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A shortened version of this article appeared in The Journal of Leadership

Studies, Vol. 8, Issue 1. Spring 2014, Pages: 4044, 26 JUN 2014,


DOI: 10.1002/jls.21320.

Accessing the Moral Rewards of Teaching and Learning:


Leadership Lessons from the SENCER Project

Origins Those who have been told SENCERs1 origins have not heard that its
purpose was developing leaders, or reforming general education, or improving
scientific literacy, or establishing a network, or even promoting democratic ideals.
Instead, they've been told a simpler, more grandiose tale: our goal was to save lives.
This claim is neither as preposterous nor pretentious as it might sound today. Why?

During the late 1980s, it seemed entirely possible that a generation of young people
would contract HIV disease and die. Many did. The amazing fact is that most did not,
but that outcome was not known to those of us who were trying to make it more
likely that effective HIV prevention education would be offered to college students.

What was known then, however, was that scant attention was being paid to the
greatest public health challenge of our time, especially in the classrooms of
America's colleges and universities. One could take an introduction to biology
course and never hear a mention of HIV. Teacher-training programs avoided the
issue of AIDS, even though HIV-positive children were enrolling in schools and, in so
doing, throwing into painfully sharp relief a new set of vexing management and
public relations challenges (remember the late Ryan White?2). Silence also
prevailed in criminal justice pre-professional programs, to pick just one other
example, despite the fact that, by the mid 1990s, it was becoming clear in the US and
around the globe that the prison system was deeply implicated in the spread of this
then nearly-always-fatal disease.3

Leadership and Change Changing these conditions was the goal of the Program for
Health and Higher Education (PHHE), an initiative sponsored by the US Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that the author helped to create under the
leadership of Dr. Paula Brownlee, then president of the Association of American

1 SENCER stands for Science Education for New Civic Responsibilities and Engagements, a program
founded in 2000 and supported by the National Science Foundation. In a nutshell, SENCER aims to
teach through complex contested capacious issue of civic consequence to the canonical disciplinary
(STEM) knowledge that is essential to understanding this problems and valuable to a citizen in a
democratic society. See www.sencer.net.
2 http://hab.hrsa.gov/abouthab/ryanwhite.html
3 See, for example, http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/58431/nicholas-eberstadt/the-future-of-

aids: Russia's prison system, in other words, functions like a carburetor for HIV -- pumping a highly
concentrated variant of the infection back through the general population.
Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). The CDC wanted to recruit and engage higher
education leaders in a national effort focused on HIV disease.4 It sought to work
with prestigious organizations that had the ability to reach these leaders and
persuade them to use their influence to change the prevailing conditions of silence,
inattention, and unpreparedness.

Through PHHE, AAC&Us initiatives in the national effort to improve health and
reduce the spread of HIV disease were focused on leadership briefings, surveys of
and interviews with presidents and academic leaders, the creation of a national
databank of resources, and the development and passage by the AAC&U Board of
Directors in 1997 of Higher Education, HIV and Health: A National Leadership
Statement.

At the classroom levelwhere the curriculum really mattersPHHEs approach


tracked successful work done at Rutgers and elsewhere.5 The idea was to make HIV
disease an organizing narrative in undergraduate courses in biology (and other
subjects, such as philosophy and ethics), particularly in general education courses.
In this effort, leaders like Karen Oates, then of George Mason University and a co-
founder of SENCER, the late Nora Kizer Bell of Wesleyan College, Marion Fass of
Beloit College, Sheryl Broverman now of Duke, Helen LeMay of Stony Brook, and
Monica Devanas of Rutgers, among others, led the way in improving science and
other learning by connecting that learning to HIV and public health. The goal was to
move attention to public or common health, as we termed it, from the margin to
the mission of higher education.

As our book, Learning for Our Common Health, put it:

[PHHE] centers on a complex social problem, framed within a simple,


powerful approach. We ask: if higher education would place a strong,
academic focus on a problem such as HIV and health would the end
result advance our greater expectations for student learning, academic rigor,
faculty authority, collaborative leadership, social responsibility, and civic
engagement? Moreover, would such a strong academic focus lead to
solutions to the complex problem itself? In a word, we think the answer is
yes. (LFOCH, pg 3)

Helping Leaders Meet Important Challenges What began in the Program for Health
and Higher Education was crystalized and expanded in the SENCER initiative and
has been sustained with support from the National Science Foundation since 2000.
What accounts for this shift, and the subsequent longevity and reach of this effort?

4 The CDC program referred to here sought to focus attention of improving public health practices
and policies, health education, and teacher training. Moving this effort from the margins to the
mission of higher education was the particular objective of PHHE.
5 See: Knowledge To Make Our Democracy. Burns, William David, Liberal Education, v88 n4 p20-27,

Fall 2002
I believe that our curricular work with HIV established that STEM learning stuck
when it was connected to real issues of civic consequence. In addition, the SENCER
idea responded to two very specific needs expressed by those seeking to improve
education: (1) attending to science and mathematics within a comprehensive
general education program, and (2) stimulating civic engagement on the part of
students. This dual focus attracted attention and support from a group of chief
academic officers who were members of the American Conference of Academic
Deans (ACAD), an original institutional partner in the SENCER initiative.
Established academic leaders on the board of ACAD, including Pete Facione [then
dean at Santa Clara], Phil Glotzbach [current president of Skidmore], Carol Lucey
[recently retired president of Western Nevada Community College], Laurie
Crumpacker [now professor at Simmons College], Roland Smith [associate provost
at Rice U], and Laura Trombley [now president of Pitzer College], among many
others, learned about SENCER from Eliza Reilly, then executive director of ACAD.
These leaders, and others, lent their active support to our efforts. In so doing, they
provided additional legitimacy to the SENCER program, whose focus had been
expanded beyond HIV and public health to a broad range of complex, capacious,
civic challenges.

Inspired by the support of the members of the ACAD board and other academic
deans, we paid strategic attention to academic leadership within our early planning
efforts. The patronage of established, distinguished academic leaders for our effort
enabled us to offer access to those who might be said to be have occupied entry
level academic positions. Thus, an additional critical factor in SENCERs success
was that our initiative made it possible for these entry level faculty members to
apply to bring a team to participate in our intensive summer institute, which is the
signature staff development program we offer within the SENCER initiative. 6 With
the availability of grant support, to participate in SENCER you did not have to be
particularly senior or powerful, or have permission from a dean or chair, to be
involved. We developed openings, you could say, for top down and bottom up
engagement with our work.

For those who entered from the bottom, we did insist that their teams include
someone in authority (or at least someone with substantial influence over curricular
reform) to enhance the chances that any reform proposal developed while working
with us would have a better chance of being implemented on campus. Given the

6 At the outset of the SENCER project, we decided to work with interdisciplinary teams from selected
colleges and universities. These teams, generally of four or five, were expected to contain a lead
person who was developing a SENCER course and then other scholars to broaden the
interdisciplinary scope of the group, along with someone responsible for curricular change, and/or
an academic administrator. (We also encouraged students attendance.) We found that some of the
teams actually functioned as such, while others represented more casually assembled collectuions of
attendees; to call them a team would qualify more as a useful fiction than a depiction of their
approach to work. In subsequent iterations of the Summer Institute, we have encouraged individual
attendance and have made arrangements for smaller and larger groups.
support of the ACAD membership for SENCER, finding existing leaders who were
willing to lend their support to teams was not a challenge.

Leadership and SENCER At the programmatic level, in the early years of the
SENCER initiative, we offered sessions at our Summer Institute specifically for
leaders. These were both birds of a feather (peer) gatherings and strategy
sessions. They were relatively informal gatherings, more focused on providing
mutual support than lessons on leadership. The sessions were also designed to
bring academic deans, many with disciplinary identities other than those embraced
in STEM fields, up-to-date on STEM education reform ideas and trends. Our
emphasis was on the substance of what a leader might want to accomplish, not on
how to lead.

While SENCER did not start with an explicit goal of leadership development, its
subsequent continuous expansion and national scaleand the many career life
cycles now represented among its membershas occasioned us to think much
more seriously about leadership and leadership development. Our more recent
history has included adopting strategies to distribute leadership, to accommodate
the desire of enthusiastic and committed volunteers to lead, and to take advantage
of the developing capacity of participants to help others engage in some dimension
of the national STEM education reform movement. The current challenge of
thinking about program sustainability and leadership succession has also
occasioned considerable self-reflection, inquiry, and speculation about how best to
secure the benefits of what we have developed to new generations of scholars and
practitioners seeking to reach the goals we share.

Thus, as it turns out, the guest editors invitation to contribute to this special issue of
the journal comes at a propitious moment. Their invitation has stimulated me to
review what we have done, to reflect what we have learned, and to suggest what
others may glean from our experience, especially as it relates to leadership.

As I write this, I am thinking about leadership especially in the context of trying to


stimulate and support broad scale change. I am referring to change that, in the
context of the democratically-inflected context of the SENCER program, was scaled
initially, at least, with individuals acting in the context of their own immediate
sphere of influence or authority (a course or the classroom or lab). One course at a
time may be reform that is too slow for some tastes or times, but, for us, it has had
the virtue of being both durable and extensible.

As I have observed elsewhere, however, what began as a desire to change courses,


resulted in changing teaching practice, itself.7 Thus the agents of their own personal
changes become the leaders, inspirers, mentors of broader change, changing, among

7See: "But You Needed Me": Reflections on the Premises, Purposes, Lessons Learned, and Ethos of
SENCER, Part 2. Burns, Wm. David, http://seceij.net/seceij/winter12/you_needed_me_r.html
other things, the conditions under which others develop their teaching and learning
practices.

Leadership Lessons Gleaned from the SENCER Project The product of my


reflections on the role of leadership in the community of practice we call SENCER is
this highly personal collection of suggestions, each beginning in a brief discussion
what I call theory (rationales, conditions, ideals, and goals) and then illustrated by
examples of what I call practice (programs, activities, opportunities, outcomes). My
observations embrace a broad range of notions that fall under the idea of leadership
as the leadership question has figured in the roughly 15-year history of SENCER, its
precursor initiatives, and the work of the National Center for Science and Civic
Engagement, the organization that now houses SENCER and its programmatic
progeny.

I put the summary statements of these reflections in the imperative mood


grammatically to make them generally accessible to readers. I present just short of
a dozen pieces of advice that I hope will stimulate useful and productive thinking
about the special challenge of developing leaders in the context of improving STEM
learning and strengthening democracy. Here, then, are my suggestions for those
who are inclined to engage in the complicated act of leading:

Aim for goals that are truly worthy of being achieved (and that might actually
be achieved if you lend your energies, wit, ingenuity and talents to empower
others to achieve them).

In Theory: Pursuing goals that are much larger than oneself is at the core of this
exhortation. Such goals, like the HIV goal I mentioned earlier, have life or death
dimensions to them. And there are plenty of goals that have these dimensions of
seriousness and urgency.

Of course, we need leaders to help us realize these goals. Desiring to become a


leader, however, is not what I would call a life or death goal, itself. Hence, we
didnt establish the SENCER program to create leaders. Rather, we wanted to make
STEM education attractive and effective enough to stand a chance at preparing
students to become conscientious, active participants (members) in a democracy,
and, by so doing, to make a difference in solving some of the problems we face.

By focusing on goals truly worthy of being achieved, we have been able to enlist the
help and harness the energies of people whose agendas may include advancing their
own careers, but who are even more committed the general welfare of our
democracy, its constituent communities, and indeed the larger world.

In Practice: In the SENCER program we have always emphasized and taken time to
describe and discuss what we could call the moral and civic context in which our
work takes place. This context includes acknowledging and fulfilling our
responsibility to those who are making it possible for us to do our work (such as
those who pay taxes to support our government and make it possible for us to have
a National Science Foundation), accepting our obligation to use our knowledge for
the common goodnot by calling attention to how little others know, but by using
what we know to enlarge what everyone can come to know; and taking seriously
our roles in asking students and others to take intellectual risks while discharging
our corollary responsibility to reduce the predictable and unnecessary harm that
comes with risk-taking.

I have described this elsewhere as an ethos. This ethos is the animating element in
(the soul of) what we do and in what we share with those who work with us. I
would suggest that it is an underdeveloped dimension in higher education today
and something that leadersexisting and potentialwould do well to invest with
more thoughtful attention.

So, instead of settling for students being introduced to fields in which they are
unlikely to pursue any further study, we invite college faculty members, community
leaders, and students to focus learning on complex, contested, capacious (roomy)
civic challenges. The kind of things that Wofford Colleges Ellen Goldey and Byron
McCane have called the RBQs. These really big questions include topics like
climate change, food security, biodiversity, obesity, diabetes, TB and malaria, HIV,
privacy, identity, brownfield remediation, access to and quality of water, energy,
traffic and density, to name a small selection of the issues that we have helped
colleges use to organize interdisciplinary educational opportunities and experiences
for students and faculty members, a well.

Just as the kinds of issues I mentioned are larger than any one individual, they also
cannot be made fully cognizable within a single disciplinary lens, nor commonly do
they stay confined to one community, state or nation, although often they have
particular and critically-important local manifestations. Though the issues are large,
with intelligent and sensitive parsing, they can be de-constructed to enable learning,
knowledge production and effective personal and collective leadership and action
by undergraduates and all of us.

So invite interest and productive scholarship on life and death questions. About this
work, no one need ask: what do I need to learn this for? The question answers
itself.

Start with a good idea and acknowledge your intellectual debts.

In Theory: Ideas really do matter. If there is one thing that I can say that has
enabled SENCERs success, it is the power and attraction of its idea and the ideas
behind it. I predict that the power of these ideas will contribute to the long-range
durability of the SENCER approach. Of course, the other factor predicting SENCERs
durability and the factor that undergirds all that we do is our community, a vibrant
community of practice that embraces and cultivates authentic and durable human
relationships.
Part of the reason for our success is that our ideas are not especially new (though
SENCER is a new name for them, and a memorable one, too).8 They are ideas that
many of us know implicitly, even if we occasionally forget them in current
pedagogical practice.

Hailing from venerable intellectual traditions, the SENCER idea can find traces of its
ancestry in the materialism of Aristotle, the empiricism of the late Renaissance, the
advances in what we now call science and the emergence of democratic political
theory in the Enlightenment, and, more recently, in the traditions of American
pragmatism, particularly the elision of democratic and scientific practice and theory
as developed by William James and John Dewey (with what some have called a
philosophy of questioning).9 The American Land Grant College movement, whose
150th anniversary we celebrated last year, is the practical and material culmination
of this prioras well as the felicitous prefiguration of much subsequent
theorizing. As the ideas get concretized in pedagogical practice, we acknowledge
the influence and seek to inculcate the practical implications emerging from the
work of more contemporary cognitive scientists and learning experts, including
John Bransford and Richard Duschl, to name two authorities who have guided our
thinking and lent their personal support to our work.

This focus on ideas enables a kind of re-membering, a reconnection on the part of


our collaborating faculty members and academic leaders with what motivated them
to become educators in the first place. This reconnection has the character of the
erotic about ita return to the original object of desire. Thus, the power of ideas
and their instantiation within the communities in which our academic leaders
practicehas the effect of both making the hard work more worth doing and
imparting a sort of natural (or unforced) leadership quality to the folks who are
doing it. Our colleagues lead and inspire by example.

In Practice: We need leading thoughts at least as much, if not more, than we need
thought leaders. Good ideas are what attract folks willing to work to achieve
them and folks who will be willing to continue to do the work that needs to be done,
even when other leaders have turned their attentions to other matters, or moved to
other places.

For our programand in connection especially with our cultivation of and support
for leaders within itwe have accepted an obligation to spend time discussing the
ideas. This has involved a good deal of time spent listening, critiquing, explaining,

8When I worked on the acronym for our idea, I wanted to come up with something pronounceable
and thus potentially memorable, like SENCER (that also sounds a bit scientific after all, like sensor.
PHHE (pronounced p-hee maybe) just hadnt fit that bill! So, in addition to ideas, maybe we should
say that words (or at least acronyms!) matter, too.
9 See, for example: Dewey's philosophy of questioning: science, practical reason and democracy.
Turnbull, Nick, History of the Human Sciences, February 2008, vol. 21 no. 1 49-75.
reacting, reforming, recasting, and refining them in talks, conversations, campus
visits (house calls), articles, and in presentations, publications and regular
communication, including the publication of a bi-weekly e-newsletter and the
development of our own journal, Science Education and Civic Engagement: An
International Journal.10

Being honest about our intellectual debtsand the distinct possibility that there are
really few original ideas at this point in historycarries with it some liability. In
an age that touts innovation (and when seeking funding from the NSF especially, a
place where discoveries begin), it may be unfashionable or even risky to
acknowledge intellectual debts and traditions, or to be humble about just how un-
new ones new idea might be. But here perhaps we would do well to remember that
there is a big difference between something being new and something being new to
me. (The French are fortunate enough to have different adjectives for this
distinction: nouveau and neuf, where the ordinary new is all we have in English.)

I wish I could count the number of times someone has said to me, I was teaching
this way before I knew about SENCER. As a leader, I try to swallow my desire to
claim to be doing or even leading something absolutely new and innovative. So,
instead, we celebrate the fact that we are part of a tradition, indeed many traditions,
just as we encourage people new to our work to be involved in work that is not
brand new to others. In practice this means we have been open to newcomers,
welcoming of folks who have made progress working along similar lines, and
grateful to those who have lent their legitimacy and prestige to our work.

Be visionary, without being delusional.

In Theory: Richard Nixon once used the phrase lift of a driving dream (attributed
to speechwriter Ray Price by William Safire11) in a speech to the nation. Leaders
need to do this sort of thing. They need to be able to describe, or at least conjure, a
driving dream.

To me, a driving dream is a good way to describe a visionan image that suggests
where wed like to wind up further along in our journey. The lift President Nixon
described is the energy we need to tap into to get us from here to there.

A vital part of leadership is to be able to picture (imagine) the leading edge of a goal,
to create an image of reality that is ahead of what is real presently, but not so far
ahead (or afield) as to be patently false, unbelievable, or even laughable. We had to
paint that plausible image, an image of a kind of education that would empower
ordinary people to know more about science and mathematics and to use their
knowledge to assess and evaluate claims being made in the public arena.
Accordingly, we had first to pretend that such an eventuality was even possible

10 www.seceij.net/
11 http://www.nytimes.com/1988/07/17/magazine/on-language-coiners-corner.html
and achievable (and cite some examples where it worked). Now we work to bring it
about.

This is what leaders have to do: be optimistic and visionary without lying about the
current gap between reality and the realization of some desired state. Without this,
without a vision, there is just dismal reality. The leaders role is to inspire hope,
sustain that hope in the face of adversity, and celebrate the realization of milestones
achieved along the way to achieving a dream.

In Practice: One NSF official has claimed that SENCER is a national movementa
description that is appealing to many associated with our work. It certainly seems to
me that, given the challenge facing us as a nation regarding scientific literacy,
numeracy, and the level of educational attainment and sophistication needed to face
the problems we face, nothing short of a movement will do. But can we really be
said to be one? Or is that the driving dream that we need to hold before us?

What can be said of SENCER, as a project and community of practice, can also be
said of students in a classroom. For so many students, the classroom is experienced
as a place of disempowermenta locus of discovery not of what they know and can
do, but of what they do not know and cannot do. A teacher who claims to want to
turn this around and who holds out a vision of achievement is susceptible to the
accusation of self-delusion. Whats the anodyne to this problem of the gap between
visions and delusions?

Serious, careful and continuous (truly formative) assessment is best way of


matching high expectations with strategies to achieve them.12 Towards that end,
and at the urging of our early adopters, we supported the development and
validation of assessment tools, including the Student Assessment of Learning Gains
(SALG) instrument. This instrument (see: www.salgsite.org) stimulates some
metacognitive reflection on the part of students, and provides useful information to
the instructor about what is working and not working in the instructional setting.
The results help align vision with reality and guard against two kinds of delusions,
those that undervalue student capacity and those that over value instructional
excellence.

At a larger programmatic level, the vision thing absorbs a good deal of our
energies. We strive to consider what it will take to ensure that the assets we have
developed and the community that we have helped create and nurture can grow and
remain available and open to membership by those who will create and even more
expansive and diverse community. Some may think this is a question of program
sustainability. I prefer to think of this as a different kind of leadership challenge.

12 The best theorist on formative assessment, in my view, was the late Ed Koch, who, as mayor of New
York, never stopped asking, How am I doing? To his credit, not only could he ask his question as if
it contained a maximum of three syllables, but he often listened to and acted on the answers he got.
Meeting it will require that we diversify resource acquisition, engage in strategic
planning, plan for leadership succession, and enable newcomers to shape the future.

Leadership is a delicate balancing act between vision and reality. I have found that
when leaders have gone out on a limb in envisioning and working to achieve a
future worthy of our embrace, my colleagues and I are ready to hold a safety net out
for them should there be a slip and fall in the space between vision and delusion.

Provide ideals, not instructions.

In Theory: We did not begin the SENCER project by specifying a series of steps or
activities that potential collaborators (or followers) were expected to adopt.
There was no prescribed treatment, or suggested dose level, or other precise set of
instructions that, if followed with fidelity, would produce a predictable positive
result. There was no chapbook, textbook, or kit. Rather, there were idealsends to
be strived for. The SENCER ideals13 illustrate the principles and philosophies that
guide SENCER's approach to educational practice. Though practical and simple
(and even redundant on closer examination some 15 years later), the ideals offer a
sort of broad rubric by which planning might proceed or against which practice
might be measured. Because the ideals dont even serve these purposes especially
well, we have subsequently tried to be more precise in rubric crafting. Working
with colleagues, we drafted, revised, and published a more elaborated set of
expectations in the form of Rubric 2.0.14

What the SENCER Ideals do mostly, however, is much more important, especially in
the context of thinking about leadership: they preserve open space for others to
innovate, to own what they create and do, and, eventually to lead others (students
and colleagues) in further innovation. Starting with inspiring ideals leaves to
others both the job ofand the pleasures that come fromtranslating ideals into
practice (from paper to pavement). It remains for leaders to support the
achievement of the ideals through mentoring, building relationships, and offering a
helpful set of programs and services.

In Practice: SENCER co-founder Karen Oates once suggested that we should borrow
our motto from the Home Depot corporations old one: you can do it, we can help.
The motto articulates two key leadership principles. We have already discussed
one, the driving dream and its role in inspiring confidence. Now we turn to the
second: we can help.

When we were planning SENCER, we were challenged by NSF to identify complex,


contested, capacious issues with civic consequence and importance in addition to
HIV that cooperating faculty members could use as organizing narratives for deeper

13 See: http://www.sencer.net/About/sencerideals.cfm
14 See: http://www.sencer.net/assessment/pdfs/Rubric_Jan232012.pdf
learning. We chose to do meet this challenge by finding and featuring what we
called SENCER National Modelsinspiring examples of faculty leadership in course
design and delivery. The models were presented heuristically, as examples
designed to inspire, not stifle, creativity. Today there are almost 60 of them on a
broad range of topics, developed in virtually every sector of higher education, and
employing a diverse range of pedagogical strategies. In picking models, we also
picked model developersthat is, other faculty members who emerged in the
SENCER project as leaders, folks to whom others turned for assistance, support,
consultation and inspiration.

To understand the notion of leadership we embraced, it is helpful to think of the


three gracesthe allegory that illustrates that those who give will receive even
more back from the recipient of the gift who returns the kindness, often in the form
of a larger gift. Giving, receiving, returning in kind describes the practical generosity
that SENCER has enjoyed and seeks to promote. (Its also a pretty good leadership
model, period.)

An early example of the three graces in action is instructive: Well before the SENCER
program was ever developed, with her own NSF support and a team of very good
students, Professor Barbara Tewksbury of Hamilton College created a course,
Geography and the Development of Modern Africa. When we were looking for
models of the SENCER ideals in geoscience courses, Barb offered hers. SENCER
had had absolutely nothing to do with the creation of Barbs model. In making her
model available to inspire hundreds of other faculty members and in inviting Barb
to be a core faculty member in our Summer Institute, however, we have helped
make Barbs work known by and available to many others.15 In turn, our selection
of Barbara Tewksburys course as a national model and Barbs association with and
leadership in SENCER has, in its own small way, provided further evidence back at
Hamilton College of just what a national treasure (and leader) a cherished member
of their college community really is.

We can help takes many forms, many discussed here and catalogued on our
website. The role of leaders is to inspire confidence (you can do it) and ensure
that help (and mentoring) in the many forms in which it is most needed is available
to those who are willing to put their shoulders to the wheel.

Be inclusive and accept the risk of appearing less exclusive.

In Theory: In order to enable human connections and build a movement in which


diverse people are respected and valued and in which both experts and novices feel
welcome, comfortable, and at home, we made the conscious decision to pursue very
large challenges that involve broad swaths of our population and to do so even if it

15And, in a sense, we have increased the NSFs rate of return (ROR) on its initial investment in Barbs
project.
appeared that we had low standards for involvement in our project. This
conscious leadership decision was not without risk.

In the context of the incessant college and program ranking mania that sweeps
almost all of us in, and in the much more serious context of intensely merit-based
distribution schemes used to allocate precious resources like grant funds, it may
seem counterintuitive and even self destructive for leaders to embrace a radical
openness with respect to program participation.

Given the democratic goals we had for SENCER, however, we were compelled to run
the risk, a risk that I think inheres in all democratic projects. This risk is perhaps
best captured in the words of the Grand Inquisitor in W.S. Gilberts lyrics in The
Gondoliers. Upon learning that the operettas protagonists had refashioned a
monarchy along republican principles, the Inquisitor gives voice to a central
democratic anxiety: "when everyone is somebody, then no-one's anybody."16

It is what the political theorist Benjamin Barber, echoing John Dewey, termed an
aristocracy of everyone17 that we sought to realize in our program for at least two
reasons:

(1) with goals as broad as those we were embracing, we felt obligated to ensure that
we didnt set the input bar too high. Recalling some of Mr. Justice Douglass
reasoning in the De Funis case,18 we felt we should focus on the outputs instead,
welcoming people in but seeking to raise the level of performance, sophistication,
and learning from its starting position, wherever that may be, and

(2) because, in our planning phase, we met many folks who felt like latter day
versions of St John the Baptist, that is that they were voices crying in the
wilderness, often in the wilderness of their own departments, institutions, and
even disciplines, we knew that we had to make place for these talented and
committed wanderers to meet and work with others who wished to pursue similar
approaches.

The fact that this approach also represented the right thing to do entered into our
thinking, as well.

In Practice: The rhetoric that fuses excellence and exclusivity comes easier to some
leaders than the more complicated, nuanced, inclusive, and sometimes confusing

16 See There Lived a King from the Yale G&S production, at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5-gOokrh_c
17 Barber, B. R. (1992). An aristocracy of everyone: The politics of education and the future of America.

New York: Ballantine Books.


18 From the Douglass dissent:

There was a time when law schools could follow the advice of Wigmore, who believed that
"the way to find out whether a boy has the makings of a competent lawyer is to see what he
can do in a first year of law studies.
democratic rhetoric. But this is one risk one needs to run when you want to build a
movement, increase access, encourage encounters with between those who are
advantaged (and sometimes think that all they do is superior) with those who arent
(and sometimes think that nothing they do is worthy of attention). But, frankly,
given the character of the issues that have garnered attention in the SENCER
community, and given our commitment to what the NSF has called science for all,
we have had no desire to create casualties among those who express interest in
joining in what we are trying to do.

So, as a practical matter, we take a developmental approach. We work with


prospective authors to improve their texts, with applicants for our sub-grants to
improve their proposals, with nominees for our model collection to improve their
model courses, with deans to assemble better teams, etc. I should hasten to add that
this work with others helps us get better at what we do, as well.

Our program of issuing implementation sub-awards to participants in our Summer


Institute is a good case in point. The process is competitive: no one is assured an
award, but we also control both sides of the equation. That is, we limit the number
of potential applicants (by limiting attendance at our Institutes and sequencing
attendance by those we can not accommodate in any given year). At the same time,
we work to insure that we have enough funds to make the number of potential
awards that can be requested by participants. We spend our time not in rejecting
folks, but in working with applicants to implement changes/improvement identified
in the peer review process.

Of course this means that we cant boast about our selectivity, but it also means
that we dont spend a lot of timeor any time, for that mattertrying to inflate the
size of our denominators. Our satisfaction, therefore, cant come from gloating
about how many people we have kept from working on SENCER reforms. Rather, it
comes from doing what we can to improve the quality of the work that our sub-
grantees and other partners are doing or proposing to do.

Here again, as leaders, our role is to sketch the moral contours of the democratic
situation in which participation in the SENCER community is not described solely as
being for personal or private benefit/reward (that is, my college gets to improve
what it does or I got chosen for this opportunity), but is also a collective endeavor
(by sharing what we do, I can help improve learning at more than just my college).
In our experience, this diversity of institutional type, discipline, region, issue, etc
creates a kind of richness that seems otherwise unavailable to faculty in disciplinary
society meetings, etc. And, for us, it comes much closer to simulating the kind of
organization (and broad scale collaboration) that is needed in a democracy to tackle
the kinds of problems that become the focus of SENCER courses.

Be ready to have your ideas and plans changed by others (and try to be
cheerful when this happens).
In Theory: Here is where the practice of science really helps inform leadership
practice. We learn from science that it gives us the best answer available to us at
this moment; that its conclusions are provisional; that its findings are always subject
to being of modified in light of new findings, and indeed, that sometimes, its whole
epistemological paradigm (and consequent practice) must shift. We learn that
science is dynamic, public (not secret), open to question by peers and would-be
peers. (These claims, by the way, are echoed in descriptions of democratic practice,
but that is another story.19)

Why wouldnt these same conditions apply to programs that attempt to apply the
science of learning to the learning of science (to quote a SENCER motto)? Well,
they do, and they should, in my opinion, apply to the science of leadership, as well.
Challenging as it is sometimes, we all should welcome the pleasure of being natural
scientists as we go about our efforts to lead. To do anything else would be to be risk
being stubborn, rigid, inflexible, dogmatic, and even despotic. Worse, you could also
wind up missing a very critical opportunity to improve what you are trying to do, or
even wind up being just plain wrong!

So, how do you approach leadership as a scientist approaches his/her work?


Methodically, with clarity about your approach and transparency about your
desired outcome, by listening and observing closely, by consulting with others, and
by modifying what you do (and maybe even what you think) based on what you
learn along the way.

As this advice applies to working with others towards a goal that seems to be
mutual, this triggers another democratic anxiety (a kind of political uncertainty
principle, you could say): when you invite people into your movement, you have to
be prepared to see your movement change (or face schisms!).

In Practice: One example will suffice here. Despite my desire to appear to believe
otherwise now, I have to confess that we thought we had a very good idea when we
designed SENCER (as I explained in an earlier section). It just made a lot of sense to
us to encourage and help others to organize courses for undergraduates around
complex issues of civic consequence. It made sense to use those issues to create
master narratives (and even titles) for courses. And courses seemed like the logical
building blocks in a general reform effort. After all, single courses represented
modest reforms, falling far short of wholesale changehow many new curricula
have been envisioned, imposed and then abandoned, after all? But individual
SENCER courses seemed to us to be deeper interventions than would be
represented by the mere mention of a civic application of the subject being taught,
or just tacking on a service learning requirement to an existing course.

I can recall the day when the purity of our plan hit the shoals of campus realities,
only to be rescued by faculty ingenuity. Don Stearns, a professor of biology at

19 http://seceij.net/seceij/summer11/burns_part_1_yo.html
Wagner College, put it this way: I love SENCER, but the best I can do right now is
SENCERize my courses.

SENCERize I thought, what are we, some kind of drycleaning service? (It sounded
like Sanforized to me!) It turns out that we were, or at least we had been
rebranded as an idea that one can try out, stretch and reshape to fit what is possible
in your circumstances, and, with good fortune, expand to achieve the original shape
intended. Beyond that, as the years have passed, the SENCER ideals have been
stretched from courses to learning communities, from learning communities to
certificate program and from certificate program to courses for majors. Graduate
studies, linkages with informal science education, and K-6 education are being
SENCERized!

The idea of SENCERizing has caught on as a way of owning ones personal version
of what we as a project had hoped to accomplish. Now it describes the act of
transforming pedagogical practice, not just taking the baby steps or human bites
that Don Stearns had in mind. (And speaking of Don Stearns, his SENCER
contributions can be measured in more than just his having coined a new way of
describing what we do. He and colleagues produced a learning community on
cancer clusters and the environment that we selected as a National Model and he
has expanded his commitment to stimulating learning and civic engagement in a
impressive array of regional and national venues.)

The practical implication of this is simple: Approach your work as a scientist. Listen
and pay close attention to what those who are at the point of production (and that
means students, too) can do to make your ideas work. If their suggested
modification meets your standard of integrityas it often has in our experience at
leastthen, by all means, be cheerful about confessing that you wished youd had
that idea yourself.

Give more credit than you take and offer a cure for VDD.

In Theory: There are no doubt good theoretical reasons for formulating and then
following this advice, but the truth is that I include it here because it is precisely
what several of our key informants (participants in interviews in connection with
our strategic planning process) have said about us: you give more credit than you
take. They cited this practice as being a critical element in our leadership success.

When Karen Oates and I spent a year envisioning the SENCER initiative with
generous planning grant from NSF, we were struck by how under-appreciated so
many faculty members felt about their work, their ingenuity, their energy, and their
ability. Somehow the critical gaze, the falsification, the testing of hypotheses and
strengths of materials, the stress of experimentationall these elements of the
scientific approachhad gotten mixed up in human relations, as well. Indeed, I
recall observing that laboratory animals were eligible for and entitled to more
humane treatment than professional colleagues seemed to be. How could this be?
Was there any good coming from this humiliation, this aversive therapeutic
approach to collegiality? And was there anything we could do to make it better?

I recall making something of a joke about it. I suggested that many of our potential
collaborators were suffering from Validation Deficit Disorder, or VDD. The
remarkable thing about VDD (as opposed to the other deficit disorders with which
we have become familiar) was that it was relatively easy to treat. One only had to
recognize the persons authentic desire to improve the quality of his/her teaching
and the likelihood of improved student learning and you had a willing partner in
working fairly assiduously at bringing good theory into successful practice. You
didnt have to give up high standards to do this. You simply had to recognize your
role, not as a judge, but as a fellow educator and learner.

Beyond recognition and respect however is the question of credit and making sure
credit is given where it is due and that contributions are acknowledged and even
celebrated. This is not just instrumental advice: it is a whole way of looking at the
world, at least the world that you seek to influence. What was critical for those of us
leading the SENCER effort was to realize that we would have no success at all
without the leadership and accomplishment of our campus partners, faculty,
academic administrators, and students (and in our related projects, informal science
educators, leaders in community based and public benefit organizations, and other
collaborators). Our project, as such, teaches no courses, offers no degrees,
graduates no students, operates no laboratories, engages in no community-based
research. Our campus and community partners do, and it is their work that
validates and influences ours. Is there a more important reality leaders and would-
be leaders need to know?

In Practice: Putting this piece of advice into practice entails really believing in it.
Anything short of this is easily identified as being only instrumental, insincere, or
even fraudulent. Once the threshold condition of authenticity is met and crossed,
then a whole slew of strategies begin to emerge and ensue, creating a veritable
pharmacopeia for treating VDD.

In the SENCER project, these forms of validation range from practicing an ethic of
respect and responsiveness, to active listening, to a commitment to experimentation
and openness to new ideas, to more formal recognition practices. We try ensure
that participation in the hard work of our project is recognized in terms that have
what the philosopher William James called cash value for the participant.

Respecting the fact that others have self interests, just as we do, is not only
appropriate for those of us who are committed to the articulation and pursuit of
personal interests (as well as to the interest group pluralism that our democracy
enables), but it is a sign of good leadership, as well.

Thus, we have been careful to invent and distribute tokens of CV value, be they
naming our campus collaborators as PIs in NSF-supported implementation sub-
awards, electing colleagues to our leadership fellows program (more on this in a
moment), selecting exemplary courses and materials as SENCER national models,
inviting contributions to our newest initiative, the pearls of practice program
(readily smaller scale materials to be used in courses), or bestowing the William E.
Bennett Award for Exemplary Contributions to Citizen Science to deserving
colleagues.

At a more individual level, this recognition of individuals who have helped bring our
SENCER ideals to life takes other forms: writing letters of appreciation to campus
leaders to acknowledge the contributions of their colleagues, participating in formal
external review activities, providing appraisals and recommendations in connection
with tenure and promotion reviews and job searches, nominating colleagues for
prestigious awards, and collaborating or offering letters of support for extramural
or other supplemental funding.

When we last counted this up, more than 300 faculty members and leaders
associated with the SENCER community reported being promoted, tenured, or
successful in finding new promotional and leadership opportunities in part due to
their work with our project. Indeed, the promotion and mobility of SENCER
alums has been key to our dissemination efforts. We could not have accomplished
what weve accomplished without the efforts of our collaborating participants, who
introduce their new colleagues to the project as they advance in their careers or
change institutions. We take it as a special and pleasant obligation to make sure
they know we know this.

Accept responsibility for the things you dont get right the first few times
and continuously use what you learn from real experience to make your
ideas better.

In Theory: This piece of advice is closely related to the earlier exhortation to act like
a natural scientist in your approach to leadership. Here we want go step further and
emulate engineering practice: as Henry Petroski has shrewdly observed, form does
not follow function, it follows failure.20

When you are working on a hard problem, mistakes are inevitable, especially at
first. My personal experience has taught me that your collaborators are very
forgiving when you make the acknowledgement of error as forthright as you are
inclined to mark your success.

Though it can lead to false starts and wasted time and resources, the trial and error
pedagogy of practice, even when properly informed by good theory and careful
planning, is still the basic human default setting. How many different ways did we
consider segmenting the participants in our project to achieve optimal continuity
and progress: by discipline, by issue, by region, by existing affinity groups, by role

20 Petroski, H. (1994). The evolution of useful things. New York: Vintage Books.
and status, by Carnegie classification or sector? These were just a few ways we tried
to group participants. The best I can report is that, so far, we have found no one
perfect, or even very good, way to meet the challenge of creating small, durable and
productive working groups from the large pool of participants. A grant from the
W.M. Keck Foundation is enabling us to experiment with small, nodal groupings of
colleges to compensate for the general vastness of some of the territory we hope to
cover with our project. But, here again, the results are mixed. We have, however,
the compensation of being able to study what we are doing and to learn from our
mistakes.

What we need to do to make the mistakes worth makingshort of my fantasy of


establishing and publishing the Journal of Failure Studiesis to admit them, learn
from them, and try something else. Obviously the tolerance for error needs to be in
the right proportion to the relative risk of and the gravity of potential negative
consequences of failure. In the field of STEM education, where, sad to say, the
existing general quality leaves so much to be desired, there appears to be ample
room for frankness, reappraisal, and corrective action.

In Practice: Here again leadership involves embracing the value of experimentation,


model building, assessment, evaluation, listening, and casting a broad net to ensure
that feedback is solicited, heard and acted upon. Over the years, we have conducted
formal and informal surveys, interviews, focus groups and used other fact finding
and program influencing strategies to capture the best thoughts of our community.

Formal evaluation and assessment, though often tedious, is essential. But even
more essential is the commitment that leaders can makeand should maketo
fessing up to the shortcomings revealed in these assessments and acting to correct
them.

For all the changes we have made since we originally envisioned the SENCER
program, there are at least as many more that we can plan of having to make. Our
assessment materials and evaluation programand indeed our Journal and other
scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) connected activities represent our best
hope and most effective strategy for learning from where we fall short of intended
outcomes.

If there is one lesson that I have learned from my time on this SENCER journey that
applies to error, it is this: A well-informed and carefully planned iterative approach
is the best reform strategy. Too many potential collaborators are obsessed with
getting it all right in advance of doing it. But experience and nature, to recall John
Dewey, tell us to think differently about the possibility of failure: You learn
something by trying to do it or trying to change it. Better to get started and make
improvements as you proceed than to think you can plan perfectly, since you will
end up finding shortfalls no matter how carefully you approached the planning
phase.
Make room for new leaders, new ideas, and new initiatives.

In Theory: Making room might just be the general subtext of all of these pieces of
advice, room for new visions, new ideas, new approaches, new models, and, above
all, new folks to be engaged with and carry forward the work we set out to do. Here
we mean new in both the senses, but especially in the sense of being new to you.

The room about which I write is a kind of maker space that leaders can fashion to
allow and encourage others to step forward, to join a leadership team, to carry the
work to new places or deepen its effect in a single place, or even both. As the scope
of our project increased, so too did the need to have and the value of having
alumsactive and experienced cognoscention hand to guide and orient
newcomers, explain our jargon, de-code obscure messages, find places where people
got lost that we were not aware had even existed, and explore new possibilities.

We noticed the value of this distributed leadership approach early on. Our staff
meetings at the first few Summer Institutes were long and involved as we tried to
anticipate every glitch, troubleshoot every problem, and prepare for every
contingency we could imagine. As our Institutes began to embrace a larger number
of alumni participantsfolks who had been there before, who knew the drill, who
had had the experience that newcomers were about to haveour staff meetings
grew shorter. There was less for us to do. Others were taking care of things for us.

But something else was happening: these alums were looking for opportunities to
stay involved, to lead, to make it more likely than not that a newcomers experience
would be positive, that our goals would be met, that good advice would be given,
and that durable connections would be established.

Readers will identify these conditions and suggestions as resembling what others
call a theory of adaptive leadershipa notion of leadership that owes more to
biology than to mechanics, and one that is more compatible with scientific practice
and democratic governance, hence more in tune with the larger goals of the SENCER
program itself.

In Practice: Making room in SENCERs case has meant inventing new roles, new
venues, and new ventures for those who wanted to stay engaged. I will mention
three examples in practice here.

Our Leadership Fellows program is a good example of an invention that seeks to


recognize achievement and stimulate further engagement with the work. Fellows
are elected in recognition of their contributions, but chartered to carry out specific
projects to deepen the impact and improve the effectiveness of their work. To date,
more than 125 leaders have been so recognized.

Distributing leadership has also meant paying attention to encouraging regional and
topical clusters of committed STEM education reformers, in what we call our
SENCER Centers for Innovation. There are nine currently, along with about the
same number of nodal partners supported by the Keck Foundation, whose task is
to make the idea of a western network into something real. These SCIs engage in
what we have called the Five Rsrecruiting new participants, reuniting alumni,
reporting on work being achieved, regionalizing organizational arrangements as
well as using a region as a theme for organizing for collaborative work, and
reflecting needs and plans to the national office, so as to help reform the initiative
larger itself.

Just as leaders have to provide the lift of a driving dream, they also are wise to lend
their support to the next logical move that the work they are doing entails. This
makes room for innovators to develop new areas of engagement that are directly
connected to and grow out of current activities. We are currently engaged in five
proximal applications of the original SENCER idea: one expands the community of
practice seeking to apply SENCER ideals to the learning and teaching of
mathematics. A second initiative has supported partnerships between SENCER
projects in colleges and the informal science education community (museums,
national parks, arboreta, and science media, for example). For more information,
see www.sencer-ise.net. A third explores how to apply SENCER principles to
introductory courses for STEM majors, while a fourth seeks to imagine how
engineering education might become more a prominent dimension of general
education. Lastly, we are currently working with a team to consider how the
SENCER ideals might help provide an integrative framework for improving K-6
learning outcomes. Each of these initiative and pre-initiatives represent
entrepreneurial and creative thinking by SENCER alums and folks newly arrived in
our community. Making space for them to be developed and eventually carried out
is the special role that leadership can play in advancing reform.

Empower your partners, your students, and all individuals connected to your
work to access and indeed reap the moral rewards of their labors.

In Theory: I recall a conversation that occurred early on in the planning for SENCER.
Someone said to me, what makes you think this approach will lead to any better
results than the ones we have now? This was not posed rhetorically or hopefully.
Perhaps the best descriptive adverb I can attach is to say it was asked skeptically.

I provided a glib first answer: The bar is pretty low, isnt it, so we probably cant do
any worse and we stand a good chance of beating it just by caring about getting
good results.

That answer would have been sufficient had we (1) not been asking the NSF to make
a major investment of funds in our project and (2) not asking potential faculty
collaborators to work much harder at teaching, crafting new courses and supporting
teaching materials, not to mention keeping abreast of developments in a rapidly
changing landscape of complex, contested, unsolved civic issues. Equal results
that cost more or that require extra labor dont have much to recommend them.
To be able to say more, to predict better outcome for our funders and our partners,
required more of us. We had to:
test the idea with possible future adherents and respond to their needs and
concerns in our planning,
align our planning as carefully as possible with the best advice and
recommendations of national panels on science education and other experts
(in cognitive science, as well),
identify and assemble a high-quality collection of faculty (teaching) partners
and curricular examples of our approach centered civic issues, in addition to
those focused on HIV and public health,
assess potential interest and support of leaders and teaching faculty
(practitioners) in programs that connected learning to real world issues,21
and
commit to the development of a comprehensive assessment strategy that
would enable us to make a much thicker analysis and more persuasive
answer to the original comparative advantage question than the bar is
already so low, we cant fail.

Though we engaged in careful planning, convincing others that SENCER was a


good idea that would produce better results turned out to be not as much of a
challenge as we expected, however. As Karen Oates and I travelled the country to
discuss the SENCER idea with potential collaborators (leaders and practitioners),
we discovered that we were tapping into a desire to overcome the deep
dissatisfaction that many felt about the general state of undergraduate science
education, especially for the so called non-major (that is the person not intending
to pursue STEM study any further than required).

Of course, this was not true for all those with whom we spoke. For a portion of the
folks we interviewed, the dissatisfaction found a convenient targetwhat might be
termed a candidate for displacementthe students. Lazy, unmotivated,
distracted, poorly prepared, unable to do math, hostile, or just too bored for words
(and all this before Facebook and Twitter!), students could be counted on not to
care or carry on, much beyond getting the bare minimum they thought they
required from an encounter with something required of them. For the faculty
members who subscribed to this dismissive analysis, any attempt to interest
students or cater to their potential or latent interests, supplied fresh evidence that
standards were being lowered, slough rewarded, or grades about to be inflated.

For the larger portion of those with whom conversed and correspondeda far
larger portionthe dissatisfaction was more intensely personal. Students were
partly to blame, perhaps, but the root cause of the problem could be found
elsewhere. In a nutshell, our potential collaborators had all the evidence they

21This can sound a bit quaint in 2014, a time when relevance is happily not signified, as it was in
some circles in the late 1990s, as a code word for academic decadence.
needed to know that their teaching methods and approaches were misguided,
unscientific, nothing they would tolerate as a practice in their labs, etc. It would be
too cheap to summarize this by quoting the philosopher Pogo and say: We have
met the enemy and it is us because it wouldnt get to the deeper, more essentially
moral dimension of the problem. That dimension can be described in personal, self-
interested terms. Not only was a lot of teaching only marginally successful at
helping students learn, it was deeply dissatisfying personally to the teacher.

A more elegant and precise way of putting this is to say that something was
preventing professors from reaping the moral rewards of the hard work of
teaching. Similarly, something was preventing students from reaping the moral
rewards of the hard work of learning.

Focusing on teachers, Doris Santoro of Bowdoin takes up this issue in an article


Good Teaching in Difficult Times.22 She argues that what is often termed
burnout (locating the problem in an individuals personal failing) masquerades as
a satisfactory, if clichd, explanation where the real root problem is
demoralization (a demoralization that she says is often the product of a set of
conditions erected by leaders and policy makers). Santoro offers this summary of
what she means by moral rewards:

Although it is impossible to enumerate the goods that could be counted as


moral rewards, when teachers find that they can answer in the affirmative to
the questionsIs this work worthwhile? Am I engaging in good teaching?
they are reaping the moral rewards of the practice of teaching. How teachers
elaborate on why the work is worthwhile and why they are engaging in good
teaching may be inflected by personal factors, but the work itself is what
makes these rewards available. These rewards are internal to the practice of
teaching rather than the possession of individual teachers.

Santoros article puts forth an argument that the moral rewards embedded in the
teaching profession are endangered in these difficult times.

While Santoros research is focused on school teaching, especially in so-called low-


performing districts, her article provides a useful framework for understanding the
crisis in what one colleague has called the teaching deflation in higher education.
How many discussions have you heardor engaged inthat contained the claim
that teaching isnt valued here or that you get tenure for your research, not your
teaching? Some have even speculated that attention to teaching is a sign of your
lack of seriousness as a scholar. Even for those of our correspondents who may
subscribe to these claims, the claims are not powerful enough to permit them a

22See: "Good Teaching in Difficult Times: Demoralization in the Pursuit of Good Work." Santoro, Doris
A. American Journal of Education, Vol. 118, No. 1 (November 2011), pp. 1-23
comfortable disconnection from the discomfort they felt about their own teaching.
As one faculty member who taught a traditional general education science course
put it, I feel this is the last chance I am going to get to help my students overcome
their aversion to science. I cant blow it.

I submit that Santoros analysis can also be helpful as we think about student
demoralization, or apathy, or even as we explore the reasons behind an obsession
with grades on the one hand and the reported increase in violations of academic
integrity (cheating and plagiarism) on the other.

So, what is a leader to do about this? What is a leaders role in creating conditions
that allow teachers to believe (with justification) that their work is worthwhile, that
they are engaged in good teaching (and that they have evidence that is persuasive to
themselves that they are)? What is the leaders role in creating conditions that
allow students to believe (with justification) that what they are learning is
worthwhile and that they are really learning?

Practice: Each of the pieces of advice I have offered represents a facet of the more
comprehensive answer to this question. As a way of summarizing, let me reprise my
suggestions: encourage work on things that really matter, have good ideas and
acknowledge where you got them, sketch out an inspiring vision, provide ideals not
instructions, be radically inclusive, anticipate that your plans will change, give credit
where credit is due, acknowledge your mistakes, and make room for new ideas and
new leaders.

I hope readers will notice that these bits of advice combine in a way that enables us
sketch out what we might call a particularly democratic vistaand, at the same
time, taken together, they give us a snapshot of scientific practice, itself. There is a
roominess in them, a kind of space for narrow and peculiar interests to be sure,
but also a opportunity (and sometimes something that rises to an obligation) to
make connections, to see the relationships between interests, people working on
them, and the consequences (intended and unintended) that pursuing interests can
entail.

Concluding Thoughts Ive written that, as a project, SENCER has occupied a space
between orthodoxy and anarchy. This is geography of democracy, itself. It is the
geography of science, too (though, unfortunately, science is often represented in
public discourse as definitive and dispositive, not provisional, or the best we can do
right now, or, in the words of the late Paul Grobstein, about getting it less wrong).

This is a space of some uncertainty, some chaos, and some messiness that
nevertheless needs to meet a standard that could be considered rigorous but not
rigid, to embrace approaches that are flexible but not flimsy. Again, roomy is the
word that comes to meor capacious to use the word that the SENCER project
may have brought back into style.
Perhaps this attention to roominessboth in the topics covered, the opportunities
presented, the scope for imagination offered, the customization of assessment
options, the big tent atmosphere for participants and projects, is why participants
have found space and room for their own imaginations, their own intellectual
development, their own interests and motives, their own chances for
experimentation, failure, and success. They have also found room to work with
others in the community of practice and contribute to the programmatic dimensions
aimed at nurturing and supporting the emerging movement that SENCER has
become.

So, if there is a lesson for leadership in all this, and one that also tracks Professor
Santoros ideas, as well, then maybe it is this: Make room for human freedom, for
experimentation, for professional judgment to be respected and exercised. In short,
make room for people to do good work. When leaders do this, not only will they
begin to reap the moral rewards from their work, but others, with whom they
associate, will do so, as well.

Wm. David Burns


January 2014