quote, Video, or Short Story

Each student signs up to present a quote, video, or short story about leadership in the first three-to-five minutes of a class. This fun exercise allows students to use their creativity (and sometimes add some humor) to present about leadership. The students – both the presenters and the rest of the class – seem to enjoy the activity before jumping into the topic of the day. Interestingly, most students chose topics for their presentation that fit well with the topic for the day.

3. Blog Post

From the beginning we required them to select and read a book about leadership. This year, instead of a book report, they will write a blog post based on the book – a short review or why someone should read (or not read) the book. We think they will be more engaged with the book of their choice and it will allow us to showcase the best ones on this blog!

In our next post in this series we will share the main components of our syllabus. Posts that follow in this series will include a discussion of how we teach each class, PowerPoint presentations, exercises used in class, topics presented by our guest speakers, prompts for journals and feedback from our students.

We know that many of you present similar topics in your courses and want to hear from you. We encourage you to post how you present these topics in the comments to this post. Our hope is that this blog becomes a discussion forum for best practices in teaching leadership in law schools. By going through the syllabus step-by-step, we can have a detailed conversation and share ideas.

Without further ado, our syllabus is here.

To help with the collection and distribution of what other law school leadership programs are doing, we created a repository for syllabi, programs, exercises, articles, presentations, and other leadership development materials. You can view and download the materials, here.

Please add your materials and syllabus!

(You can also upload by emailing AALS_Se.u8s6qo11r8rljvdf@u.box.com and attaching the document you want uploaded.)

How do you consistently engage with your leadership students? Have your tried something that didn’t work at all as planned? As we continue this series, we invite your feedback and input in the comments!

Academia, Leadership, Uncategorized

The Top Three Things We’ve Learned in Developing and Teaching a Leadership Development Course

 By Leah Teague

Leadership Development Syllabus Series • Part 1: Introduction

One of our goals for this blog is to advance the conversation of teaching leadership in law schools. We offer this blog-post series about specific parts of our Leadership Engagement and Development Course to hopefully spark ideas and further conversation. We begin with the top three things we’ve learned over the last five years teaching this course.

First, engaging the students calls for more experiential learning and effective use of guest speakers.

The first year, we used a more traditional pedagogy, assigned heavy readings and relied on a Socratic method to engage the students with the readings. We quickly discovered this material called for a different approach if we want students to internalize the topics and embrace it as a journey of self-discovery and growth.

We knew bringing in speakers would be beneficial. Our guest speakers are assigned to cover specific topics and asked to provide context to the concepts. They help the students see application of the concepts within a real-world professional setting. Students more easily envision themselves in those situations someday, and they connect with those lawyer leaders.

In the beginning, we scheduled guests near the end of the course. Over the next few years, we experimented with how many guest speakers and when. We found it best to have the two of us lead off the first week with an introduction to leadership and an overview of the class. After that, we try to bring a speaker for one of the two meetings each week. We purposefully invite speakers to cover specific topics. We recognized that is a lot of guest speakers so we set the syllabus early. We send the syllabus and assigned reading to each speaker so that he or she can see where we started, what we’ve covered, and how his or her topic fits into the overall picture. From there, each speaker chooses how to cover the topic and work his or her personality and stories into the material. Students like this weekly balance and they enjoy hearing from practicing lawyers and leaders. It is also a great way to connect with alumni!

Early on we shifted to a more experiential approach. Even during the sessions when we simply lead a discussion on a topic, we want the students to “struggle” with the material at least to a certain degree to create ownership of the material. We also constantly relate it to real-world situations. For example, after a discussion on dealing with the media, we run a mock press conference where students either assume the role of a media correspondent or the general counsel for a company in crisis. The students apply what they’ve learned in a controlled environment.

Second, the best class sessions include meaningful discussion among the students.

As noted above, we started with a more traditional pedagogy but the students were not engaged in thoughtful interaction. As a result, many students struggled to internalize the material and they could not identify how the information would be useful in the future. In other words, we were ineffective in leading them on a personal journey of self-discovery and growth.

Now, we are mindful of the need to include plenty of opportunity for students to actively engage with the material during class and after. If we don’t have time for, or if a topic doesn’t lend itself to, an exercise, we involved the class in small and large group discussions. We have a better balance of techniques leading to much better results. We hope we are helping them establish a life-long practice of intellectual curiosity and creative problem solving.

Third, journaling is essential.

When we created the class, neither of us believed in the power of journaling. With that said, since we did not believe that an exam was appropriate for this class, we required a journal to ensure that our students were getting through the material and completing the assignments. That first year, we did not see their journal until the end of the class.

We have seen the light! We now firmly believe that journaling is critical to a student’s development and growth. We tailor the journal prompts after each class to connect with the conversation in class and desired outcomes. Students must post journal entries to their personal Box file before the next class so that we can review. This enables us to determine if they are learning what was intended and allows us to make adjustments as appropriate. It provides the students a mechanism for wrestling with concepts and exploring the application to their lives. We hope our students create a habit of continual self-assessment and development.

-LT

Academia, Leadership, Uncategorized

Why do we not have more leadership development programs in law school?

By Leah Teague

Leadership development programs are part of the standard operating procedures for business schools but not so for law schools, at least historically. At a Group Discussion during the January 2017 AALS Annual Meeting, we met with about 50 faculty members from all over the country and we asked them to share thoughts about challenges and roadblocks to creating leadership development programs and courses. Here are some points from the conversation:

  • What is leadership development anyway? How do we explain it to our skeptical colleagues?
  • Some lawyers and law students resist instruction in “soft skills.” The very use of the term when describing leadership development adds to the problem. For many lawyers the soft stuff is the hard stuff.
  • Many still think leaders are born not trained. You either have it or you don’t, they would say.
  • Doctrinal law faculty (especially those who have not been in formal leadership roles) feel uncomfortable with the subject and certainly do not feel equipped to teach it.
  • Current law students think they have already done leadership development … in high school and in college. “What could possibly be added in a law school leadership class?”, they might wonder. Some faculty and administrators probably share these thoughts.
  • For those that believe in the benefit of leadership development programming, how can we scale up the programming to insure all students are exposed to leadership development in a meaningful way?

These are some of the challenges we face. If you have encountered others, please share. As we continue this blog, we will address these issues and offer suggestions for overcoming.

– LT