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The UnCollege Blog

Advocating For Your Learning And Leadership Styles

By Tiffany Mikell

In the last hackademic camp, we explored learning styles and leadership styles. Understanding how we best learn and lead is a critical component of hacking your education. There is a great quote that says...”it’s not how smart you are, but how you are smart.” It is our responsibility as individual learners to seek out environments that allow our strengths to shine.

How leadership and learning styles intertwine

As students (and parents of students), we hope that our teachers and school administrators will help us identify our gifts and then provide us with opportunities to showcase them and use our strengths in some meaningful way. This is unfortunately not often the case as we live in a society that tends to focus on standardizing curriculum in the classroom.

These standards of “norms” create a box wherein if students do not fit, they are labeled as different. The social connotation and effect of these labels vary from promising (gifted, exceptional, genius) to destructive (troublemaker, at-risk, delayed, incapable). In either case, the process of standardization can lead to frustration and disengagement for students who are told that they are not “normal” and are often encouraged to find ways to be less unique.

Being an advocate for your own learning and education often means that you must take on a leadership role in creating the plan that helps you maximize learning experiences. As an education hacker, you must identify what and how you want to learn and then become the lead project manager in the execution of that plan. This is why, in addition to figuring out your learning style, it’s also helpful to understand your leadership and management styles.

How to identify your learning style

Many models have been developed by education and learning theorists to help us understand how we each uniquely learn. Three of the most common learning styles are Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic, as identified by Neil Fleming’s VARK Model. Another popular learning style model was published by David Kolb, who examines experiential learning. He uses the terms Activists, Reflectors, Theorists and Pragmatists to describe different styles. Kolb’s theory is that our learning style is actually a product of two decisions:

1. how we plan on approaching a task - ie., 'grasping experience.' Preferring to (a) watch or (b) do.

2. how we emotionally respond to the experience - ie., 'transforming experience.’ Preferring to (a) think or (b) feel.

One of the best ways to identify your learning style is to document the situations when learning something new has had the most positive (or negative) impact. Are you someone who loathes lectures preferring to read and discuss ideas with others? Or perhaps you’d prefer to have a hands-on or interactive project so you can “touch” a concept or idea before hearing about it?

Self-awareness is key. Most people are a mix of the common styles of learning. For many learners, it depends on the situation or environment. There are some occasions when I need to draw pictures and diagrams when listening to a speaker. Other times, I’ll start building/doing and then seek out reading material on the subject. What’s important is understanding that you are a unique individual and may need to process new ideas differently than others.

How to identify your leadership style

Hackademics gain experiences in and outside the classroom. Much of our education happens out in apprenticeships, volunteers opportunities, business conference rooms, etc. Knowing how you lead and manage best will help you excel in your professional career as well as in your academic career.

Leading and managing can be very different things. We’re usually called upon, however, to carry out both in some capacity. We’ve all heard (or experienced) management horror stories and remain thankful to the best managers that helped us learn or grow. The most successful people tend to be those that can demonstrate vision as well as lead others. Yet, we see entire companies tank because of poor leadership. Think of how important Ghandi, MLK and Steve Jobs have been to the world. Now consider how different they are in personality. It becomes clear that there is no magic formula to being a great leader. That being said, it is necessary to know yourself and play to your strengths if you want to lead a successful team.

Similar to learning styles, there are many different classifications of leadership and management styles. In the book “Primal Leadership,” Daniel Goleman, who popularized the notion of “Emotional Intelligence,” describes six different styles of leadership. They include the Visionary, The Coach, The Democratic and others. Other models for describing leadership styles include the types Autocratic, Bureaucratic, Laissez-Faire and Task Oriented Leaders. My favorite model for classifying management styles identifies 3 common types of managers: The Focuser, The Integrator and The Operator.

The Focuser is all about the “What”. They are very direct and don’t always take advice well. The Integrator focuses more on the “Why” and learns best by listening. The like to theorize and wants to know the meanings of things before action. The Operator focuses more on the “How”. The have to know all the details and steps before starting a project.

Do you see yourself in any of the styles mentioned? Do you see anyone else with whom you’ve worked in the past? Self-directed learners, in particular, must be aware of their leadership strengths so they can build teams with others that complement their skill set.

How learning (and self-awareness) affects leadership

How you learn will inevitably affect how you lead. If you are a kinesthetic learner, you may have a hands-on approach as a manager. This may be great for building trust and morale among the team, however it can also be perceived as micro managing. Visual learners may need to see all tasks and ideas in writing, while having a hard time staying present during long face to face meetings. Reflectors in Kolb’s model tend to stand back and gather data and may be perceived as having an Operator management style; These types of managers will need to make sure they do not stand in the way of innovation because of their delay in reaching conclusions.

These are just a few examples of how the characteristics that make you a unique learner and leader can be an asset or a deficit. If you are self-aware, you are able to more effectively communicate expectations to teachers, parents, team members, employees and anyone else with whom you work. It’s all about positioning, leverage and whether or not you are an advocate for your own and others’ individuality.