WHT: Exemplary Leaders

A learning community design and leadership theory that has the potential to develop more well-rounded students.

Photo of Alex Jurgens
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The William H. Thompson (WHT) Scholars Learning Community is a program that supports recipients of the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation Scholarship at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). The program is designed to help students with their academic, personal, and social development. WHT is unique because it not only wants to see students succeed academically at UNL, but also provides students with chances to network and critically think about several issues impacting our nation and the world. As students graduate from UNL and leave WHT, the idea is that each scholar develops a multitude of skills that prepare them for overall success.

During my undergraduate career at UNL, I became heavily involved with WHT, eventually becoming the President of the mentor program. WHT has 1,000 students at UNL and during my Presidency, there were 36 peer mentors. As the new leader for a program that already had several flourishing leaders in it, I wanted to design a leadership theme that made learning between mentor-student a two way street.

During one of my Educational Leadership classes at UNL, I was introduced to a leadership theory that would be useful. Exemplary Leadership is a theory developed by James M. Kouzes and Barry Posner. The five pillars of Exemplary Leadership give educators the opportunity to both shape and mold students to find well-rounded success and give students the opportunity to take command of their educational and leadership capabilities.

The Five Pillars are:

-Model the Way

-Inspire a Shared Vision

-Challenge the Process

-Enable Others to Act

-Encourage the Heart

As we began sharing this leadership theory amongst the peer mentors, my executive team and I noticed positive changes happening within the learning community. Not only were students improving academically, but the COMMUNITY aspect began to thrive. Students were actively engaged in interacting with their mentors and peers. The peer mentor group grew to be strongly inclusive and mentors developed positive personal and professional relationships. The Exemplary Leadership idea worked for this program and continues to make an impact there today.

I find Exemplary Leadership to be important in our approaches in building relationships with students. As we all work together to increase college graduation for all students, I believe that this leadership approach for educators can help with the effort. We need to have educators who will model the way for students to see their potential in persisting towards college graduation. That will inspire our shared vision of helping each student realize they are capable of a college degree. That vision is an obstacle, yet we can challenge the process, or the status quo, and motivate students towards their aspirations. Educators need to enable students to act, to take command of their education. Through this, we must encourage the hearts of our students. We need to validate their efforts. Everyone is working closely together in helping each student realize they can receive a college and everyone has exemplary leadership within themselves.

WHT taught me both how to be an Exemplary Leader and that success is determined by different facets of my life. My sense of academic, personal, and social development made me a college graduate, and I know that that is something we can instill in each student we work with.

WHT Website: http://www.unl.edu/wht/home


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Photo of Lisa Yokana

Hi Alex:

I actually read about that model of leadership in an administrator course I took several years ago. What appealed to me then and still sticks out, is the emphasis on modeling, encouraging through human empathy and relationships and the push to action! All so important to instill in both our teachers and our students. Thanks for your thoughts on this

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