As one grows, we explore the world through eyes born to us from leaders or authoritarian roles from our pasts.Through the use of ideology, propaganda, cultural rhetoric, etc. the learning style, the development of the soul with preset norms, beliefs, and codes of ethics are established, and the structure of the future (in large part) becomes based off of these past encounters. Jack Mezirow, in Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning (1991), believes that “As adult learners, we are caught in our own histories. However good we are at making sense of our experiences, we all have to start with what we have been given and operate within horizons set by ways of seeing and understanding that we have acquired through prior learning” (p. 1). Our Weltanschauung, or world view is initiated from these initial interactions or dictations because we have little in the form of experience to generate our own understandings. We stem many preconceived assumptions off of what our parents, grandparents, teachers and any other source of authoritarian and what they tell us.
As we enter new roles, such as one of leadership, we similarly interact within an
underlying influence from those that have lead before us. We base a great deal of our initial years within these roles off of these past interactions. A problem with this, as we have seen in the past, is that rhetoric and propaganda can be so overwhelmingly compelling that it offers us a truth that entices us to ignore everything else that tells us otherwise.There is an existent problem, because our ability to cluster and lack of ability to filter creates an area that one can drum up general assumptions. Many of the flaws with assumption building and generalizing are flaws consumed with stereotyping. Mezirow (1991) shares that “Ideologies [the final destination of an assumption] can vary from sophisticated theory to blind prejudices or biases such as racism, sexism, and chauvinistic nationalism. Such prejudices produce a “restricted” –that is, limited and stereotyped–linguistic code” (p. 131).
A field, such as education is supposed to symbolize the pursuit of overall knowledge and promote understanding. Yet, it too has a history riddled with prejudice, cruelty, injustice because of its own assumptions. Through Transformative learning, an individual has the opportunity to reframe misconstrued contexts. As we analyze our own Weltanschauung and apply it to new experiences and truly reflect upon these occurrences, we gain a new perspective that allows us to generate new meanings and completely change past thoughts or meanings of understanding. The implications associated with the true attainment of transformative learning are first, that without the ability to reflect and reframe, we perpetuate the cycle of dogmatic discourse from years of hand me down rhetoric. We inevitably cease to advance and we cement ourselves in the principles of our pasts. Secondly, when we blatantly group experiences and ignore their unique intricacies, we generalize. This postulation creates ignorance and has an ability to stereotype which breeds prejudice, discrimination and other forms of malice. Additionally, parroting of our previous authoritarian role models restricts our ability to coordinate with our core beliefs and tap into our authentic self; it also inhibits our ability to critically reflect.
Mezirow (1991) talks about how “reflection is the central dynamic in intentional
learning, problem-solving, and validity testing through rational discourse” (p. 99). A key
component to reflection is that fact that it is conducted under rational discourse. The ability to look coherently at situations suggests that ultimately, there must be a time distance between the action and the point of reflection. There is much to be said for rational reflection and decision making.If you are acting or reacting in a manner that parrots your previous models, you are not allowing for thoughtful reflection in decision making. As a leader, this can be a strong disservice to the community, the school, students and the teachers that you are working for because it leads to inaccurate assumptions and inauthentic discourse that strains communal relationships. As a leader, your strength is your ability to build and bridge relationships.
Mezirow (1990) states:
We continually move back and forth between the parts and the whole of that which we
seek to understand and between the event and our habits of expectation…. Over time, the resulting understanding can be further transformed as we come to discover its metaphoric significance in other experiential, theoretical, literary, or aesthetic contexts. (p. 3)
It is the necessity of this time (Mezirow states “over time”) that is used to strengthen understandings under all of the given contexts (experiential, theoretical, literary, & aesthetic) that allow us to make stronger more well-informed decisions.With transformative learning a time of reflection necessary to process the frames within your conscious—to find understanding, connections, coherence, etc.—in order to realign thinking processes, reform past perceptions and or create new waves of thought processes is of the utmost importance. As we move into authentic leadership roles, it is of paramount importance that we constantly reevaluate the information, beliefs, and principles that we have developed along the way of getting to where we have been. It is not suitable to suggest that a satisfactory previous response accurately represents a current situation. For this reason alone, we must evaluate, analyze, and critically reflect on any given situation.We can use our past experiences as guidance, but must critically reflect how much and to what extent we use these examples. We must allow for the opportunity and be open for the possibility of a view to be shifted, a contextual frame to be restructured, and another truth to come to light. Living “transformatively” means that you are aware that there are many truths and not just your own.
Being aware of this and being open to change are strong qualities of an effective leader. Allowing a paradigm to shift rather than ignoring and holding onto a nostalgic memory allow for true learning, which is how we as leaders should be inspiring others.
Mezirow, J. (1990). How Critical Reflection Triggers Transformative Learning. Fostering
Critical Reflection in Adulthood: A Guide to Transformative andEmancipatory Learning.
Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.