Five Lessons for becoming a Teacher-Leader

No one reports to me at West Chester University, but in the past, I’ve headed large and small departments and taught for many years.  Of necessity, I’ve thought about the qualities of good leaders and found the strengths and lapses in myself.  I did my best as a leader when I remembered five lessons from the classroom.           

  1. LESSON ONE: Teacher-leaders share knowledge.  Can you imagine a teacher who won’t tell his students how to punctuate a sentence for fear they might surpass his writing skill?  Or a math instructor who refuses to teach quadratic equations because that talent gives her power and position she intends to hoard?  Only the worst teachers—or leaders—say, in so many words, “What I know makes me special, so I’m going to keep it to myself!”
  2. LESSON TWO: Teacher-leaders expect their employees to help one another, to play fair, and to collaborate.  Can you imagine the results for a teacher who pits his students against one another in order to maintain his tight control?  Effective teachers encourage students to work together in teams, discussion groups, study sessions, and mentoring or tutoring relationships.  Some leaders forget this lesson, as did a college official I knew in another state: he secretly assigned the same duties to more than one person so the folks involved would stay at each other’s throats and stay away from his.
  3. LESSON THREE: Teacher-leaders view everyone as of equal worth, even if each person has different responsibilities and authority.  Can you imagine a teacher who fails to greet someone because that individual is a mere student?  Yet most of us have found ourselves invisible to some folks above a certain lofty level.  Great teacher-leaders do not regard anyone as a lower order of being. 
  4. LESSON FOUR: Teacher-leaders seek to bring out the very best in their employees, encouraging them to grow, to dream, and to strive for those dreams through practical, concrete steps.  The success of any individual contributes to the success of the group and of its leader.  In addition to conveying information and skills, strong teachers want to inspire their students to love their subject, to work hard, to find satisfaction and fulfillment, and to understand the meaning in what they are learning and doing.  And so it is with great leaders in the world beyond the classroom.
  5. LESSON FIVE: Teacher-leaders learn from their employees.  The notion that the best way to learn a subject is to teach it is no mere cliché, nor is the idea that students themselves have lessons to offer.  So it is, too, with the finest leaders and those they lead.  Everyone brings unique talents and contributions, just as we each have our individual weaknesses and needs.

I miss teaching, but I hope to remember some of its most important lessons.  Whether I am formally in a position of leadership or am leading informally in a short-term context, I will offer most if I remember the best of the teachers I knew and the best of myself in those now-distant classrooms.

Winnie Hayek,  Office of the President, West Chester University


My WCU Pride… 25 Years Later.

This summer I celebrated a career milestone with West Chester University.   When I was initially offered an entry level position in WCU’s Human Resources Office in 1986, my goal was to stay “3 to 5 years”  before making my  next career move.  After all, I already had some very memorable WCU experiences  I completed my Master’s in Organizational Psychology, met my “future” wife (and the mother of our three amazing children), and started my career here.

If you would have told me back then I’d be celebrating 25 years of service to this organization this year, I probably would have laughed. However as I reflect on the past years now, I am not surprised the length of my service (and that of so many of my colleagues.)  The three reasons I have stayed here this long, still have WCU on my horizon, and have such a strong sense of WCU pride are: Community, Flexibility and Opportunity.

I have the privilege to work with so many amazing colleagues in the WCU community who show the same commitment, ethics and empathy I strive to model on a daily basis.  This is a community that especially comes together in times of triumph and challenge.  Newer employees often say how knowledgeable, friendly and helpful everyone is here at WCU; these are the attributes I want to encounter on a daily basis.

WCU also offers the flexibility for me to work hard to make a strategic difference, yet encourages work/life balance.  Having twin daughters who are soccer and track athletes, I am able to attend most of their events while others’ parents only get to see the pictures afterwards.  These memories and the flexibility to be home for dinner most nights is a benefit I truly value and don’t take for granted.  I watched my father work late nights and miss many of my milestones and I wanted something different for my family.

Lastly, I have had the opportunity and privilege to grow and perform different roles over the years, get involved in many local and statewide committees, and see the impact of and be recognized for my work. In my most recent work with Training and Organizational Development, I especially have been able to give so much back to this amazing community and still take advantage of new opportunities afforded to me.

I look forward to this continued sense of pride and passion in WCU’s past, current and future, and hope I enthuse the same in others through my words and actions.

Scott J. Sherman, CPC, MA ’86, Director of WCU’s Office of Training and Organizational Development

How to “Make a Difference” All Year Long

Did you know that October 22nd is Make a Difference Day?  LEARN more…

While many of us know that each day we should strive to make a difference, there are those things that take us off that path to doing “good” deeds. 

 Starting today, I challenge you to think about making difference from a new perspective.

What if… you started each day by taking the “I Make a Difference” pledge?  “I express my gratitude, notice the good, possess positive self-talk, and use my gifts and talents.”

What if…
you got everyone around you to take the “I Make a Difference” pledge?

  • If you are a teacher or professor, see what happens when you get your students to live it.
  • If you lead people, launch the idea at your next staff meeting.
  • If you work in a team, encourage everyone to take the pledge together.
  • If you are a student, model the way for your friends.
  • If you are a parent, pitch the idea at the dinner table.

The 7 Day Challenge

At the end of the week, come back together to share all the good things that you did AND what happened to you as a result of intentionally living the “I Make a Difference” pledge. 

Want more? Take the 21 Day Challenge

See what happens when you take the pledge for 21 days. Doing “good” will become a way of life!  Show how a “Make a Difference Day” can last all year long.

Here’s to making a difference all year long for WCU and beyond!

Molly Nece, Coach, Consultant, Training, WCU Office of Training and Organizational Development,

My Boss Is the Best

Boss’s Day is Monday, October 17th. It provides employees an opportunity to recognize their bosses for what they do.  In these times of increased job responsibility and economic pressures, a few employees decided to share why their boss is the BEST!

Want to add a submission?  E-mail

Tom Purce, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, is the driving force behind the Residence Life and Housing Services office.  His sense of humor and wit make coming to work every day an enjoyable event.  His compassion and dedication is a constant reminder of why we are all here—to serve our students. Judging by the comments I have heard and notes that I have read by many of those students, Tom has had a profound impact on many young lives. His example inspires all of us in Residence Life & Housing to support each other in a common goal—to send young men and women into the working world, equipped with the tools to be independent, self-reliant individuals.” -Stephanie Paulachok, Residence Life and Housing Services

“My boss, Megan Cantalupo, WCU’s Alumni Director, is truly a great woman to work for and with. She is extremely competent, knowledgeable, creative and fair. I’ve learned so much from her and continue to learn from her. Not only does she share technical skills, but also people skills and better ways to express myself in emails and speaking, etc. She has made me reach and grow personally and in my job. I know I still have a long way to go, but I feel I’ve made some strides and I thank her for her input to help me be a better “me.” I’ve also never seen her lose her temper or treat anyone with anything other than the utmost respect. I feel I can always trust her to have my best interests at heart and feel truly blessed to work for such a great person! Thank you, Megan.” -Susan Truett, Alumni Office

Bethann Cinelli, our new chairperson, is creative, helpful and energetic.  Her enthusiasm and supportive solutions to any problem make working in our department a pleasure. Her encouragement and kind comments in person or via email make me feel appreciated and respected.”  -Maura Sheehan, Environmental Health Professor

“Our leader, Adel Barimani, WCU’s Vice President for Information Services, shows by example that with hard work and dedication anything can be achieved. Adel challenges us every day to bring forth our best ideas and creative ways to get the job done. By example, he sets the bar high and encourages us to not only meet, but surpass expectations. It has been a pleasure having the opportunity to work with Adel!” -Donna Beckett, Division for Information Services

“I want to thank my boss, Don Barr, Dean of the College of Health Sciences, for everything he does for us.  He is a great motivator and he has a way of making us a smart and collectively responsible group.  Thank you Don for all that you do!” -Deb Murray, College of Health Sciences

“What makes working so pleasant is my boss, Charlotte Mackey, Chairperson of the Nursing Department. I consider myself fortunate to work closely with someone so dedicated to the students and the advancement of nursing at WCU. Happy Boss’s Day, Charlotte!” -Linda Morrow, Nursing Department

“There are many characteristics that make up a “good boss”—honesty, compassion, dedication and a sense of humor—just to name a few.  You should consider yourself lucky if you work for someone who has a few. Working for someone with all of these characteristics is truly rare.  I have the pleasure of working for Larry Dowdy, the Executive Deputy to the President.  Larry is the perfect blend of professionalism and chivalry, focus and humor, dedication and motivation.  He never asks anything of anyone he wouldn’t and hasn’t done himself.  Even though we interact multiple times a day on tasks, he never asks me to do anything without a “please” and “thank you.”  That may seem trite, but when you work with someone every day over time, sometimes people can take each other for granted and relationships can be strained.  Larry is always gracious, thoughtful, kind, and fair and that makes working for him a pleasure.”  -Kate Pawlowski, President’s Office

“My boss, Scott Sherman, WCU’s Director of Organizational Development, is truly the best and the brightest. Having 25 years in the HR field and a certified coach, he helps to transform lives at work, home, and in his community. He models the way as an exceptional supervisor because he allows me to put forth my creative ideas and speak my mind in order to achieve the best possible outcomes for the university.  People don’t leave their company because of their job. It typically has something to do with their boss. In this case, it is because of my boss that I’ve decided to stay, grow, and achieve great things for him and my organization. Thanks Scott for modeling the way for so many people!” -Molly Nece, Office of Training and Organizational Development

The Student Becomes the Teacher, and Vice Versa

The task of leadership is not to put greatness into people, but to elicit it, for the greatness is there already. -John Buchan

When I’m teaching, I am the one at the front of the room. I am the one referred to as “Professor.” I am the one with the most degrees in the room. Therefore, far too often I am seen as the Resident Expert. And much of the time, I suppose I am. But there are some important moments when I let my students take the reins and they teach. They teach me a new way of thinking about old material, they teach their peers how to understand a theory; they teach each other how to change the world.

Now, I am not dismissing my own role in this scenario. I am not devaluing my position in the classroom. But, I am a strong believer in never taking yourself too seriously, which can be difficult sometimes in academia. An integral part of being a teacher is knowing you will also always remain a student, just as we all do. Understanding that about myself allows me to leave myself open to the moments in which roles are more fluid and every single person in my classroom takes turns at any given moment being teacher and student; and we are all learning all the time. Learning how to be better students, better teachers, better people…I hope. 

Just the other day I was teaching my class about language, its power, and at times, its repercussions. We were discussing the phrase “that’s so gay” and the way it creates and reinforces subtle homophobia even if you say or think that you “didn’t mean it that way.” I give this lecture every semester hoping that my students understand my purpose and the implications behind the phrase. I hope that they start being more aware of what comes out of their mouths. But to a certain extent, I know that for some, this is just another lecture, and one that they won’t listen to or take seriously.

Then, one of my students raised his hand to paraphrase this poem written by pastor Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

And went on to explain that if we don’t speak up for today’s marginalized groups, we will become the next marginalized group and there will be no one to speak up for us then. He became the leader at that moment. He became the voice that everyone was listening to. And statements like that often need to come from a peer to make a real impact.

So by allowing my classroom’s roles to be fluid, and allowing the position of “leader” to be up for grabs at any given moment, I find my students to be responsible, inspirational, and moving. I find them teaching themselves, teaching each other, and teaching me how to teach all over again.

Tara Musser – Professor, Communication & Women’s Studies Departments

Team Work Makes the Dream Work!

On June 23, 2011, the staff members of the President’s Office participated in a retreat with the Office of Training and Organizational Development team. As a result of the retreat, we were able to find out things about our co-workers that we would otherwise not know, as we sometimes tend to keep these things to ourselves, or think that we are either too busy to share, or just not comfortable in sharing.  We found out who liked to travel where, what foods certain staff members enjoyed eating (and didn’t enjoy), favorite vehicles to drive, favorite movies, etc. and even what each person would do if they came into a large sum of money!

Some of the important things that came out of the retreat is that when you work, you should make it a fun place to be, show your company pride, imagine the “other” possibilities (creativity) of any given situation, be resourceful, and it’s okay think outside of the box.  In working together, day after day, we realize more now that “team work makes the dream work!”  Since the Fall semester, the staff members have participated (and planned) something fun outside of the office for the rest of this semester. 

WCU is truly a great place to work and we realize that workplace happiness can truly boost productivity and cuts out a lot of absenteeism.  Ask me, I’ve been here 25 years!

Grace Hackett Kelly, Administrative Assist to the President and Executive Deputy to the President

Handle the Truth

teams as well as couples have a list of undiscussables, issues they avoid broaching at all costs in order to preserve a modicum of peace, to preserve the relationship. In reality, the relationship steadily deteriorates for lack of the very conversation they so carefully avoid. It’s difficult to raise the level if the slide has lasted over a period of years, and that is what keeps many of us stuck.          —–Susan Scott, in Fierce Conversations

As long as I can remember, I have always been struck by the lack of honesty in conversations. It seems futile to me. Why talk, why relate if you won’t be honest with each other? People walk around constructing fictional stories about what is happening. Instead of putting ourselves out there, we place our mannequin selves in the world to talk with others’ less than life-size dolls. A young man tells his soon to be ex-girlfriend, “It’s not you, it’s me.” A boss tells the employee, “You didn’t get the promotion because the other candidate was just more qualified.” And a woman tells the waiter “Everything is fine.” It’s fiction; it’s deceit, and it’s destructive to people and relationships. It prohibits us from living the honest, connected lives we all yearn for. It blocks growth in organizations.

On occasion, the audience buys your fictional story. More often than not, deep down he/she knows that it’s a tale, and another insipid story is constructed. The story says “I can’t trust what people say, people don’t believe in me enough to be honest with me, there is something wrong with me, I can’t get a fair shake.” And in return they give you more fiction. Reality is lost. Mistrust is gained.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, you can’t always be honest with people. It’s often better to shade the truth or leave things undisclosed.“  To that, I say two things:

  1. You have obviously been told a lot of stories – and told a few yourself.
  2. How’s that working for you?

Six years after hiring a narcissistic, insecure manager who wreaked havoc on the company, a vice president asked an exiting employee for advice: “What do I do with this manager? She berates me and is despised all over the company. I was hoping her peers would deal with her.” After six years, one-hundred percent turnover, and immeasurable damage to the organization, the VP was still unwilling to have honest conversations with herself, with the manager and with numerous people throughout the organization. One year later the manager was fired. Why? What took so long? The longer the tale, the harder it is to look up to face reality.


Who can forget how the infuriated Colonel Jessep pompously screams “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH” at Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee in the movie, A Few Good Men. I believe this line resonates with so many of us not only because it is Kaffee’s triumphant moment, but also because at some level we believe it. People simply can’t handle the truth.

You must handle the truth – that is the truth. It would seem obvious but it seems not be. Top-selling books, Good to Great, Fierce Conversations, and Integrity all feature facing the truth as a central component of personal and business success. Why does it need to be said? Because it is a habit that is so uncommon in our world, that’s why.

A few weeks ago I attended a training program. During the first evening of training, one facilitator dominated the dialogue. He talked over his counterpart and crowded out any room for participant engagement. My initial reaction was to withdraw and, honestly, to dislike the man. Despite myself, I resolved to speak truth. The next morning before class I caught-up with the facilitator and gave him some straight feedback. Guess what he did. He handled the truth; no he embraced it and thanked me for caring about him! There in that conversation, a relationship was reborn. I left it liking him and him liking me. The rest of the workshop went very well. I, and about twenty other people, re-engaged in the workshop because we handled the truth. That conversation cost me nothing, salvaged the $18,000 expense for the course, and is producing a tremendous return on the investment.

Now, as I sit here recounting this story, I feel incredibly gratified because that is what I do for a living. I help people have honest truthful conversations with themselves, with their teams, and with their stakeholders and customers. As a result, they can make effective decisions and move forward together honestly and productively.

Guest Blogger: Michel Boyes, founder of Credo Consulting, helps leaders become more effective, solve their problems, and get better results. WCU Alumni Class of 82,