Intentional Emergence Teaching and Learning: A Contemporary and Compassionate Pedagogy for Teaching Leadership

By Linnette Werner, David Hellstrom, and Krista M. Soria

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Linnette WernerLinnette Werner, Interim Assistant Vice Provost for Student Life, began her career in 1996 in educational research with the University of Minnesota, joining its newly created Leadership Minor in 2001 as an instructor and eventually becoming its director in 2006.

David Hellstrom

 David Hellstrom has been working in higher education in various leadership capacities over the last 25 years. His current work in leadership has focused on curriculum innovation and instructor development in the Leadership Minor at the University of Minnesota.

Krista M. SoriaKrista M. Soria is an analyst with the Office of Institutional Research and an adjunct instructor for the Leadership Minor at the University of Minnesota. She is interested in researching high-impact practices associated with students' development and success, among other things.

If we believe that leadership learning is not only lifelong but lifewide, meaning that it happens not only throughout our lives but in every sphere of our lives (Jackson, 2011), then one of the challenges leadership educators must address is how to bridge theory and practice so that learning can transfer from one context to another. Within our context, a large academic leadership minor at a research-intensive public university (University of Minnesota, Twin Cities ), we originally addressed this gap the way many instructors do — with engaging teaching methods such as case studies, discussions, small group work, research projects, reflection, and feedback (Jenkins, 2012). However, we found that undergraduates seldom had the lived experiences necessary to make the leadership jump from the classroom to the real world. In response, we created a new, more comprehensive pedagogy to address these gaps.

The intentional emergence (IE) pedagogy uses the classroom as a living laboratory for learning and changing default leadership behaviors. This model was originally inspired by case-in-point teaching (Parks, 2005), but we added many new factors to guide emergent learning toward desired pre-determined or intentional outcomes. For example, where case-in-point mostly attends to the emergent moments while in class, IE recognizes the need for intentional scaffolding of experiences as well as a foundation of student support and clear direction. IE has additional layers that ground the pedagogy in compassion and contemplative practice (Zajonc, 2013), skill development (Dreyfus, 2008; Dreyfus & Dreyfus, 1980), transformational learning (Mezirow, 2000), neuroscientific views of learning (Zull, 2002, 2006), and critical leadership theory (Taylor & Brownell, 2017).

The Intentional Emergence Model
Figure 1
. The Intentional Emergence Model of Teaching and Learning

Through the IE Model, an instructor, as the instrument of leadership and authority in the classroom, works with students (each through their own multiple identities, triggers, lenses, etc.) to use both intention (e.g., curriculum or lesson plans) and what emerges (e.g., discussion, questions, or current events) to bridge theory and practice. The immediacy of this context, in the sense that it is connected to authentic arising risk and vulnerability/authenticity, differentiates IE from the use of case studies and simulations. A more detailed description of the pedagogy is available by downloading the sample chapter of Engaging Young Leaders (Werner & Hellstrom, 2017).

Research and Evaluation of the IE Model

When we first began using the IE model in 2006, we tracked student satisfaction rates across course sections using the model and compared them to those not yet using IE. We found that instructors who employed IE consistently received 30% higher student satisfaction ratings than their counterparts. After implementing and standardizing the IE model across all sections, the average course recommendation (i.e., “I would recommend this course”) increased by 10% and the overall course experience (i.e., “Overall, how would you rate this course?”) positively increased by 23% (Werner, et al., 2016). Moving beyond students’ self–reported responses, we used propensity score matching to compare students in the minor with comparable peers who were not in the program to control for self-selection bias. We found that:

… the model is highly effective in retaining students, persistence toward graduation, and campus engagement when compared to matched samples of peers. For example, students who took even one course using this model of teaching, were six times more likely to be retained their first and second years of college than students who were not exposed to this model (n=528, eβ = 6.692, p < .001). A comprehensive analysis of Student Experience in the Research University data corroborated these findings. Students who participated in one course using the IE had significantly greater academic engagement (β = .211, p < .001), more engagement in advanced scholarship (β = .129, p < .05), and greater development of an understanding of diversity over their peers who did not enroll in the course (β = .200, p < .05) (Werner, et al., 2016).

Practices to Try in Your Context

Where might you begin with implementing the IE model? Here are three first steps we have found helpful.

The first step is unlearning. In traditional views of education, the teacher is sole source of authority and knowledge, which often leads teachers to defend their expertise and their own competencies in order to maintain status and order in the classroom. When applying the IE model, instructors let go of the traditional authority model and instead approach the curriculum as co-created so the instructor role becomes “guide” rather than expert. If an instructor has not adequately examined his/her own beliefs about authority, power, identity, or the role students play in the classroom, this approach will most likely be unsuccessful because the instructor’s need to be seen as a competent leadership instructor may become threatened.

Begin experimenting with the activity of noticing, stopping the action, and connecting to the next moment. As instructors, noticing what is happening in the moment means looking for patterns of engagement, perspectives from multiple identities, marginalization, factions that are forming, and monitoring the energy (or lack thereof) in the room. The instructor then has to make choices about if, when, and how to stop the current action in the classroom. Such activities can happen by challenging and supporting the students in noticing or analyzing the class themselves. For example, they might ask:

  • Who is doing the work in the space right now?
  • Who gains and loses in this space?
  • Are there other interpretations?
  • How is identity playing a role in what we are noticing (or not noticing)?

Finally it becomes the role of the instructor to connect what is emerging to the “next” big moment such as larger concepts, readings, and outcomes — either by inviting the class to go back to where they started and try a new process to achieve a different outcome or by choosing a new place from where to begin. Often, the decision is co-created with students who are demonstrating effective leadership practices through teaching leadership.

View your engagement with students through the lens of challenge as well as support. When interacting with students, instructors take on the dual role of both challenging and supporting students in each emergent moment. Instructors might support their students by first acknowledging their lived experiences, risks, competencies, strengths, or good intentions behind their actions. Instructors also challenge students in the same moment by pushing them past superficial answers or connections, pushing them out of comfort zones (e.g., talking in class or restraining themselves from talking too much) or by holding steady (e.g., due dates or grades). But, the instructor challenges students with compassion, not detachment, both to support transformation and to model effective and compassionate leadership. In this way, the classroom becomes a vehicle for lifewide learning instead of a roadblock.


Dreyfus, H. L. (2008). On the Internet . London, UK: Routledge.

Dreyfus, S. E., & Dreyfus, H. L. (1980). A Five-Stage Model of the Mental Activities Involved in Directed Skill Acquisition. Washington, DC: Storming Media.

Engaging Young Leaders. (April 23, 2017). Leadership Education and Development, University of Minnesota. Retrieved from www.EngagingYoungLeaders.com/literature

Parks, S. (2005). Leadership Can Be Taught: A Bold Approach for a Complex World. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Jackson, N. J. (2011). Learning for a Complex World: A Lifewide Concept of Learning, Education and Personal Development. Bloomington, IL: AuthorHouse Publishing.

Jenkins, D. M. (2012). Exploring Signature Pedagogies in Undergraduate Leadership Education. Journal of Leadership Education, 11(1), 1-27.

Mezirow, J. (2000). Learning as Transformation: Critical Perspectives on a Theory in Progress. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Taylor, L., & Brownell, E. (in press, anticipated 2017). Building Inclusive Leaders: A Framework for Leadership Education. In A. Boitano, R. L. Dutra, & H. E. Schockman (Eds.), Breaking the Zero-Sum Game: Transforming Societies Through Inclusive Leadership. Bingley, UK: Emerald Publishing, Ltd.

Werner, L. & Hellstrom, D. (2017). Engaging Young Leaders: A Contemporary and Compassionate Approach to Teaching Adaptive Leadership. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Werner, L., Hellstrom, D., Chung, J., Kessenich, K. Taylor, L., & Capeder, A. (2016). Bridging Theory and Practice in the Leadership Classroom: Intentional Emergence as a Modern Pedagogy. Journal of Leadership Education, 15(4), 206-216.

Zajonc, A. (2013). Contemplative pedagogy: A Quiet Revolution in Higher Education. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 134, 83-94.

Zull, J. E. (2006). Key Aspects of How the Brain Learns. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 110, 3-9.

Zull, J. E. (2002). The Art of Changing the Brain: Enriching the Practice of Teaching by Exploring the Biology of Learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

About PAUSE for Pedagogy

PAUSE for Pedagogy aims to connect leadership education theory to practice and seeks to take lessons learned in the classroom to expand our theoretical knowledge of teaching and learning. Written for both the experienced educator and those new to the profession, this column will add tools to readers’ pedagogical toolboxes. Most columns are accompanied by a video interview with the author exploring the ideas raised in the article in more detail. The series is edited by Lisa Endersby and Dan Jenkins, members of ILA’s Leadership Education Member Interest Group. Have you implemented an innovative practice in your leadership education? Contact Dan and Lisa at pauseforpedagogy@ila-net.com

Dan Jenkins Photo Dan Jenkins is Director and Assistant Professor of Leadership & Organizational Studies at the University of Southern Maine. He received his doctorate in Curriculum & Instruction (Higher Education Administration) from the University of South Florida. The chief focus of Dan’s research agenda is leadership education. Dan is a past Chair of the ILA Leadership Education MIG, Secretary of the Association of Leadership Educators, and Co-Chair of the ILA Leadership Education Academy. Follow Dan @Dr_Leadership.

Lisa Endersby Photo Lisa Endersby is a speaker, educator, and storyteller exploring the intersecting realms of technology, leadership, and assessment in higher education. She has recently begun her doctoral work, investigating professional development in online communities of practice. Lisa is also National Chair for the NASPA Technology Knowledge Community (TKC). Lisa enjoys numerous volunteer roles with ACPA and ILA and can be reached at lmendersby@gmail.com.

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