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This ASCD Study Guide is designed to enhance your understanding and application of the information contained in Learning from Lincoln: Leadership Practices for School Success, an ASCD book written by Harvey Alvy and Pam Robbins, and published in August 2010.
You can use the study guide before or after you have read the book, or as you finish each chapter. The study questions provided are not meant to cover all aspects of the book, but, rather, to address specific ideas that might warrant further reflection.
Most of the questions contained in this study guide are ones you can think about on your own, but you might consider pairing with a colleague or forming a study group with others who have read (or are reading) Learning from Lincoln.
From the Introduction: Learning from Lincoln
- Ten leadership qualities and skills are noted in the Introduction as practices exemplified in Lincoln's life and work. Before examining each practice in the forthcoming chapters, which qualities and skills do you think will be particularly important to you, based on the context of your school or district organization?
- The book examines Lincoln's leadership practices and helps us to explore the implications for our own unique and authentic leadership work. Why is this type of authentic leadership critical for school leaders?
Chapter 1. Implementing and Sustaining a Mission and Vision with Focused and Profound Clarity
- Defining leadership is a difficult task. Yet, Lincoln's life and work certainly stand as a powerful example of exemplary leadership. After reading Chapter 1, what exemplars of effective leadership resonate with you?
- The Gettysburg Address states the mission and vision of a nation in only 272 words. What strategies did Lincoln use to definitively state his position? As a school leader, what strategies do you employ to convey your organization's mission and/or vision? After reflecting on current initiatives such as closing the achievement gap, reducing the dropout rate, and promoting social justice, consider which of Lincoln's practices might be most essential.
- Core values—preserving the union and sustaining the democracy—drove Lincoln's leadership actions. What are the core values that drive your leadership work? How do these values align with those embedded in the mission and vision of your school or district?
Chapter 2. Communicating Ideas Effectively with Precise and Straightforward Language
- Practices used by Lincoln to effectively communicate included frequent rehearsal, crisp and concise writing, use of metaphors and stories, simple language, and seeking face-to-face feedback when refining text. As you consider your oral and written communication, which practices do you prefer? Which do you use most frequently? What personal insights can you draw from your answers concerning effective communication?
- Reflect on what matters to you personally and in your work as a school leader:
- What is it that you want to communicate through your daily interactions with others?
- What is the legacy you have been inspired to leave? What brings passion to that legacy? How is your personal story tied to your legacy?
- Lincoln masterfully used the media of the day to clearly communicate his intentions. How do you use media to communicate your message and specific intentions? What challenges exist?
Chapter 3. Building a Diverse and Competent Team to Successfully Address the Mission
- Lincoln's resolve to preserve the union and democracy, and eventually end slavery, led him to gather some of the best minds in the nation. What personal qualities and practices did Lincoln use to acquire such an accomplished team?
- Review Tuckman's (1965) model of how teams evolve in Figure 3.1 (p. 51). Does the model fit with your experience? Think about the team in the organization in which you work. At what stages are they functioning? If a particular team is not performing satisfactorily, what logical next steps might they take?
- Consider the mission or vision of your school or district. What are the qualities of team members that would support the accomplishment of this vision or mission?
- If team members differ in personalities, expertise, or years of experience, how might this contribute positively to team functioning? To realizing the vision? How might these differences pose a challenge to team functioning and trust building?
- As a leader, what personality traits or behaviors push your buttons? How can you be mindful of this and put the needs of the school organization first when making critical decisions about team or cabinet members?
- There are times when leaders have to go solo even when other team members counsel against a decision. Lincoln chose to take this path when writing the Emancipation Proclamation. In your work, when is it appropriate for you to go solo? Do leaders always have an obligation to explain their rationale? What might be the pros and cons of individual decisions?
Chapter 4. Engendering Trust, Loyalty, and Respect Through Humility, Humor, and Personal Example
- Behaving with humility, displaying a sense of humor, and providing a personal example, were qualities that Lincoln exhibited throughout his life. Reflect on the qualities mentioned in the chapter. Can you learn these qualities? Explain.
- What leadership qualities have you observed in others? Are you motivated to emulate these qualities? Do you think it is risky to emulate the qualities of others you admire? Why or why not?
- Chapter 4 reviews the groundbreaking work of Bryk and Schneider (p. 65–66) on "relational trust" in schools. Examine the four characteristics of trust: respect, personal regard, competency in core role responsibilities, and personal integrity. Reflect on the presence or absence of these or other characteristics of trust in your school community. What might you do to reinforce the characteristics? If they are not evident in your community, what action needs to take place?
- A great river begins with a source that provides sustenance and energy. Individuals, too, gain sustenance and energy from a source. Often we can identify the source through a personal story or a core belief. Lincoln's February 22, 1861, speech in Philadelphia's Independence Hall (p. 69) reveals a source, a core belief, that remained a focus for the next four years. Lincoln stated that he "never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence." What personal stories and core beliefs provide the sustenance and energy for your work in schools?
- What are you passionate about when it comes to school success? Can you pinpoint a transformative event that ignited your passion? If yes, share your experience with a colleague.
Chapter 5. Leading and Serving with Emotional Intelligence and Empathy
- Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address is considered by many historians to be his greatest literary achievement. Review excerpts from the address on pages 75–76. Which qualities of the speech stand out for you? What is the message of the speech for today's school leaders? What can we learn from the speech? For example, what are the implications of Lincoln's words, "let us strive on to finish the work we are in"?
- After reviewing Goleman's five domains of emotional intelligence (pp. 82–84) consider which domains were strengths or weaknesses for Lincoln? What are the implications of Goleman's work for school leaders?
- Lincoln's Temperance Address (pp. 77-79) and Letter to Fanny McCullough (pp. 79-80) include important ideas related to emotional intelligence and empathy. What can we learn from these two documents? How can you apply these learnings to your work as a school leader? Can you draw examples from your own school experiences?
Chapter 6. Exercising Situational Competence and Responding Appropriately to Implement Effective Change
- Situational awareness and timing are critical aspects for the effective implementation of change. Thinking about Lincoln's decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, what role did timing and situational awareness play? What are the lessons for school leaders?
- Does your organization manage change well? Discuss your community's experiences and examine the conclusions drawn on page 95 concerning how Lincoln managed change. Do you agree with the conclusions? Why or why not?
- As Lincoln was traveling to Gettysburg in November 1863 to make his famous address, he certainly weighed the events of the previous two years and considered what the future might hold. Reflect on the setting of your school. How have the events of the last two years affected your organization? What lies ahead? What does the future hold for some of the historic educational issues of our time? Consider any specific issues facing your school or district, as well as those related to academic achievement, high expectations for all, school leadership, teaching and learning excellence, professional community, partnering with parents and the greater community, standards, assessment, accountability, educating the whole child, celebrating diversity, ending the dropout crisis, closing the achievement gap, social justice, prevention of bullying, and protecting the environment.
Chapter 7. Rising Beyond Personal and Professional Trials Through Tenacity, Persistence, Resilience, and Courage
- Lincoln's ability to maintain the courage necessary to work through each crisis was referred to as "dogged tenacity." Today we use the word "resilience" to describe the students, teachers and administrative leaders who persevere in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges. As a leader, how do you create a resilient culture? Brainstorm ways you can help create a culture of resilience and share a story of resilience with your colleagues.
- This chapter addresses some of the criticisms that Lincoln had to endure (e.g., "a third-rate country lawyer"). How did "the personal narrative of his life" (p. 106) help Lincoln cope with the criticism? What can we learn about responding to criticism from his example? Do you have any personal stories that might help others respond to criticism?
- How do you relieve tension during difficult situations? When conflicts arise, how do you behave? During moments of stress, what are your strengths and weaknesses?
- It has been said that opportunities arise from crises. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Cite examples to support your position.
Chapter 8. Exercising Purposeful Visibility
- Purposeful visibility is different from simply being out of your office and on the school campus. How can you demonstrate support for important goals through your purposeful visibility in specific settings?
- Leading and Learning By Wandering Around (LLBWA) is a strategy for purposeful visibility. Consider short-term and long-term LLBWA goals. Create one list noting how you would spend time to monitor and support progress for short-term goals; make another list for long-term goals.
- How might you use visibility to promote core values, such as social justice and educating the whole child?
- How can technology help you to be more visible? How might technology interfere with your interpersonal or human relations objectives?
- Some leaders do not seek feedback—either verbally or visually—regarding organizational wellness. In your organization, are colleagues willing to share feedback, citing brutal facts? Why or why not?
- How can visibility help you to build relationships, trust, and honest communication?
- The Student Learning Nexus (p. 132, Figure 8.1) can be an essential tool in helping school leaders coherently address the mission. How can you use the nexus to help you stimulate dialogue—and be visible—during walk-throughs?
Chapter 9. Demonstrating Personal Growth and Enhanced Competence as a Lifetime Learner, Willing to Reflect on and Expand Ideas
- John Hope Franklin (see epigraph on p. 134) ties Lincoln's legacy to the president's "flexibility and capacity for growth." Why is Franklin's insight particularly important for school leaders whose success depends on student and faculty growth?
- When building community, Lincoln's strategy was to bring the best on board and let them work autonomously, based on their expertise, as long as their work did not hinder the mission. There is a bit of a paradox implicit in this—autonomous work within a learning community. Does this paradox exist within the learning organization in which you work? Is it a positive or challenging element? How is diversity treated in the school or district culture?
- In an 1855 letter to a prospective lawyer (p. 138), Lincoln wrote, "always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed, is more important than any other one thing." How might a school leader engender this belief within students who are "at risk" and may drop out?
- In this chapter, we explore the idea that Lincoln was a deliberate thinker; impulsivity and speed of thought were not character traits. How would Lincoln fare in today's world of abbreviated communications and instant everything? What are the pros and cons of a deliberate and pensive approach to leadership decision-making?
- As a school leader, when do you find time to practice reflection?
- One measure of leadership success is how leaders influence the professional growth of colleagues with whom they are most closely associated. What can you do to influence the professional capacity of your closest colleagues?
Chapter 10. Believing that Hope Can Become a Reality
- What role does hope play in implementing successful change?
- How does Chapter 10 link hope with realism and reach, short- and long-term goals, and practical and ideal aims? What insights do these links provide to help school leaders transform hope into reality?
- Lincoln's 1854 Peoria Speech (p. 152) was a transformative moment for him. The Kansas-Nebraska Act had shaken his belief in the nation's leaders and their allegiance to the Declaration of Independence. What can educators learn from Lincoln's Peoria "moment"? Can you recall how your focus or determination about an issue was impacted by an event—a profound moment? Consider your affective and cognitive response during that powerful moment.
- There are times when the turn of events in a school can make school goals related to social justice—closing the achievement gap, eliminating bullying, reducing the high school dropout rate, educating the whole child—seem impossible to reach. How can a school leader use Lincoln's example at Cooper Union, and his Conkling Letter, to generate the momentum and courage to realize these worthy goals?
Chapter 11. Achieving Authentic Leadership in Schools
- Revisit the 10 leadership qualities and practices (listed in the Introduction) that were particularly important to you. Now that you have read the book, reflect on your initial answers. Is your response the same? If yes, why? If not, how do you explain the difference?
- After reading the scenario about the Jefferson School District, analyze how the 10 qualities for 21st century leadership success, derived from Lincoln's example, were manifested. What parts of the scenario particularly resonated with you? Why?
- Examining Lincoln's mistakes and how he grew from his miscalculations is a crucial part of the legacy from which we can draw in our efforts to become credible, valued school leaders. Do you use missteps or mistakes as a leadership tool? How do you or how could you?
- The demand for skillfulness in leadership has never been greater. This challenge has implications for both personal and professional growth. After reading Learning from Lincoln, to what do you commit as a leader regarding your own growth?
Learning from Lincoln: Leadership Practices for School Success, was written by Harvey Alvy and Pam Robbins. This 192-page, 7" x 9" book (Stock #110036; ISBN-13: 978-1-4166-1023-6) is available from ASCD for $19.95 (ASCD member) or $25.95 (nonmember). Copyright © 2010 by ASCD. To order a copy, call ASCD at 1-800-933-2723 (in Virginia 1-703-578-9600) and press 2 for the Service Center. Or buy the book from ASCD's Online Store.