Students' self management and teachers' transformal leadership: encouraging students' challenge of understanding and taking responsibility for generic attributes

  • Elin Bommenel, Department of Service Management, Lund University, Campus Helsingborg, Helsingborg, Sweden

    Ulrika Westrup, Department of Service Management, Lund University, Campus Helsingborg, Helsingborg, Sweden

    Our study concerns the understanding of and responsibility for graduate attributes (as defined by Barrie 2004:269-270) among students in a management- and leadership bachelor program in Lund University, Sweden, in 2011. Half of the students come from non-academic backgrounds and 1/3 are first- or second generation immigrants. As teachers on the program and as educational developers at the university, we have since 2007 developed a “Toolbox for academic studies”, inspired by Drew’s research on student development in higher education (Drew 1998 and 2001). The Toolbox today consists of a series of learning activities, geared towards five learning outcomes concerning fundamental academic competences, time- and stress management, understanding your own learning process, working in groups and focusing through goals. The learning outcomes have been framed as central to academic habitus to the often very positive students (inspired by Bourdieu, 1988). Receiving a research grant to document and develop the Toolbox, we decided to move in the direction of Clegg & Bufton’s research on personal development plans and student self management (Clegg & Bufton 2008). We wanted to find out how to help students advance in their understanding and ownership of self management. We focused on the ten-week introductory course, as the skills acquired during this period seem to be crucial to achievement in following years (Torenbeek et al. 2011:665). As responsible for the introductory course on a management- and leadership program, we now cast the Toolbox vocabulary in terms of leadership, rather than the previous academic habitus. Because we knew from earlier research how formative it is to student experience that teachers dare to take on a leadership role (Bommenel & Irhammar 2008), we took on, and communicated, a transformal leadership role, as defined by Yukl, where the leaders (teachers) work to develop followers (students) in to leaders (self-managing students) (Yukl 1999). On four occasions, we used barometers to document the 308 students’ self estimated progress on the five learning outcomes in relation to scheduled learning activities. The barometers were then used in a final meta-reflection on personal progress. The meta reflections were classified (by us) in to three depths of understanding; sufficient, deep and engaged. Biggs’ terms declarative/procedural knowledge were used to demarcate a sufficient level of understanding. His terms conditional/functioning knowledge were used to search for a deep level of understanding (Biggs 2007:42-43). Mårtensson & Roxå's adaptation of Wenger’s term “shared enterprise”, found only in where students feel included in teachers’ enterprises (Mårtensson & Roxå 2011), were used to look for an engaged understanding. The meta reflections were also classified to probe assumed responsibility by measuring how often students expressed insights about strengths and weaknesses and/or strategies for developing them and/or goals for graduation day. We would like to discuss our surprisingly positive findings regarding the depth of the students’ understanding of and their readiness to take responsibility for self management. We would also like to discuss potential benefits for other educations in  helping teachers to take on a transformal leadership-approach to self management and to the graduate attributes contained within.