Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Sustainability Education and Teaching Leadership

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Sustainability Education and Teaching Leadership

Article excerpt


Leadership development within higher education can be a catalyst for creating a more sustainable world, as engaged learners are prepared to seek and solve complex problems through critical analysis, collaboration, and service to their communities. The authors show how learning models from two institutions, based in principles of sustainability education, carry leadership theory into practice in the sustainability perspective and demonstrate how students can interact with their communities as a means both to learning and to facilitating forms of community-based leadership. This serves to help transform societies, on local and global scales, to durably sustainable ways.


The literature related to sustainable leadership in postsecondary education speaks to the need for collaborative engagement, relational or community-based leadership, critical reflection, and service or community-centered learning and leadership. Teachers sometimes find themselves isolated within the structure of their institutions (Lieberman, Saxl & Miles, 2007), unable to benefit from the collective experience of others. And, just as teachers express a desire to work together, students also enjoy collegial relationships. Collaborative learning is expansive and enriching, as students learn more from each other than from the teacher. This kind of engaged leadership also "needs to occur with inner self-reflection and interaction with others" (Mezirow, 2000). Most students thrive on interaction and praxis, and need to integrate their learning experience by turning it over in their minds, and then reinterpreting its validity through dialogue with others. In traditional learning spheres, such as Western Carolina University (WCU), the classroom/studio is open to multiple perspectives, invites discord and welcome disequilibrium.

Similarly, relational leadership commands positioning the community at the center of learning and links the student to the outside world (Komives, et al, 2007). This collaborative process is consistent with Freire's notion of liberating education (Kirkwood and Kirkwood, 1989). Transformed learners can work in teams and resist distractions, battle entropy and leverage relationships, all critical to survival. Equally important are the potential for creative thinking and innovative planning, and for resourcefulness--the competency to utilize a range of strategies and techniques. Just as transformed learners know how to exploit the talents of the team for the benefit of all, effective leaders know how to cultivate leadership in others. Leaders that understand how to capitalize on diversity in the population, whether they are workers, consumers or students, can benefit from multiple perspectives and practices (Thomas & Ely, 2007). The new millennium leader elevates leadership qualities in others and rewards transdisciplinary action, knowing that shared vision and continued motivation are keys to the team's or organization's sustenance.

Critical reflection, individually or collectively, is a tool for sustainable learning that holds a mirror to our behavior and responses. Reflective learning involves a realization of the terms we've accepted to live under. When we analyze our motives and priorities objectively and subjectively, we can contemplate new models and create alternative paradigms for ourselves. Such transformative learning invites risk, and the sensitive teacher provides a safety net that tempers the experience (Barth, 2007). Critical awareness of the assumptions that drive behavior enables learners to deconstruct and reconstruct their reality in a way that is congruent with their revising world-view. The conflict resulting from changing perceptions should not be assumed dysfunctional, but should be celebrated as flourishing dialectical thought, the ability to comprehend two realities simultaneously (Kohlberg, 1999), and then cultivated as an opportunity for deep learning. …

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