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How Do You Develop Leadership Skills On An EEI Bus Program?

How Do You Develop Leadership Skills on an EEI Bus Program?

Leadership in the backcountryEEI, with its expedition model of education, has been a leader in transformative experiential teaching and learning for over 40 years. It began as the Trailside Country School, evolved into the Audubon Expedition Institute (in partnership with Lesley University), and has now re-emerged as the Expedition Education Institute (EEI), affiliated with Marlboro College. Students leave the bus able to assume roles as trailblazers or team members in diverse fields, ranging from agriculture to politics, from teaching to environmental positions in both for-profit and not-for-profit businesses and organizations, as writers and artists. They are better prepared to further their education, if they so choose, and their potential is recognized across vocational alternatives well beyond this list.

Parker Palmer leadership modelEEI has traditionally challenged the “expert” model believing we need to shift from charismatic leaders to collaborative “leadership” systems. The assumption of leadership roles on the bus is based on making thoughtful matches between individual’s skills, growth edges, and the parameters of the task at hand. Leadership is an engaged, collaborative, social process, seen as happening within a system and responsive to it.

While many have viewed our world and education through “silos” of disciplines, EEI has always taught from a transdisciplinary perspective, seeing the world as intrinsically interconnected. Students on the bus have the opportunity to:

  • Explore transformative leadership for social and environmental change in order to address climate change, inequities of all sorts, indigenous issues, with a systems approach
  • Learn to become change agents, involved in collective action that moves to address the world’s complex, interdependent issues
  • Develop self-knowledge, hone their emotional intelligence, and gain communication skills
  • Practice collaboration, recognizing that effective leadership is guided by the recognition that we are each part of a web – a network – and all have significant contributions to make
  • Consider diverse ideas in creative new ways, learning to manage appropriate risks
  • Gain flexibility and ability to assess and adapt to changing circumstances
  • Understand the importance of listening as a leader

EEI believes that the times call for radical and imaginative changes in approaches to leadership. It is our view that the nature of the challenges we are facing globally are rapidly evolving and increasingly complex. The world we live in is an emergent one where the future is uncertain and the needs are great. We are called to challenge assumptions on a basic level – individually and collectively, reaching across disciplines and other divides.

Do all leaders look and act alike? Probably not. Are leaders always in the front of the room or at the front of the line? Why or why not?

how leadership can look "on the bus"-in a circle Brad Lancaster, a leader in drylands permaculture

We explore where our perspectives on leadership have come from and begin the work to discern how we want to craft our own personal leadership approaches through:

  • Developing empathy and learning to listen to and “see” others
  • Learning to recognize social and cultural differences that may impact whether we choose to step forward as a leader or become an ally
  • Acknowledging that one size does not fit all: Exploring leadership styles, personality types, communication skills, and group dynamics
  • Modelling & mentoring students in different leadership approaches
  • Learning to know and respect the self through personal reflective practice as well as seeing ourselves through others’ eyes
  • Learning how to build trust and nurture relationships, fostering hope and compassion
  • Meeting with effective change agents in the regions we are studying
  • Fostering an understanding of the role of collaboration in leading for change

Students have plenty of real-time experience in practicing their leadership skills in group check ins, decision-making meetings, arranging schedules with off-bus resources, participating in feedback circles, etc. The EEI bus program offers the all too rare opportunity to be empowered in a collaborative leadership role. Students will get embodied and experiential learning about their own leadership approach in a supportive environment. In these ways, the Expedition Education Institute’s bus program mentors leaders for the Twenty-first century, helping to foster the knowledge, skills, and wisdom called for by the future.

sustainable living leadership


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