Philosophy of education

I come from a long line of uncommon teachers. An uncommon teacher is one who teaches or trains in the duties of an everyday work life, rather than in a classroom. My father was a videographer who far preferred explaining the intricate guts or the laborious editing process than the actual job of shooting a wedding or editing the event afterward. In his spare time, he would elaborate on the way a car engine was put together, why the clouds were cumulus before a storm, or the exact process of how to perfectly cook a soft boiled egg. My mother was celebrated as an encourager, a trainer, and a mentor. She relished in the act of taking a neophyte through what normally was an agonizing dance of making mistakes, and surpassed her peers in her ability to toss the neophyte into action while at the same time holding the learners’ hands. After 25 years of trying to operate a small sales business, she finally found her passion in mentoring and training missionaries for the field.

Background of new model. From these experiences of uncommon teachers, plus my ten years of teaching experience, I have developed a unique model of education for adult learners (specifically, above the age of 17). My model was inspired by classic theories of education (Bloom, 1956), combined with a Christological worldview and my own unique perspective. I have also used Jane Vella’s approach (2002), some ideas of Parker Palmer (1998), and some of Bruce Chilton’s research (2000) on the concept of the teacher during first century Jerusalem which paved the way for the unique style utilized by Jesus. In this paper, I will apply each of the ten areas of my model to a specific question relating to learning theory. The goal of this paper is to clearly illustrate and define a new model of education and learning that is both based on the transformation of the individual towards a Christ-like state, as well as instilling an ethical approach towards cross-cultural education (specifically in comparison with Chinese models of education, as I am a teacher in a Chinese university).

Based on apotheosis (or heroic transformation), my model should not be confused with Meizrow’s transformational model (1991), which focuses on the three meaning schemes of beliefs, attitudes, and emotional reactions. My model uses three core concepts of educational psychology in Bloom’s taxonomy (1956): cognitive (to know), affective (to change behavior), and psychomotor (to experience). I relate the concepts to 1st Corinthians 13:13: “And now these three remain: faith (cognitive, to know), hope (psychomotor, to experience), love (affective, to change behavior).”

With the goal of apotheosis, each of the three concepts (faith, hope, love) expands into two paths. Faith (known in the model as enlightenment) opens into synthesis (ability to process knowledge) and intellect (ability to utilize knowledge), hope (known in the model as pilgrimage) opens into enculture (lifestyle) and expertise (skills), and love (known in the model as virtue) opens into eudaimonia (happiness) and discernment (critical thinking). Faith is dyadic, necessitating an acceptance of both belief in a creator and reason (see Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter on fides et ratio, September 14, 1998), hope is ultimately focused around the eschatology of the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth through the return of Jesus Christ, and love is centered in the Second Commandment: “to love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 12:30-31). I will review each of the ten concepts in my model by answering a simple question about adult education and learning. I divided the questions into three categories: 1)What is learning?, 2)the adult learner, and 3)the teacher as learner.

Figure 1: Original educational model of transformation

educational transformation

What is learning?

1. What is the purpose of learning? The purpose of learning is heroic transformation, or what is known in Greek as apotheosis. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and accepted and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Paul was an educated man, studied in the classics, letters, and holy texts yet he continued to encourage transformation into the image of Christ. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). For myself, education has always been an occupation of a hero-raiser, but as a Christian heroic qualities must always be drawn from the image of Christ.

Jesus was a teacher and leader, mentor and encourager. He was a recognized as a rabbi by other teachers of the law, and was a member of the highly celebrated chasid caste (rabbis who were anointed by God and could channel the ruach, or Holy Spirit), revered even among Jewish leaders such as Gamaliel (Chilton, 2000). He was a pupil of John the Baptist, and continued his master’s legacy through the practice of John’s mishnah (words and actions that conveyed one’s teachings), while making the mishnah totally his own. Just as Christ transformed his own talmid (disciples) through mastering halakhah (a rabbi whose actions were equal to his words), so a teacher must focus on transformation, specifically oriented towards teaching and training pupils so that they do adopt the same methods and capacity to think critically in their own lives. The purpose of learning, therefore, is to become transformed into a new creature in the image of Christ.

2. What is the definition of learning? To learn is to fundamentally process information in such a way that the information is coded and chunked for interpretation, also known as synthesis. According to Waitzin (2007), learning is accomplished when a series of tasks take place, much like a long journey: 1)intelligent preparation, 2)cultivated resilience, 3)informational naturalization through incremental practice so that 4)when one carefully assimilates information for pattern recognition (known as chunking), 5)the focus becomes enlarged, simplistic, defined, and ready for utilization. Synthesis is classically seen as the solution to the struggle between thesis and antithesis, where common truths are reconciled between the proposition and reaction to said proposition. In learning, synthesis is the ability to hear an intellectual concept, intuit the boundaries, and classify what is common for categorization.

As an aspect of faith, learning as a journey is intimately attached to the act of listening, watching, and practice. As Paul says: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). In many places in scripture, learning is equated with receiving the Holy Spirit, implying a humility that passes intellectual boundaries (Galatians 3:2), ending in a beautiful communion with the Creator of the universe.

3. What is the truth of adult learning? The truth of adult learning is that no matter how much one learns, learning can never be truly achieved without embracing enlightenment. For children, learning is a technique that allows them to pass through the expectations of society: test-skills, essay patterns, and reading abilities are important powers to achieve academic fluency. However for adults, learning must breathe on its own, just as Palmer states: “geologists are people who hear rocks speak, historians are people who hear the voices of the long dead, writers are people who hear the music of words” (p. 107, 1998). For children, the aspect of being learned is one’s educational status; for adults, the act of maturity in knowledge, where light is literally shone onto a dark space deepening insight through a delicate dance between spiritual truth and reason. In Palmer’s example, the act of listening to rocks doesn’t transform the geologist into a rock worshiper, the historian into a necromancer, or the writer into a mystic; rather, the enlightened adult is able to put the two disparate concepts in his mind, both the material and the immaterial and hear the knowledge within.

Learning, according to God, cannot be divided from the act of experience as experience is the best teacher. In the Old Testament, the word lamad is repeatedly used to describe the act of teaching (over 80 occurrences alone, with 16 references in the book of Deuteronomy, and 26 references in Psalms). However, lamad is also used interchangeably with the act of learning. When God tells the Israelites to learn something, He is telling them to teach it – when He tells them to teach something, He tells them to learn it. One cannot teach something without truly understanding the implications of what is taught. Lastly, lamad is also used to signify the word train, bridging the gap between the act of teaching and the act of learning through the process of incremental practice.

The adult learner

1. Why do adults learn? Adults learn because of the necessity of enculturation, the first aspect of pilgrimage (or hope). While education for children is mandatory in most countries, education for adults is optional, used as a catch-up enculturation mechanism to renew or introduce skills necessary for survival in a given context. Enculturation is the process to acquire value according to a set behavioral standard within a given culture through deliberate action, either on behalf of the student, the teacher, or both. Adult education takes many forms: universities, training programs, community colleges, Sunday school, even in-house corporate consultants and equipping classes.

As I teach graduate students in the school of engineering, my classes focus on equipping students with the ability to communicate in the English language their specialized fields and common lives, so that they can increase their prestige as professionals and improve their socialization skills. However, my students are primarily studying English to be acculturated out of their cultural worldview and into a non-Chinese worldview. Enculturation and acculturation are similar; while enculturation teaches relevant skills in the native context, acculturation is the method for teaching relevant skills in a foreign context. Both enculturation and acculturation are relevant reasons for adult education, although enculturation is by far a more necessary component of society.

While an important aspect of society, enculturation is an even more important aspect of the Kingdom of God. One of the two aspects of hope, enculturation (or lifestyle) is the process of preparation as adopted children of God (Romans 8:23) into the holy Kingdom, and is significantly anchored in the future rather than the present. As a teacher, I seek to communicate the lifestyle and hope (elpis) that is sanctified by God through my actions and my words, while at the same time helping my students prepare for the lifestyle that awaits for them on this Earth. Therefore, teaching values such as love and respect for the sacredness in life is important to my teaching, with the hope I can inculcate those values within myself and my students as well.

2. What methods do adults use to learn? The three methods adults use to learn in my model are the intellect (faith aspect), expertise (hope aspect), and discernment (love aspect). The intellect is the ability to utilize knowledge, expertise is the skill needed in order to create change within a society, and discernment is the method to increase one’s capacity to critically assess either personal behavior or the behavior of another (such as a person, an idea, or a thing).

The intellect is the action aspect of enlightenment, where the learner not only utilizes the knowledge they processed through the act of synthesis but also reflects on how the knowledge was used (expertise and discernment). Expertise is the action aspect of pilgrimage, applying intellect in discernment to accomplish tasks using knowledge learned through synthesis and enculturation. Discernment is the action aspect of virtue, when judgment on the rightness or wrongness of intellect and expertise truly supports the end goal of education (apotheosis) or design methodology (eudaimonia). The three methods are entwined with each other, necessary for transformation to occur.

Praxis is an important tool in methodology for adult education as it acts as a gauge for whether the intellect, expertise, or discernment was used properly. According to Vella (2002), praxis is both a deductive and inductive activity used to foster an increase in intellect, expertise, or discernment (what Vella calls knowledge, skills, and attitudes). The act of praxis involves a close analysis of content, the act of re-creation in a different context, and a re-analysis through participatory examination. Applying Vella’s praxis to my model would mean taking a lesson for my engineering students and identifying the key truths (the intellect), re-purposing those truths for my business students (expertise) and critically assessing the value of those truths outside of a classroom of engineers (discernment).

More importantly, though, are the lasting values represented in the methods. The intellect without God is related by Solomon as “striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:26), because the purpose of obtaining intellect is vain rather than holy. Solomon also said that if skill is used in envy of one’s neighbor, the expertise obtained is “striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 4:4:). The spirit of God (also known as God’s ruach) was the physical manifestation of God’s love for his people, the presence of God in the Temple, the power which anointed kings, and the aspect which saved through physical manipulation of the earthly elements. Even in the New Testament, the Greek word pneuma was used in the same capacity as ruach, although the pneuma rather than presiding as a covenant between God and His people inhabited the disciples and anointed each of them with the legacy of the chasid; a truer testament of God’s love could not be found. However the key truth about the Holy Spirit is the gift of discernment: when Jesus went into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, he was led by the Holy Spirit and only after his experience did he truly begin his ministry as the answer to prophecy (Matthew 4:1-11), to bring the love of God to every person on the earth.

3. What is the importance of learning as an adult? The importance of learning for adults, according to my model, is to practice faith, hope, and love. In my model, faith, hope, and love are represented by the concepts of enlightenment, pilgrimage, and virtue. Paul compares the practice of faith, hope and love to the maturation from child to adult (1 Corinthians 13:11), and then draws a metaphor of a mirror to explain that in the practice of faith, hope, and love full knowledge of the self is realized. Therefore, the importance of learning for adults to for adults to learn about themselves and understand how to holistically practice the love of the pneuma.

Contemporary theories of education stress the importance of learning as a participatory activity helping society move from a more mechanistic worldview focused on materialism to a world focused on discovery, creation, integration, and peace-making. Vella (2002) stresses six quantum concepts regarding the current of learning: 1)relatedness, 2)holism, 3)duality, 4)energy, 5)uncertainty, and 6)participation. Her model is known as dialogue education and is empowered by quantum concepts, which like Palmer (1998), stresses the importance of learning as a community.

Paul in the book of Ephesians also stresses the importance of learning in community. “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:8). Paul goes beyond quantum thinking, saying that the body is one creature, each part necessary for every other part.

The teacher as learner

1. What is the role of the teacher in adult education? The role of the teacher in adult education is to convey virtue through both words and actions. According to Dungy (2010), teaching must be oriented towards building lives of significance, creating a legacy of lasting value, and traveling together (student and teacher) so that integrity, character, and faith is strengthened for all involved. Education is about empowerment, which makes the teacher the one who empowers.

I connected virtue together with love because love without virtue is savage and lustful but love with virtue is pure, honor-bound, and noble. As a teacher, my job is to love my students in the same way that God loves his people or that Christ loves us. Paul was compelled to classify virtue apart from knowledge, given the popular sentiment that virtue (arete) was in itself knowledge. Paul says faith must be supplemented with virtue, but virtue with knowledge, showing that the two are not the same (2 Peter 1:5). The result of teaching must always be measured with a yardstick of virtue: were the students’ lives enhanced, did they grow in excellence, were they empowered because of the example their teacher set?

2. Personal design methodologies. As I grow as a teacher, I recognize that learning is intimately connected with happiness. If students are happy, they are more open-minded and willing when learning but if unhappy about a subject, more close-minded and skeptical. In his inspirational book about teaching, Burns describes a student referring to his teacher: “You helped me to realize that learning is the key to a full and happy life” (2011). He explains that the best teaching comes from the heart, not from a book, that excellence is about making a class fun, inspirational, and applying teaching methods of self-empowerment where worth is equal to possibilities of the future.

In my own experience, the concept of eudaimonia (happiness) is the core value in my design methodologies. Developing activities and assignments which not only increase value but confidence, love, virtue, hope, and enlightenment are key aspects to my design methodology. While I have struggled over the last ten years of finding a happy medium between encouraging the professional capacities of my students in taking charge of their own education to defining exactly what is necessary to pass a course, I have consistently tried to develop materials which have lasting, eternal value.

In an environment of stunning negativity, I feel the necessity to design courses that not only empower but educate. Tom Wolff, an educator in a Chinese university, wrote a book detailing 18 different kinds of complaints, with a collated 412 submitted allegations over a two-year period, indicating the level of dissatisfaction existing for many foreign teachers in China (2009). Given that learner autonomy is not stressed in the Asian classroom (Ma & Zhang, 2009), curriculum that is based on students needing to do self-evaluation, self-direction, and personal engagement with course material must be tempered to fit the unique model of education present in China: teacher-centered, test-based, and attitude promotion (Gao & Watkins, 2002). Inserting happiness into the utilitarian model present in many Chinese classrooms is a necessity for invigorating learners beyond the walls of the classroom.

3. Personal teaching methodologies. I have described teaching and learning as the same through the Hebraic lamad, with a beautiful example of Jesus as both teacher and learner. Hope is the cornerstone of my teaching methodologies as it is the act of pilgrimage towards the Kingdom. Jesus established the Kingdom through the granting of the Holy Spirit upon all, including the Gentiles.

Just like Jesus’ example, in Chinese tradition the word jiaoxue xiangzhang literally means “teach-learn each other-grow up,” a common phrase among teachers to explain the importance of learning what you teach. Confucius said: “He who is able to acquire new ideas while reviewing old knowledge is worthy of being a teacher” (The Analects, Book II:11). Zhang made a connection between the affective learning of the student and the competence of the teacher in a given subject, showing a relationship between the teacher’s mastery and passion of the subject taught (2011). Therefore, the need for me to not only be a continual learner in my field but a teacher is absolute.

Besides his occupation as a talmid of John the Baptist, the book of Matthew describes Jesus as both learner and teacher: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). Jesus would not have told others to emulate his example of gentleness and humbleness if He himself was also not on a journey of learning. As a student of John the Baptist, Jesus continually enhanced his kabbalah (spiritual technique), emphasizing the need for purity not from outward structures but from inside (Chilton, 2000).


Six years ago I began to teach Chinese students at the university level. Knowing what I know today and applying my philosophy back then, my teaching would have been dramatically different. Rather than delivering lectures to my students, personally investing in them for the purpose of apotheosis into the divine image of God. Rather than trying to change society through sweeping reform activities, focusing on mentorship. Rather than legitimizing myself as a scholar without peer, stooping beneath my students and deigning to believe that even they could teach me. Finally, seeking felt needs of my students first, rather than as a last resort. Applying these would have radically altered my teaching, and no doubt will radically alter my future as a teacher — no… a learner.


Bloom, B.S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives, Handbook 1: The cognitive domain. New York: David McKay Co Inc.

Burns, T. (2011). Thank you, teacher: An appreciation of a difficult job well done. London: Axis Publishing Limited.

Chilton, B. (2000). Rabbi Jesus: An intimate biography. New York: Doubleday.

Dungy, T. (2010). The mentor leader: Secrets to building people and teams that win consistently. Winter Park, FL: Tyndale.

Gao, L.B., & Watkins, D.A. (2002). Conceptions of teaching held by school science teachers in P.R. China: identification and cross-cultural comparisons. International Journal of Science Education, 24(1):61-79.

Meizrow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Palmer, P.J. (1998). The courage to teach: exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco: John Wiley.

Vella, J. (2002). Learning to listen, learning to teach: the power of dialogue in educating adults. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Waitzin, J. (2007). The art of learning: An inner journey to optimal performance. New York: Free Press.

Wolff, T. (2009). Teaching EFL in China: What every foreign teacher should know before they go. New York: Nova.

Zhang, Q. (2011). Teacher immediacy, credibility, and clarify as predictors of student affective learning: a Chinese investigation. China Media Research, 7(2):95-103.

Holism and idealism: a different paradigm

Standing in front of a crowd of around 600 students seated in an auditorium, I held up my hand to silence them. In the quiet atmosphere of nervous silence, one of the girls sitting in the front row looked at the test and began to explain (in a rather loud voice) her displeasure at the nature of the test, speaking in a loud voice and prompting students behind her to peer over their desks like curious cranes at the little squawking bird flapping her wings. In all my years of teaching, that girl wasn’t the last outburst during a test I encountered – but never had I witnessed such an emotional reaction to an exam. Little did I know how important the test was in Chinese culture, even as I angrily told the girl she had to leave the auditorium (and therefore, I most likely sealed her fate). I probably should have realized the importance the next semester when one of my students (again, sitting in the front row) began crying over her test paper as she stared with huge weepy eyes at an abstract diagram of vocabulary and pictures, continuing her sad session until she had to pull out a handkerchief and wipe away her tears.

According to Gao and Watkins, student achievement is a public event in China, measured chiefly by the exam at the end of the year. Most teachers (according to Gao and Watkin’s research) view their job as teachers in five key areas (listed from student-centered to teacher-centered): Conduct guidance, attitude promotion, ability development, exam preparation, and knowledge delivery. To generate data, the authors used a mapping-plane as well as Kember’s “conception of teaching” as a guide (1997), then based on interviews and a questionnaire (School Physics Teachers’ Conceptions of Teaching, SPTCT) generated responses from student-centered to teacher-centered from keywords and phrases. Kember’s “conception of teaching” involves six separate categories: the essence of learning, the essence of teaching, the role of the teacher, outcomes, content, and teaching methodology.

While the authors are critical of China’s test-culture, they also recognize that the system has lasted for more than 1,000 years (from the Tang Dynasty), when the Kefu was used in order to promote scholars into positions of the government, and lasts to this day known as the gaokao (high school test). Gao and Watkins suggest two different orientations from their research: a cultivating orientation (composed of conduct guidance, attitude promotion, and ability development) and a moulding [sic] orientation (composed of exam preparation and knowledge delivery). While the authors do show comparisons between the variant orientations and western models of teaching, they also recognize the uniqueness of the five key areas, due to the complex context of China’s history and culture. However, while western models of teacher are generally centered around knowledge transmission, they do not contain the holism embedded in Chinese methods. Hence, for the teacher aiming to work in China a new paradigm of teaching must be recognized.

Teachers of Chinese students (even Chinese students abroad) would do well to remember Han Yu’s words from the Tang Dynasty: “What is a teacher? A teacher is the one who shows you the way of being human, teaches you the knowledge and enlightens you when you are confused” (Shi Shuo, published 1973). In China, the teacher is admired; this admiration does not come from vacant authoritarianism, but from the tradition of teaching as an Ideal. Confucius, China’s greatest teacher, considered the goal of teaching to achieve ren (or humaneness, a self-actualizing state that can only be achieved through holistic scholarship). Teachers from the western tradition look back on Socrates in admiration: a man constantly surrounded by eager learners, seeking to unravel the secrets of the universe who in his self-centered idealism caused so much disharmony in his society that he was forced to commit suicide; his pupils continued his tradition of critical scholarship, breaking down structures and unmooring their minds from the proverbial dock of history, into Aristotle’s dream. Confucius, on the other hand, relished in harmony, died an old man happily surrounded by his pupils who eagerly copied his words into what would become the most powerful continuation of culture on the planet.

Gao, L.B., & Watkins, A. (2002). Conceptions of teaching held by school science teachers in P.R. China: identification and cross-cultural comparisons. International Journal of Science Education, 24(1):61-79.

Kember, D. (1997). A reconceptualisation of the research into university academics’ conceptions of teaching; Learning and Instruction. Journal of EARLI, 7(3):255-275.

Liu, Z. (1973). The way of being a teacher in China – the way of teachers. Taipei: Chung Hwa Book Co. LTD.



Professional isolation: the mysteries of teacher collegiality

A city is a lonely place. Towers of steel and artifice, standing side-by-side in the horizon, surrounded by throngs of hearts and souls all begging for some semblance of meaning to be found in passing shadows. In many ways, teaching in a class is much the same – a profession of multiple shifting persona, learners filtering through the educational system to some mysterious end, staying awhile and then walking out the door. For the teacher, Fallon and Barnett argue, professional isolation is a reality. Teachers become experts in their particular environments, astride mental carriages of their own design; while they may pass by another carriage on the road to learning (and perhaps throw a wave or two) they remain safely ensconced in their particular spheres. Fallon and Barnett argue, however, that the professional isolation of a teacher is supported by the organizational structure of the school, and so with restructuring that isolation can become collaboration. The authors set about an experiment wherein they conducted interviews at a school, prompting the teachers to use their weekly meetings not as trials-by-fire (as faculty meetings go) but as creative and collaborative storytelling sessions, devising ways to build leadership capacity and begin the “shifting of professional boundaries.”

Fallon and Barnett’s goal was to encourage the teachers at the school to move from Little’s weak collegiality into strong collegiality (1990). Weak collegiality is defined by the literature as sharing, storytelling, and assistance, while strong collegiality is defined as joint work. To do this, the teachers restructured the leadership at the school, endowing those with power and authority as “sponsors” while lifting up normal teachers as “champions” (intending, of course, to encourage sponsors to uplift the teachers rather than use their authority to demean them). In their weekly meetings, they discovered new strategies to interact more frequently, although perhaps not to the end the authors desired.

Fallon and Barnett recognized that the key failure in the experiment was the lack of value. When instituting any change, the members of that change must have a value commitment, as values are core to critical discourse, which in turn is required for what Lavie calls a “discourse of possibilities” (2006). Smith (1996) also argues that “critical collaboration” is necessary in order to, as the authors explain, increase the level of collegiality from weak to strong as “critical collaboration” allows for collaboration to grow rather than fester, or what Fullon and Hargreaves term “comfortable collegiality” (1992). Of the five discourses Fallon and Barnett discuss (culture, effectiveness, school-as-community, restructuring, and critical) I believe the foundation is effectiveness, with school-as-community as a goal, culture/critical as mediators, and restructuring as methodology.

In my work as a teacher, I fully recognize the simplicity and ease of weak collegiality. Encouraging another teacher to change without the necessity of a systematic restructuring towards effectiveness is like trying to move a mountain. Furthermore, in a multicultural setting culture acts like temporal variables altering the streams and paths constantly lending credence to a critical understanding of how culture interacts with effectiveness. The restructuring model must be centered around the goal, if the goal is for the school-as-community.

I have often shared my ideas with other teachers, and they have shared their ideas with me. We have “comfortable collegiality,” but in order to truly be effective we need organizational restructuring. Setting up classes so that we can visit other teachers’ classes, writing personal evaluations, meeting school standards, and being able to critique department rules in a positive, encouraging, and non-threatening capacity are all key to an organizational restructure. Lightening the load of the leadership by delegating tasks (with reward, such as reputation/additional pay), squashing the vertical threshold by inviting leaders to informal events, but most of all creating community as a role model within the cohort of teachers and encouraging community within the classroom – with using culture not as a hammer but rather as a language, learning to communicate with each other through the heart.

Fullan, M.G., & Hargreaves, A. (1992). What is worth fighting for? Working together for your school. Toronto, ON: Ontario Teachers’ Federation.

Lavié, J.M. (2006). Academic discourses on school-based teacher collaboration: Revisiting the arguments. Educational Administration Quarterly, 42(5):773-805.

Little, J.W. (1990). The persistence of privacy: autonomy and initiative in teachers’ professional relations. Teacher College Record, 91(4):509-534.

Smith, B. (1996). What did we mean when we argued for “critical collaborative communities”? In J. Smyth (Comp.), Schools as critical collaborative communities. Adelaide, Australia: The Flinders Institute for the Study of Teaching.

The Teacher’s Identity: a review of Palmer’s “Courage to Teach”

My first “real” teaching experience was standing in front of a crowd of four year-old children, holding up cards of colors and numbers, and then dancing until my audience was giggling so hard that they forgot they were speaking a foreign language. While not all teachers may have had origin stories as kindergarten teachers, my journey into the teaching profession began quite unexpectedly. What you realize (even as a kindergarten teacher) is that teaching begins with relationship and only after a relationship has been established can learning take place. When the eyes of the teacher lock with the child and there is a spark of trust – then, only then – can learning begin.

As children grow older into adults, they fashion more poetic and artistic ways of learning, but in the end relationship continues to be the keystone, even in university and postgraduate studies. Parker Palmer recognizes this key fact, as the thesis to the book “The Courage To Teach” centers around the community that grows and is watered by the teacher. Even though I teach in a different country, culture, and sometimes language, the relationship between student and teacher is still tantamount, albeit interpreted and visualized differently. Even though expectations for what that relationship means may differ from culture to culture, the student and teacher can never be separated.

As a teacher, I have struggled with the concept of who I am as a teacher. Am I an instructor? Am I a friend? Am I a spiritual guide to help my students reach the next plateau in their lives? Am I the sage on the mountain, or the muse that whispers secrets into the hearts of learners while remaining at a distance to observe a transformed life? Palmer explains that the core of a teacher lies in his or her identity. “Identity and integrity have as much to do with our shadows and limits, our wounds and fears, as with our strengths and potentials.” (p. 12) In other words, identity forms the central axis upon which teachers revolve around: how far they can grow, their possibilities of self-actualization, how they relate to their subject material, and the extent to which students can grow under their tutelage. However, teachers are not the impact mechanism which affects students, according to Palmer; rather, once the teacher identifies the work of teaching as a vocation where “deep gladness and the world’s hunger meet,” (p. 30) then the result is what Palmer describes as good teaching. Good teaching is the penultimate goal, because the beauty of education lies in the subject-based classroom, where ideas are met with passion from both teacher and student. While Palmer wouldn’t necessarily say that the content of the lesson is more important than the teacher, neither would he say that the teacher is deserving of authority because of privilege or status; rather, in the mashing of paradox and fulfillment, within that tempestuous storm lies the diligence of purity and true knowledge, keys to unlocking true learning.

Perhaps the most insidious barrier to true learning is the atmosphere of the classroom. Teachers often complain of toxic environments, where students are uncompromisingly stalwart in erecting and rebuilding barriers to learning the teacher attempts to pursue. Sometimes these barriers are as simple as a consistently snide attitude toward the material of the class, and sometimes these barriers are as poisonous as repeated attempts to derail other students through an elaborately orchestrated coup. However, such grand dreams of Hell are merely illusions from the teacher’s fear, transformed into monsters and shadows that if not countered lead to a true malformation of bad teaching, where the teacher loses all credibility in not only the students but in himself or herself as a bearer of knowledge. Palmer classifies this barrier as “the teacher’s fearful heart” (p. 47), and reflects that the only true counter to fear is a change in attitude. Rather than combating the toxicity of the environment, the teacher should treat good teaching not as benefiting the student, but rather as benefiting the teacher. “Good teaching is an act of hospitality toward the young, and hospitality is always an act that benefits the host even more than the guest.” (p. 49) However, Palmer doesn’t say that the teacher shouldn’t attempt to care for the students, as “a good teacher is someone who can listen to those voices even before they are spoken – so that someday they can speak with truth and confidence” (p. 46). In other words, a teacher has priority, but if the teacher is at risk of falling to fear, confidence falters and only the strongest student survives, if survival can even be called a hope.

Wisdom is generally found in paradox. Many view this as the “wise man’s crutch,” with popular sentiments such as “during peace, prepare for war,” or “the wise man knows he is not wise.” Simplistic philosophical algorithms which propound great thoughts by abusing the existence of unspoken space are the sage’s artillery. As a teacher, I am held to account to the things I teach and often see myself on that distant high hill; what the wise man on the hill often fails to perceive however, is that while he chose solitude over community (as many scholars do), he stands out as he is the only one on that hill. According to Palmer, paradox is the key to good teaching; creating environments of tension in which learning can occur. He mentions six different kinds of environments of paradox: protected but open, inviting but dangerous, self-led in community, realistically archetypal, a community encouraging solitude, and a place of active discourse and quiet reflection (p. 76-78). Tension is the key to unlocking potential; tension for tension’s sake does not create potentials, but neither does tension for learning’s sake. Rather, exercising one’s abilities in the medium between light and dark, while aiming the mind at a goal allows one to critically assess the virtual environment, and through that assessment, self-knowledge is increased, which when utilized as a source of energy, helps create bridges over rivers of mystery and encourages us forward into the mist. In the end, the ability to learn can never come from any other but the self. However, the teacher must take full responsibility over the environmental design.

Palmer asserts strongly his Quaker identity, and perhaps nowhere stronger is his dedication to his faith in his preaching of the community of truth. As a teacher, I operate primarily in community but also outside of it – a class is a scheduled activity, required by the state, encouraged by the culture, and associated with shame and honor in the social spectrum. The student has no choice over the material studied, nor choice over the tasks assigned, and no choice over the time of the prescribed learning nor the length of that learning. In a true community the voice of the many act as one, but in a classroom, community cannot be understood in traditional terms; if purported as such, such definitions serve only to act as a rationalization for a more positive teacher and student relationship rather than a communal activity. For this reason, Palmer explores the concept of community not as a commune of individuals but rather as “the community of truth, the grace of great things, the transcendent subject, the ‘Secret that sits in the middle and knows,” and the sacredness of soil that Palmer believes community is rooted in not as physical and objective fact but as the numinous energy at the heart of reality, which binds all together, teacher and student alike. (p. 112) While this definition may seem obscure and philosophical, heis not claiming that community shouldn’t be held accountable as a collection of individuals working in harmony, but rather the spirit of community must be central to the reason why all parties are gathered. In other words – attitude. The classroom cannot be understood as a social requirement without the prescience of why and how that gathering of hearts and minds is necessary for personal growth. Even a person who hates learning must find an apple in a dry orchard if he seeks to become more than what he was; for this reason, community doesn’t spring out of the ground like a well of water; a teacher must, like a focusing iris pointing a laser of light at a spot on a wall, create an atmosphere of an “eternal conversation about things that matter, conducted with passion and discipline.” (p. 105) For Palmer, that conversation deals with a particular subject, but I believe the teacher, as a leader, must also know how to wield the power of the iris wisely; a teacher does not exist in a vacuum.

In our modern society, we are inundated with data. Wikipedia boasts millions of pages of information, our liberal arts colleges offer hundreds of different majors, each major holding under its wings several different disciplines, even a field such as engineering must now be understood as mechanical engineering, biomedical engineering, structural engineering, coastal engineering, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, and so on. The university has responded to this and does its best to offer as comprehensive an education as possible. Palmer asserts that what has happened in our society because of the rise of data collection is backward; rather than being more knowledgeable, we are less; rather than having more skill, we have trouble knowing how to actually process the data into action. Furthermore, in the university, classes often operate from one of two poles: where the teacher is a bastion of knowledge, or where the teacher workshops the students into pseudo-professors where every emotion or thought has value, regardless of the extrinsic value those ideas carry. Palmer’s solution then, is to offer less meaningless data, but data of value to the community. “The human brain works best with information presented not in the form of isolated data bits but in patterns of meaningful connection, in a community of data.” (p. 130) Hence, the responsibility lies on the teacher to carefully select information for a course that not only is aligned, but mindful that both the learners and the tutor are members of an intricate biological microcosm that grows and changes from the things touched, sensed, and experienced. Hence, the goal of education should neither be the holy hand grenade of knowledge from Heaven’s ambassador, nor should the goal of education be for students to play Battleship with their texts and hope to sink their opponent’s navy. In the center of everything lies the passionate subject, a bendable but intractable member of the learning society which is strategically selected by the teacher while at the same time open to interpretation. After all, the subject won’t go away if a student interprets it into oblivion, but that interpretation may reveal a deeper secret about the student previously unrealized, as long as the student is able to focus on the step-process of the latter obliviated idea.

Teaching is a personal art. Teachers draw from their lives stories, metaphors, experiences, emotions, and fears, in this complex interplay of personal elements a unique teaching methodology is practiced. Each teacher carries different variables into the classroom, and as such, rubrics, selection of curriculum, even priorities and time schedules differ from class to class. One teacher telling another teacher how to teach better can be explained by thinking of an image of a bird telling a beaver how to build a better home out of sticks. While both the bird and the beaver use the branches of a tree to build their homes, they are not the same creature and have different goals even though both are trying to provide for their families. Given these barriers to discussion, how can one teacher benefit from the experience of another teacher, without feeling the need to clone himself after that teacher? Palmer outlines a three-pronged process, which I will restate as preparedness, sacredness, and reflective paraphrasing. (p. 156-160). Preparedness concerns the full background of an issue, even data which might seem non-relevant. Sacredness is an attitude of pure exploration of situation and methodology. Reflective paraphrasing is the final step in the process where the listener tells the focus what she or he said, along with clarifying questions and non-confrontational observations. While these three methods may be useful in bridging the gap between teachers and allowing them a space in which to conceptualize themselves in a different environment, Palmer asserts the necessity for educational leaders to encourage dialogue. “Good talk about good teaching is unlikely to happen if presidents and principals, deans and department chairs, and others who have influence without position do not expect it and invite it into being.” (p. 160) Palmer’s premise, from the beginning of the book to the end, maintains a healthy accountability for those in power, whether those people are the teachers in charge of their classrooms or the leaders in charge of their teachers. As a person who has influence without position, I am encouraged by Palmer’s words.

The dread word for any teacher is invariably reform. It’s not that teachers are enemies of reform, but reform means change and forced systematic change is not a teacher’s bread and butter; much like the amputation of a limb, teachers view reform as a soldier might leer at a medic holding an axe in his hands. Teachers spend a lifetime developing strategies for use in the classrooms – elaborate rituals, choice texts, personal philosophies that others would find ludicrous outside of the tiny spec of wood, metal, and paper that comprises the classroom. Teachers spend countless hours pouring over evaluations, trying to come up with crazy theories in the sometimes haphazard goal of shaping lumps of teeny, naïve, and hormonal creatures into something their societies can be proud of on both an intellectual and a social level. So when words like “educational reform” get thrown around from other teachers (especially those outside the system) often the result is met with cold distance, apprehensiveness, or even outright rejection. Palmer recognizes the inherent weaknesses of reform, especially as reform tends more or less to be institutional rather than carrying intrinsic value. Hence, for Palmer the strategy is not to find ways of incorporating reform within the teacher’s life, but rather reforming the concept of the movement. To illustrate the reformed movement, Palmer uses four stages: institutional rejection in community, establishing support systems and a shared vision, opening goals and vision for public critique, and establishing a reward system outside of institutional values. (p. 172) Rather than working through the institution, Palmer asserts that a movement has value as “movements have the power to alter the logic of organizations because an organization is, at bottom, a system of social sanctions: do this and you will be punished; do that and you will be rewarded.” (p. 186) However, given the foundation of an institution lies in punishment and reward rather than passion and community, movements are to the institution what a shot of morphine is to a man bleeding on the battlefield: a second chance, a reawakening, and a re-purposing of “the power within each of us that in communion with powers beyond ourselves, co-creates the world, for better or worse.” (p. 189)

As a teacher in China, there are further challenges. I don’t have the space to talk in details, but there are five cardinal concepts of social intelligence of great importance in Chinese society: mianzi (face – impression management/self-presentation), wuxing/wulun (holism – social cognition/information identity), guanxi (relationship – attunement/interaction awareness), renqing (favor – influence/behavioral affectation), and yuan (fate – concern/interest management). Teaching in China affords me space; as a foreigner, I am not privy to the intrinsic culture, but I am aware that the culture where I live is far more attuned to social intelligence than my own and as a teacher I must train myself to be keenly aware or face the consequences. I bring this topic up because while Palmer’s model of teaching works well in a Judeo-Christian culture based in the sophistry of Plato, Aristotle, and Adam Smith, the Chinese worldview towards education is very different, founded in the entirely different philosophical petri dish of Confucius, Mencius, and Laozi. While Palmer identifies areas of improvement for the vocation of a teacher, most teachers would welcome his suggestions even though they might balk at their own responsibility to change; in China, I’m afraid many if not most teachers would find Palmer’s suggestions not only amazingly out-of-touch with the ideals of the teacher, but unusable except in particular situations where western ideas are more welcome and schools have been incentivized to test out alternate theories.

For myself as a scholar living in a foreign country, I have come to recognize that Palmer presents two significant challenges to me: firstly, that in order to function as a teacher in China, I must relearn basic concepts about human action. Not only does Palmer explain the inherent spirituality of the teaching profession, but he does so in a way that revitalizes old ideas in new colors. I must learn this language of human action, how to interpret what I see before me, and how to speak that language in such a way that I know who exactly I am, how my fears root me to inaction or backward thinking, how to approach the paradox of east and west and use that so that I can create a more positive learning environment. Concepts like mianzi and renqing are extraordinarily powerful as relationship modulators, while wuxing, guanxi, and yuan establish even the expectations of my own work. Mianzi and wulun alters/limits the extent to which I can affect change among my students, wuxing and yuan influences the amount of power I have as an influencer without position, and guanxi changes the nature of promotion, benefits, and even the concept of the movement.

Secondly, while I do believe that I have the spiritual gift of teaching, I don’t believe I am currently investing myself in it to the fullest extent.  While the culture is challenging, I am not naïve enough to believe the system would be any better in another place – so Palmer speaks directly to my attitude and the necessity for me to be a light to others, no matter how dark the island may be.

Managing worldview polarity: Gerzon and the art of leading through conflict

Gerzon begins his book “Leading through conflict” (2006) by outlining three different kinds of leaders: the demagogue, the manager, and the mediator, however these simple classifications don’t do justice to his meaning. The demagogue is Gerzon’s example of a leader who operates in the field of conflict but rather than using conflict for organizational transformation, uses conflict for personal self-gain. The manager is the myopic leader who operates primarily in the short-term (p.43-44) and who is limited by his frame of reference (p. 32), while the mediator isn’t necessarily a figure but rather a set of skill development that the manager or demagogue can use in order to transform themselves. One of the key problems at my university has been the demagogic systematization model of leadership for the professors in the graduate and post-graduate programs, wherein to keep their funding they must compete with one another as tiny demagogues in tiny kingdoms. This has created spillover into the students, as they often take the role of the manager and are forced into compartmentalized cultures of short-term bursts, without the power to actually affect the demagogic system one way or the other.

In order to counter this negative environment, I would like to divide Gerzon’s ideas into developmental stages and action-step processes. The four developmental stages are: systems thinking, presence, conscious conversation, and dialogue, while the four action-step processes are integral vision, inquiry, bridging, and innovation. I will give a short illustration of how these work together in my own personal context. I will look at how to manage the the worldview conflict between the national staff and a foreign expert who disagree on educational philosophy, namely in the way scores are given to students, as the Chinese worldview regarding scores often differs greatly with western ideals.

As a mediator (being trained in the stages and steps above), I must first position myself properly so that I can clearly understand each side’s point-of-view (p. 77). This can be achieved as simply as relating to national staff as a third party or even as an observer. Then I must begin the process of identifying stakeholders and relating to each stakeholder the realities of the situation from both sides (p. 91). During this process however, I must center myself in self-reflection so that my actions translate into engagement rather than disengagement or fear with an illusion of apathy (p. 112). Once I have established myself an an integral authority comes the hard work: discovering the source of discontent on both sides through a gentle journey of questioning and using those answers to paint a story, nothing more (p. 124). There are two key developmental stages that must occur within me, however: I must treat each conversation as a relationship (p. 144), working towards mutual transformation (myself and the conflicted party), and I must discipline myself to question even the most basic assumptions I might hold about the situation (p. 172). Finally, there must be an implicit agreement within both parties for the accomplishment of a finite goal (p. 191 as example), as any strategies can only come out of the process of discussion while in recognition that the conflict exists (p. 211).

When I utilized this method in my work, the following occurred. After positioning myself an an authority on both parties, I was able to gain the trust of both (miraculously). I explained the complexities of the problem to both parties from each point-of-view, namely the Chinese mentality about scores coming from the culture of the gaokao (national exam), and the American mentality about scores coming from the grade-point average system. After convincing both that I truly wanted to be involved in the solution, I began the process of asking where the tension lay. The American was offended by the Chinese staffer’s critical attitude, while she did not even consider it a problem; she felt that was her job. Therefore, I had to present each case to the other and help each agree that mutual transformation was most beneficial, even though I had my doubts about the stubbornness of both parties to be reciprocal. However, to my amazement, both parties were willing to bend once they understood each other’s reasoning, and while a perfect triage wasn’t the result, both were transformed. The Chinese staffer was less critical about her assessment of the American’s methodologies, and the American was less sensitive about the Chinese staffer’s critical attitude. The healing process is still happening, but I believe with the gentle care of a healer, both will come through.


ASP Integral vision – positioning oneself geometrically so that all sides of the issue are visible, “Instead of staying ‘in your seat, climb the stairs’ and view the situation from a higher level – ‘a bird’s eye view.’” (p. 77)

DS Systems thinking – finding connections between disparate elements within a complex system, “the consciousness of each stakeholder [must be] raised about the complexity of the issue.” (p. 91)

DS Presence – self-reflected awareness translated into engagement, “Despite the range of methods for catalyzing presence, virtually all of them combine one of two paradoxical elements: disciplined, focused ritual or utterly authentic spontaneity.” (p. 112)

ASP Inquiry – context-driven questioning, painting a story. “True listening involves entering the perspective of another human being.” (p. 124)

DS Conscious conversation – relationship-orientated discourse towards mutual transformation, “when sender and recipient become truly interactive, with each able to shape the relationship, it is no longer mere communication. It can become a conversation.” (p. 144)

DS Dialogue – not a skill or activity, but a capacity, “While they claimed to want ‘dialogue’ they ultimately failed to practice one of its cardinal principals: questioning assumptions.” (p. 172)

ASP Bridging – bi-acculturation process of taking two worldviews and merging towards a finite goal, example of Soviet/American film directors coming together to crush the Soviet/American stereotypes found in their relative film industries (p. 191)

ASP Innovation – ideas come from exploration of conflict, “Mediators are ready to change the rules of the system… they do not ask how to ‘alleviate’ it or ‘minimize’ it. They ask how to ‘end’ it by redesigning the system that causes or perpetuates it.” (p. 211)

“Fix the process, not the problem.” (p. 222)


Gerzon, M. (2006). Leading through conflict. Harvard Business School Press: Boston.

OSP: Strength-building in the classroom

 In March of 2014, I met students at a Starbucks coffee shop for a period of three days. During my interviews with the students, I asked each student a series of questions, one question which was directly related to their five strengths (according to Buckingham & Clifton, 2001). During the question process, once I wrote down the five strengths, I made a mental note of each and altered the questionnaire process to conduct an experiment with each student.

In total, I asked the same five questions of around 120 students in my attempt to assess each students’ level of fluency in speaking English. In previous interviews I had conducted, I also asked the same five questions of my students with the difference being the wording of of each question being the same. For the experiment I conducted in March of 2014 however, I altered each question to match the strengths of each of my students, and I discovered that students were not only willing to share their ideas with me, but were excited to do so. I also discovered that during this process, I was energized. After four hours of interviews, I felt more excited than I had been all day, and given my introvert nature I was quite surprised.

During the course of the semester I had my students complete several assessments. Among those assessments were Buckingham & Clifton’s StrengthsFinder (2001), Edgar Schein’s Career Anchors (2006), as well as the Myers-Briggs Personality Test. I wanted to test whether there was a connection between the three assessments. During the course of the semester, I also took these assessments to judge if there was a way for me to improve myself in selected areas of my vocation. This paper is an explanation of the results, as well as a collection of recommendations for educators seeking to learn how to implement assessments in their classes effectively, use Strengths-based theories as positive reinforcements and teaching aids, and how to address personal goals of improving varying areas addressed by assessments.


I examined approximately 120 students from a top-tier Chinese university. 42% of the students examined were females, while 69% of the students were males. About 35% of the students were originally from the Tianjin-Hebei area, another 35% were from the provinces of Shandong, Henan, Anhui, and Shanxi, while the other roughly 30% were from other provinces. Students were from 15 different Master’s programs, with approximately 30% from the School of Chemical Technology, 25% from the school of Mechanical Engineering, 10% from the School of Automation, 10% from the School of Civil Engineering, with the remaining 40% from a collection of about 12 different schools. In total, students came from approximately 43 different majors. Around 78% of the students came from engineering-related majors; the other 21% came from applied engineering in cross-disciplinary fields.

Students were Master’s-level scholars in their first or second year of study (out of a total three years) and were studying on government scholarship (tuition-free). In addition, students were members of laboratories from which they received monthly stipends (data is not available) varying from around $49-$98 per month, depending on the student cohort project group. At the university, students were selected by advising professors to take part in research projects and receive a certain stipend, depending on size of the research fund given to the professor, the number of students chosen to help in the research, and the academic scholarship the student earned.

Students had an average age of 23.68 years. While the classes and assessments were conducted in English (except for the StrengthsFinder), only 25% of the students had an acceptable level of spoken English when the project began (above beginner level), with the other 75% of students queried beginner level or below. While student levels of English may have improved over the course of the semester, most assessments were given at the beginning of term. More details are in the Appendix.


StrengthsFinder. In my survey of 120 students, the most exceptional strength was Responsibility, with almost 7% of the students being in their top five strengths. The top three strengths for my engineering students were Responsibility (6.8%), Harmony (6.5%), and Learner (6.3%), while the bottom three strengths were Competition (0.51%), Maximizer (0.51%), and Consistency (0.34%). A sharp drop occurred between the top three strengths and the fourth highest strength (Focus, at 5.1%), lending some credibility to the validity of the top three strengths. The StrengthsFinder test was a test translated into Chinese. While I was not able to personally vouch for every question on the test (I did not translate the test), not one student contacted me with any problems in taking the test; the questions were straight-forwardly translated, with little to doubt. However, the test was free (and as such, it cannot be endorsed by Gallup), and while it served in function for the identification of the five key strengths, the test results listed the top five strengths in alphabetical order rather than by ranked score, and were a supplement to the main focus of the test. I have listed the full results of the scores for all 120 students in the Appendix.

Career Anchors. In contrast to the variety of the StrengthsFinder assessment, Schein’s Career Anchors assessment is far more limited. In my survey of 120 engineering students, I found that the top three anchors were Technical (21%), Lifestyle (19%), and Stability (18%). Similar to the StrengthsFinder assessment, there was a sharp delineation between the top three anchors and the bottom five anchors, with the fourth anchor as Independence (12%), while the following anchors scoring far below my expectations Managerial (9.8%), Service (8.6%), Creativity (6%), and most surprising, Challenge at the bottom of the list (5%). Some of the test may have been invalid, as the test given to the students was not endorsed by Schein, but inspired by his concept of Career Anchors. While I can safely vouch for the validity of the test from myself (my scores were accurate), given that the test was entirely in English it is possible students mistranslated portions of the test when trying to interpret.

Myers-Briggs. The most unconventional of the assessments I gave my students was the Myers-Briggs Personality Typology. I designed the test myself, designed primarily from a collection of various theoretical approaches to the assessment based on the following principles: introvert/extrovert as a function of energy gain/depletion, intuition/sensory as a function of gathering information, thinking/feeling as a function of making decisions/reaching conclusions, and judging/perceiving as a function of lifestyle. The test was a simplified form, wherein each category had an odd number of dyadic statements from 9-11, where the participant selected the statement that fit him or her best (greater than 51%), and then tabulated the column’s statements to designate the appropriate letter. In the past I have used this test with strikingly accurate results, although my participant level of English was much higher than my engineering students; hence, the results are somewhat flawed; the amount of time given in class to arrive at the four-letter conclusion was barely forty-five minutes, and while there were some questions, my experience with my students this term was that compared with previous student cohorts, their level of listening/reading comprehension was far below the average.

However, the results were rather fascinating as a majority of students calculated themselves as the type ISFJ (25%) and ISTJ (21%), following with ISFP (7.6%, a huge drop) and ESFP (6.7%, a surprising statistic given the engineering background of most of my students). The bottom four types were INTP (2.5%), ENTP (1.7%), ENTJ (less than 1%), and ESTP (with a striking 0% of students). The full results are listed in the Appendix.

The “white elephant in the room” regarding all assessments is the paradox between impression and honesty. Many times participants of assessments will select choices that are either composed of a rational thought-process associating false attributives of self-perception or societal expectations. Regardless of these outliers, the results are still helpful as they inform the researcher of either importance or virtual importance these assessment categories have in particular cultures, whether they are national cultures, generational cultures, or organizational cultures.


Previous impressions can often discolor and even distort the greatest intentions. In reviewing the results of the assessments, the most surprising results were in direct contravention to my previous assumptions about the Chinese educational culture. Growing up in California, Asian culture (to me) was terrifying competitive, to the point where many of my Asian-American friends would not be allowed to leave their homes during schooldays, and would only be given one or two hours on Saturdy to leave the house and visit family. While my impressions are obviously infected with generalizations and stereotypes, there is significant experiential clout to support the thesis of Asian competitiveness as a carried over tradition from China and other Asian countries which maintain strict governmental testing cultures (Yang, 2011). Given that competitive is a necessary element in traditional Chinese society, I thought that competition would be a strength built into students from a young age, but according to my results, not only is competition a very rare strength among many Chinese students, is it a non-existent strength, barely registering at even a half percentile in the surveyed student population.

However, there is also significant proof that (at least in the schools of engineering at my top-tier school) most students view tests as barriers rather than knowledge assessments; when querying my students from last year on their test-taking methodologies, a majority of students responded that upon taking the test, they merely guessed and did not even take the time to consider the question (even though they had ample time, many of them left the test site early). The scores are reflective of this strategy, as nearly 55% of the students who took the final English written exam failed (below a 60%), and nearly 75% of the students who took the final English reading comprehension test failed, with the highest score at 82%. Furthermore, the reading comprehension test was divided into two tests, where the test with the highest score would be entered into the student’s grade. While the test-taking cultures at my university may be unique, when I taught at a previous top-tier university my students’ main incentive for scoring high on tests was an improvement of their GPA for entrance into foreign university MA/PhD programs; when the incentive for GPA was not present, most students did not participate in activities for their own benefit, and if the student took a difficult class with the danger of lowering their GPA, the traditional tactic was to drop the class.

I could write a book on exploring the unique attributes of the StrengthsFinder results. Other curiosities for me include the lack of students possessing the strength of consistency and woo (especially given China’s unique face culture and the necessity of guanxi for social relationships), while the greatest strength by far was that of Responsibility, showing up as a top five strength in nearly 40 students’ inventories. The concept of Individualization was at 4% (24 students), coming in at #11 (out of 35 possible strengths) for student strengths, a surprising statistic that deserves more time to explore. One item of interest is that within the 24 students who reported Individualization as being in their top five strengths, only four of those students also reported Harmony as being within their top five strengths; while Harmony was reported in 38 out of 120 students as a strength, quite often Harmony was not associated with Individualization. Given China’s focus on self-cultivation and self-actualization, perhaps there is merit to the concept that the “harmonious society” purported by both Confucius and modern political theory is little more than a surface behavior meant as a force of stability rather than a personal value. However, as Harmony is the second highest strength reported, societal and cultural mechanisms must exist to support the development of Harmony as a strength.

According to the results of the Career Anchors assessment, not only was Lifestyle at nearly 18% of student anchors (the second highest), independence was at 12%. Had I not had an experience in 2009 which prompted me to question my understanding of Chinese culture (in which I was let go from a job with the statement, “In China, work is work, family is family” after missing a canceled class for my own wedding, in which the school forgot about the date), I might question the high Lifestyle anchor given the perception that most Chinese families utilize the grandparents to raise the children while the parents both work, in some cases in other cities. Nevertheless, Career Anchors do not operate on a practical level but an ideal level – according to Schein (2006), Career Anchors are the deeply emotional limits we allow ourselves to move within our careers; the incentive and drive we have to achieve, and the support beams to protect us from our fears.

Scoring as the fourth highest anchor (above Managerial and Challenge) was Independence at 12%. Further research needs to be done to explore this strange statistic; perhaps the fault lies in the test group – engineers, often working alone in laboratories under the instruction of a professor who only communicates by e-mail and is rarely seen once or maybe twice a term, my students must learn to cope on their own and perhaps as they also see their cohort project work as training for their future jobs, Independence becomes a requisite of success. However, given the fundamental nature of Career Anchors as deep-seated emotional cores of vocation, I have my doubts; in my time in China, I have increasingly become aware of a subtext of virulent individuality within the culture that asserts itself on a subliminal level through cynicism to the system, and on a visible level with the refusal to identify on a heart-level with ideologies (although surface agreements are quite common) and instead freely develop ideas aware from the political norm.

Finally, the Myers-Briggs assessment showed that most of my engineering students were intensely introverted, with a significant proportion of extroverts misplaced (noted from my questions of whether or not they enjoyed their major, the majority of extroverts responded that they did not and were seeking other means for a career outside of their degree). Engineering as a field of study seems to encourage (at least within my Chinese university) a disposition of introversion, sensory information, and action-oriented judging lifestyles. In previous studies I have noted an almost 50/50 with regards to the various typologies, although previous participants were members of a much broader pool of disciplines (including the liberal arts). However, I am curious about the statistic regarding the type ISTJ, as nearly 70% of those students received a very poor score in their English fluency level, indicating that during the assessment process they may not have understood the statements.

Philosophical foundations

According to Buckingham and Clifton (2001), vocation must be positioned according to strength, not weakness. The reason I gave my students assessments (and the reason I took those same assessments) was to evaluate cross-cultural viability, validity, and practical application of those three assessments. Students engaged in graduate or post-graduate work are training for their future careers – at my university more than others, given the increased presence of key laboratory recruiting programs engaging students and professors. For this reason, having a clear understanding of how strengths, anchors, and personality types affect one’s potential job choice is important.

However, in my research I did not find any conclusive connections between the three assessments. Anchors had little to no connection with Gallup’s 35 strengths, and while Schein’s Career Anchor of technical/function could be associated with the Myers-Briggs introvert type, my conclusions are far from conclusive, given how anchors function not as personality indicators but as spatial checkpoints in the mind that determines the limitations/exponential growth of career mobility. The usage of assessments therefore, is more helpful than not, given the variety of assistance they can give in determining factors of relevance for vocation. In my own assessments, my top five strengths (in order) were Strategic, Connectedness, Learner, Ideation, and Individualization. My top three Career Anchors were Service, Technical/functional, and Lifestyle. My personality type was INFP. No one student in the entire 120 matched me strength for strength, anchor for anchor, and only four students shared my personality typology (sadly, students who have done very poorly in my class this term!). I also discovered that no one student shared the same strengths as another student, rarely were the anchors related to a confluence of strengths, and quite often the personality typology from students who shared the same four letters held entirely different strengths and anchors.

Given that people are a resource that should be developed (Hardy, 1990), I believe that the use of a combination of assessments will help students grow in self-awareness, more fully able to recognize false patterns and set the student on a path to a new foundation for future aspirations. While Benner most aptly speaks of the “false self” as originating from the sinful nature and separation from God (2004), in China such discussions cannot be contained within the classroom given the sensitive political climate. However, I believe it is pertinent to help students scale the false patterns in their life given by society, family, even personal weakness resulting in the development of emotional security protocols meant to protect from growth. Bridges claims that transitions are a natural state, a function that continually occurs in one’s life regardless of desire for change or the lack of (2004); just as I am currently in a transition (Seeberger, 2014), so many of my students are also likely in some stage of transition. As a teacher, I am increasingly seeing my job not as a lecturer but as a guide for developing through transition from one stage to the next stage, whether that transition occurs in the formation of skills for critical consideration, practical skills for the workplace or international market, or even the honest helping hand of an older, hopefully wiser, scholar interested in the same basic necessaries of life as any other honest student.

Hardy believes that human work should be a form of justice (1990), in which vocation is not only for the purpose of spreading sacred love to all people but that the love itself is justice in a world that shows little concern for the neighbor. Career anchors function as the core of self-image in vocational assessment (Schein, 2006), and as vocation when embraced becomes a kind of self-actualization (Hardy), vocation becomes an expression of identity, community, and perhaps even one’s spiritual gifts (Benner, 2004). Methodology for learning how to perceive oneself away from the false self requires intense meditation, humility, divine contemplation, and solitude, and has resulted in the development of the RBS (Real Best Self), a practical methodology of coming to terms with tacit and misunderstood truths over a period of several months (Roberts et al., 2005). While the RBS does have limitations (it does not, for example, evaluate inconsistencies as it is strengths-based), the RBS is a good practice for those desiring to know themselves more fully.


Another important denominator for my work in vocational self-development in understanding how cultures operate in different areas of the world (in my situation, China). Specifically, the data acquired in this project has been important to my own understanding of China (or misunderstanding, perhaps). Several factors have arisen because of this study that will change not only how I view my own vocation but how I help my students prepare for theirs.

Context is important, even within micro-cultures. Many of my errors in curriculum planning and change agency strategies for encouraging personal development resulted from a generalization about Chinese culture that I have now discovered is false. As Lewis states, generalizations can often lead to egregious errors as well as the posturing of oneself within a cultural black hole (1996). Thankfully, my research has alerted me to such errors. For example, in order to encourage students to pursue high grades, I posted grades on the door after each class and handed out scores to groups instead of individuals. While this activity did create consensus within the student groups (clarity of expectation was supported as students discussed the scores) it no doubt created unfair forms of anxiety; based on my research, the far better method would be to focus on the independent initiative within each student, while allowing for group consensus in discussion but not creating a nervous atmosphere due to a majority of students unable to cope properly with the competitive nature of the class. While students at my previous university embraced competition as a natural reaction to the environment of being the top university in China, students at my current school do not share the same aspirations or fears.

Self-cultivation. Moral development is exceptionally important to Chinese students, as recognized in previous research I have done (Seeberger, 2012), however I was unaware of the extent of important until this term when I was researching Chinese culture and found that nearly every major philosophical system in China is focused on moral development (Gerstner, 2011; McDonald, 2011). Growing up in the United States, by the time I was in college I had a good idea of what I actually wanted to do, but many of my students even by the graduate level had no answer for this question when I asked them in their initial interviews. Part of this is no doubt an effect of the prescribed roles within relationships that people feel they must abide by (Yi & Ye, 2003), but much also comes from a belief that non-action will lead to greater perceptive and mental powers (Gerstner); students in my classes are maestros of knowing when to hold their tongues, respecting the gentle and fragile relationship that often exists within authority figures (teachers) and followers (Bai & Roberts, 2011). Therefore, as a figure of authority, I must make it my primary task to help students learn how to self-cultivate, particularly in the practical areas of moral development (rather than the postulations of theoretical concepts); in other words, practical ethics.

Strength-building at the core. Most academics are focused on information sharing; very few academics have strategized their curriculum to take advantage of student strengths, and then use the classroom as a vessel to help bring those students closer to their gifts. Academics primarily views itself as a gift for mankind, rather than seeing itself as a method for mankind’s gifts to be explored. In my courses this term, I made some small headway into strengths-building, but my goals were primarily investigative. In the future, I hope to bring strengths-building into stronger array, by implementing individual and group meditative strategies for understanding the self and where the self fits into the strengths given to each. Furthermore, I hope to escalate strengths-building into incorporating strategies of students developing each other not only peer-to-peer, but within small work groups. In my work as an English teacher, I am given leeway to designing personal curriculum (rather than relying on state-sanctioned textbooks) and I mean to take advantage of that. This term I have been focused on helping students develop a code of ethics, but of what use is a code of ethics when the student does not know himself or herself? Having students work through an RBS-styled project, as well as using that knowledge to develop opinions about subjects relating to ethics will be an increasingly important venture for me to pursue.

I will also be intentionally using my strengths (Str/Cnnctdnss/Learnr/Ideation/Indvdualzation) in more intentional ways, and encouraging students to do the same within the context of our class. For example, to build my strength of strategy I must give myself time to carefully consider various options, collect data, and review the data so I can better formulate a conceptual framework for future iterations.

To build my strength of connectedness, I must endeavor to get to know certain students on a personal basis and make more of an effort to decentralize the class from a lecture environment and settle into a more personal, close environment where I am given more opportunities to interface with individual ideas (even at the expense of certain students who do not wish to take advantage).

To build my strength of a learner, I must seek to constantly be open to new ideas, even ideas that go against everything I know – by fastidiously asking questions and rewiring my intellectual capacity for renewal instead of dwelling in the knowledge I already have.

To build my strength of ideation, I must continually attempt new ideas in my classes, even at the expense of failure; while making myself even more aware of other ideas already in the field of teaching and adopting a willingness of openness regarding those ideas.

To build my strength of individualization, I must focus on the more intimate relationship between teacher and student, and attempt to personally connect with certain students who desire that connection, and not worry about students who don’t. In the past, I have thrown myself against the tide by attempting to be everything to everyone, while trying to maintain that intimacy – inevitably, though, this results in a thin veneer barely visible, where I am lost in the crowd of faces as I try to give a piece of myself to everything. In the end, I disappear, but I do not actually reappear on the other side, dissolving like mist.


I agree wholly with Benner when he states that transition cannot occur without divine help (2004). However, in my positive as an educator in a public university in China (even as an educator in an educational institution), I can only pray that my ability to operate as a positive influence comes through my life, in my actions, in my smile, in the interactions I have on a day-to-day basis with students, faculty, and even friends. When Hardy states that vocation is not only an act of the second greatest commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself, but also that the second great commandment is a form of justice in itself (1990), I can’t help but wonder how that translates across cultures. What does “love” look like to the average Chinese student?

Elmer states that Christ is the only culture that can reach across national boundaries, as believing in Christ is the only way to truly transform and begin the process of transition (2006). If Christ is the only capable change agent of moving seamlessly across culture, how can I emulate him in my daily walk and my daily work? Traditional change agency theory postulates only for the temporal; organizational closeness and synergy between the change agent and the target are as close as classical theory approaches to the concept of true transformation (Lunenberg, 2010). Even Hardy claims that the Christian worker must promote “what is true, noble, and worthy in human life,” but so often even those basic cultural perceptions are grounded in the culture into which we are born (Adler, 1997). How can we (or I) hope to cross that divide?

I believe in the end it comes down to Connectedness, straight from Buckingham and Clifton’s mouth (2001). At least for me. My ability to draw away the wall between myself and those I interact is the answer I have been given for bridging that divide, for addressing those childhood passions, natural emanations, and positive emotions people carry inside them which eventually if watered translate into strengths. Each person has been given capabilities to address the divide between the justice of Christ and our daily walk. If I ignore this strength, I will continually butt my head against a wall, but if I embrace this particular strength and build it through practice, assessment, and and self-debrief, I believe I can begin to unlock the potential inside me that will operate no matter where I find myself.

In the end, vocation is not a job; vocation is not even a career; vocation is a mindset and a promise. The true self emerges, the false selves fall away, transition comes as natural as breathing, and each day is a form of justice unto itself whereupon you embrace the challenges of the world in the best well you know how – through your strengths and the gifts given to you (or me) by God. My vocation becomes my anchor, and while I may not be strong enough to carry my anchor with me as I walk through life, I will grow stronger in the process and learn how to work within the path laid before me. You cannot be everything to all men; only Christ can. However, you can be something to many men, and that is worth striving for.


Adler, N. (1997). International dimensions of organizational behavior, 3rd ed. Cincinnati, OH: South- Western College Publishing.

Bai, X.Z., & Roberts, W. (2011). Taoism and its model of traits of successful leaders. Journal of Management Development, 30(7/8):724-739.

Benner, D. (2004). The gift of being yourself: the sacred to self-discovery. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity.

Bridges, W. (2004). Transitions: Making sense of life’s changes. (2nd ed.) Lifelong: Kindle.

Buckingham, M., & Clifton, D. (2001). Now, discover your strengths. Gallup: Kindle.

Elmer, D. (2006). Cross-cultural servanthood: Serving the world in Christlike humility. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity.

Gerstner, A. (2011). Leadership and organizational patterns in the Daodejing. Journal of Management Development, 30(7/8):675-684.

Hardy, L. (1990). The fabric of this world: Inquiries into calling, career choice, and the design of human work. Wm. B. Eerdsmans: Kindle.

Lewis, R.D. (1996). When cultures collide: Leading across cultures (3rd ed). Boston: Nicholas Brealey.

Lunenburg, F.C. (2010). Managing change: the role of the change agent. International Journal of Management, Business, and Administration, 13(1).

McDonald, P. (2011). Maoism versus Confucianism: ideological influences on Chinese business leaders. Journal of Management Development, 30(7/8):632-646.

Roberts, L.M., Spreitzer, G., Dutton, J., Quinn, R., Heaphy, E., & Barker, B. (2005). How to play to your strengths. Harvard Business Review, January: Reprint R0501G.

Schein, E. (2006). Career anchors: Participant workbook. Wiley: Kindle.

Seeberger, B. (2014). Book review: Transitions. Unpublished.

Seeberger, B. (2012). Summative evaluation of Advanced Writing: assessment, methodology, and recommendation. Unpublished.

Yang, W. (2011). Paper tigers. New York Magazine. accessed on May 3, 2014:

Yi, J., & Ye, S. (2003). The Haier way: the making of a Chinese business leader and a global brand. Paramus, NJ: Homa and Sekey Books.

An Evaluation of Goodboy’s “Student Use of Relational and Influence Messages in Response to Perceived Instructor Power Use in American and Chinese College Classrooms”

The striking nature of Goodboy’s conclusions come not from the actual conclusions, but rather from what he does not conclude. In “Student use of relational and influence messages,” Goodboy answers his question, “does ‘the model of relational power and instructional influence theory’ (posited by Mottet, Frymier, & Beebe, 2006), from a student perspective, communicate any relevant data to explain relational and social influence from the instructor’s use of power?”, although his conclusions while common (instructors should “use confirming messages which communicate to students they are recognized and acknowledged as valuable and significant individuals”, 202) are striking because of the conclusion not answered. Goodboy posits that instructor uses of prosocial power empower student satisfaction, while uses of antisocial power encourage the use of student BATs (behavioral alteration techniques), a reaction to a lack of trust from student to instructor based on the student’s perception of how the instructor uses power in and outside of the classroom. (195)

While Goodboy concludes that in the United States the most powerful method of fostering student satisfaction is the proper use of referent and expert power, the usage of reward power, previously thought to be a prosocial power base, actually causes an equal amount of positive and negative relationships among students and instructors (200), not helping foster student satisfaction at all. Goodboy also concludes that among Chinese students, the instructor’s use of referent power and legitimate power (previously considered to be an antisocial power) creates positive student satisfaction, while legitimate power and expert power helps to encourage student BATs, which actually has a more powerful affect than the United States in encouraging positive relationships among students and teachers; although no direct form of power has any affect on student-teacher relationships in China.

The two most significant studies prior to Goodboy’s survey on instructor power use was Mottet, Frymier, & Beebe’s model of relational power and instructional influence theory, which served as a foundation to the study by positing that the “instructor-student relationship . . . involves influence . . . [and] . . . by conceding power to one another in that prosocial power use yields long-term influence and antisocial power use yields short term [sic] influence.” (192) The second most important previous study was Golish (1999), as within Golish’s study was provided “19 compliance-gaining strategies, or BATs . . . which reported the students’ use of the guilt, flattery, public persuasion, evidence of preparation/logic, performance, utilitarian justice, punishing the teacher, reference to higher authority, and verbal force/demand BATs.” (195) These 19 compliance-gaining strategies were then compiled into Golish’s Student Behavioral Alteration Technique Typology, which along with the TPUS (Schrodt et al., 2007), SCSS (Goodboy et al., 2009), and SAST (Wanzer, 1998) were used to corroborate interlinked data to find appropriate Cronbach alphas for each subscale and associated power.

The data collection and procedures in calculating the data Goodboy used were highly advanced statistical algorithms and without extensive training, I would not be able to replicate his methods. Goodboy mentions that the coefficient obtained for the legitimate power subscale had low reliability, and “produced low reliability estimates in other research, . . . [so] instructional communication scholars may consider revising the subscale items of this measure.” (204) He also mentions that the questionnaire translation (from English to Chinese) was a weakness of the study, and while the grammar was correct, semantic meaning could have been different. (205) In all, 445 undergraduate students were selected to report on 248 instructors in the United States and China.

This article is a ground-breaking discovery into not only communication studies, but also the study of power. Goodboy’s weakness is the distance he places between pedagogy and standard teaching practices (due to statistical complexity). However, Goodboy proves that use of referent power and not reward, coercive, or even expert power, is the major influence on student satisfaction in both the U.S. and China, while legitimate power only has a positive influence in China if used correctly. As my goal in China is to learn how to foster relationships with students, this helps me immensely.


Golish, T. D. (1999). Students’ use of compliance-gaining strategies with graduate teaching assistants: Examining the other end of the power spectrum. Communication Quarterly, 47, 12-32.

Goodboy, A. K. (2011). Student use of relational and influence messages in response to perceived instructor power use in American and Chinese college classrooms. Communication Education, 60(2), 191-209.

Mottet, T. P., Frymier, A. B., & Beebe, S. A. (2006). Theorizing about instructional communication. In T. P. Mottett, V. P. Richmond, & J. C. McCroskey (Eds.), Handbook of instructional communication: Rhetorical and relational perspectives (pp. 255-282). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Postmodern Fantasy Literature: an overview of contemporary ideas

Lecture Goal: Give a broad view of contemporary American fantasy literature and where the ideas came from


1. Sword and sorcery in the 30s-60s, based on Weird Tales and Lord of the Rings

Weird Tales in the 1920s, born from Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft (Cthulhu)

Fantasy, horror, myth, and swordplay – Conan the Barbarian, Robert E. Howard

Fritz Leiber, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and the idea of true adventure, from Conan


2. Heroic fantasy and dark magic in the 70s, 80s and 90s, based on Dungeons and Dragons (1975)

Michael Moorcock, Elric of Melnibone, combination of heroic myth and popular fantasy

Roger Zelazny, the Chronicles of Amber, and castles, dungeons, monsters and sorcerors

Tanith Lee, emergence of dark fantasy based on authors like Mervyne Peake with Gormenghast

Emergence of allegory, deep symbolism and heavy themes with Ursula LeGuin (Earthsea) and Patricia McKillip (Riddle-Master)


3. The American-style journey novel in the 90s and 2000s, based on The Wheel of Time

Robert Jordan and the journey novel “Wheel of Time”

Terry Goodkind and the emergence of Mass-produced epic fantasy

George R.R. Martin, the anti-Lord of the Rings, beginning of the New Weird with China Mieville


4. Urban fantasy novels in post-2000 era, based on Harry Potter

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter, and urban fantasy

Anne Rice to Laurell K. Hamilton, and contemporary urban vampires and faeries, Wiccan stories

The Fantastic City and the New Weird, with China Mieville and Jeff VanderMeer


5. Literary fantasy

Breaking out of the genre, with Octavia Butler and Parable of the Sower, combining different forms

The movement of fantasy to break free from genre


Questions to ask at the end:

1) What was the first magazine to have sword and sorcery? 6) Where does Harry Potter take place?

2) Who created Fafhrd? 7) What is the religion about magic?

3) What was the game that inspired heroic fantasy? 8) What old idea does urban fantasy use?

4) The Wheel of Time was what kind of novel? 9) What did Octavia Butler break out of?

5) What happened to fantasy novels after Terry Goodkind? 10) What is current fantasy literature trying to do?


words to put on the board:

contemporary fantasy


Edgar Allen Poe

H.P. Lovecraft



Invented world

Sword and Sorcery

Weird Tales

Lord of the Rings

Michael Moorcock

Elric of Melnibone

Dungeons and Dragons


Tanith Lee

Mervyn Peake


Ursula LeGuin

Patricia McKillip



Journey novel

The Wheel of Time


New Weird

China Mieville


Harry Potter

urban fantasy





Jeff VanderMeer


Octavia Butler

Parable of the Sower

Literary fantasy


Xun, Dreaming of Lost Names

I admire Lu Xun. Not for his timidness, which he was not; not for his resolve, which faltered often; not for his calculating mind, which carried the burdens of a man blinded with inhibited sorrow; and not for his kindness, which crossed blades with his cruelty so often he might have been his own doppelganger; rather, I admire his perspicacity with words, his transparency of soul, and his exuberant passion in the movement of ideas through the vehicles of people and systems. Once a teacher myself at Peking University, Lu Xun exhibits ideals I wish I had but also showcases the dangers of adorning the armor of a hundred ideals, each engaged in civil strife.

“The present passes step by step,” Lu Xun states, meditating on the temporal, changing, and suffering nature of the world. Relaxing with my wife and son by Weiming Hu in the shadow of Ciji Temple, I am swept in the immediacy and evolution of moments, as if the passing of people through the reflection on the lake were a mirror to another world where time could be rewound and marched backwards. The remaining walls of Ciji Temple show that the present world is unrelenting; pockmarked and fading paint the only memories of her fabled past, when people would stoop by the stone altars and press flame and smoke into their hopes and dreams.

Overlooking a pond while standing on a lotus-pod bridge, I cannot agree with Lu Xun about the suffering of the world. Lily-pads float on the surface of the water, and tiny skittering waterhoppers bounce across the translucent surface, living in an impossible dream of speed and haze. The reflections of the terraced rocks and spaces of rippling blue skies to the small creatures are not the only constants; for a good portion of their life, my figure standing on the lotus-pod bridge becomes an anchor to them, much like watching a tree grow, strengthen against the wind, and shed yellow leaves in autumn. Suffering is inconsequential to the process of time, existing only as a cloud marking the passage of life from one evolution into the next.

If suffering is an inconstant spouse, of what use is education? Learning is the process of uncovering truths, not only about the world but about ourselves. Students are the phalanx of learning, charging forward bravely into the unknown with no expectations. Lu Xun described the brave students of Peking University as “tolling alone in the caverns of wind and dust deep at the bottom of the sea,” and in my mind looking at the surface of the lake from beneath, I begin to understand his meaning. The waterhoppers cause ripples in the water, and the image of Ciji Temple shudders, the red walls and carved altars shrugging as if held by a fierce wind. As I rise to the surface of the water, images between the past and the present shift into one: mendicants kneeling by curls of gray smoke and scholars in long robes are replaced by the sound of a bicycle bell and the flash of a camera.

Emerging from the lake, the world has changed: sky-tall construction cranes towering behind green mesh shielding shoot dust into the sky, students with golden cards rush by with apocalyptic fear pressed into their cheeks, multinational sandwich kiosks hide behind forgotten and overgrown gardens, and an electric buzz permeates the ether: the sound of oil burned into flame and lightning humming through crisscrossed optical pathways. And yet, although the future has arrived I find myself on the dry shore, smiling and viewing the landscape with pride and joy, much unlike the dismal parades of Lu Xun’s dread and phantasmagoria.

Lu Xun always believed that the goal of education was to be “properly adapted to the individual to develop each person’s personality,” and everyday our society seems to be moving closer and closer to this tenable dream. There are mountains to ascend and rivers to pass, but we are on our way. “I am living among men,” Lu Xun remarks when reflecting on his proud time at Peking University, as his students gave him the hope to press forward, even in the dismal hour of warlords and massacres. Our times are lighter and more hopeful today; let us remember that and dare to dream.

Leadership Integrity

The following is a series of notes taken from a class on organizational behavior I took from Rev. Colin Buckland, back in the summer of 2010. The class took place at Kingsfield, in Baldock, Hetfordshire, England.

Worldwide, the issue about leadership is Integrity — “We want our leaders to have integrity.”

Psycho-spiritual dynamics:

  1. Acceptance: people are desperate to be accepted by others
  2. Achievement: if people can’t achieve they will get ill; God built us to achieve
  3. Significance: feeling of being here not by accident; three basic human requirements

Normal (secular) teaching about significance:  Aim for Blue Ocean, when you will pitch your business; in which there are not so many products, so you can achieve a niche; but the Blue Ocean is everyday disappearing faster and faster

Our treatment of others gives or takes away significance.  We have these things already in Christ; our goal should be to teach others they already have these because of Jesus.  These three aspects are twisted in humanity; in Christ they are fulfilled and healthy. Even outside of Christ, the Christian principles can still be applied through leadership.

The key to success and behavior is how you behave within an organization.

  • ‘Coal face’ — where the rubber hit’s the road; the reality
  • Christian organizations do not do well; we are not leading, we are trailing

We must always be aware that the organization is composed of the human element.

  1. Human behavior within the setting
  2. The organization itself
  3. The relationship between the human and the organization

‘The Big Eye’ — the big overview; being able to discern the subtle paradigms that operate within an organization: Organizational behavior is their DNA.  Change is successful through incremental change, not massive and major change.

  1. ‘Soldiering’ – when the workers agree to work together under their capability
  2. ‘Piece-rate’ – earnings are now related to the pieces you make
  3. ‘Esprit de corps’ – spirit of the upper management
  4. ‘Span of control’ – the upper management having command and controlling without question the employees
  5. ‘Vac job’ – holiday work
  6.  Rules — stifles creativity but creates clear expectations
  7. Divisions — narrows specialization and forces limitations; soul destroying
  8. Hierarchy — creates judgment (good and bad, hard worker and lazy) among workers
  9. Technical — the resolution of what merit becomes has no standard; technical competence is standard

Therefore, advancement is narrowed to certain kinds of people; copies.

  1. Rights — Lack of identity for workers
  2. Documentation — Policy ends up mastering the organization

The idea of ‘employee satisfaction’ was a paradigm shift in business — which leads to the question, what mistakes are we making today that will require another paradigm shift?

X=Modernists (Traditional Leadership), Y=Post-Modernists (Servant Leadership)

‘You can lead a horse to water — you can’t force it to drink.’  We should resist the spirit of poverty which says ‘I am nothing and I am no one.’

  • Maslow: Not a Christian source, but still has a lot of wisdom.
  •  FISH (a study about fun in the workplace)

We are currently in a Post-Literate culture. People are only interested in seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling, touching it.  Story is the currency of this age.

  • The Dream Society (book about the future in 20 years), Rolf Jenson

Thoughts today:

1. Overview on how various secular and perhaps ungodly systems can be used in order to propose systemic change to organizational behavior, perhaps in a Christ-like way.

2. A background of organizational history which is focused on seeing the wisdom in traditional forms of systematic theory and historical and cultural blindness, and how we should use a positivistic point of view in viewing the future and believing we can personally change it.

3. Trying to capture and critique contemporary society and culture in the lens of how we move forward through organizational evolution and past paradigms.

4. Trying to understand how to implement this kind of traditional organizational structure in a classroom setting, to encourage students to learn on their own and take responsibility for their lives rather than being spoon-fed information and regurgitating stuff.

Emergent Leadership

The following is a series of notes taken from a class on servant leadership I took from Rev. Colin Buckland, back in the summer of 2010. The class took place at Kingsfield, in Baldock, Hetfordshire, England.

Leadership is: serving; influential; role-modeling; influencing people; creating a context for human flourishing; communication and modeling; discipline; situational but consistent; transformational; an embodiment of what others desire to follow; visionary; trustworthy; inspiring; and equipped and empowered.

  1. Maximizing potential in people
  2. Serve people so that they can grow
  3. Raising the morality of the organization 

Leadership is NOT about telling people what to do.

The leader must always have followers. Followers are volunteers.  There is a human agreement between the leader and the followers — in which the leader thanks the followers; the realization that nothing could happen without the team.

Leadership is never imposed; it is only gained.  If leadership is something that influences, then icons become global leaders.  Often we become reactive: what we see we don’t like, we do not want to become.

Most times our views of leadership are shaped by Thought-Leaders.  Leadership is not highly looked upon, across the whole world.

Leadership is idealized.  The ideal motif of the leader is replicated throughout humanity; projected upon icons (who may not be leaders at all).  Within Christian leadership, God-like Energy is projected upon the clergy by those below them. Humans want to be told how to live, not how to grow.

All people can affect a small portion of society, that eventually will go on to change other elements. There are things we can do.

Leadership is Power. How do we tap into the power dynamic in a healthy way? The moment a person has power, there is a psychological response, both in the holder and the recipient of power.

Some people desperately want to be leaders, for all of the wrong reasons.  Christ, therefore, becomes our central figure as leaders.  The trend of rising cynicism drives toxicity into people’s lives — that the world is slowly dying, and so we begin to focus on the death of our souls.

  1. A shift in power = where the workers now demand control of their own lives, rather than being in control by their work.
  2. Changing contract = jobs are now longer for one’s entire life — but short-term.

This shift of power is leaning towards China and the East. Now western blue-collar needs to re-train, and workers in the west need to specialize.

Eventually, the Farmers in China will disappear and become the workers of New Industry — once they realize how they have relocated all of their Farmers to the cities.

The West will eventually become major Specialists, and will be forced to become the idea people of the rest of the world.

Because of this we need to train companies how to be innovative. If they cannot innovate in the long-run, they will die.

Perhaps in the future this will cause the United States and the west to become the manufacturers.  There is a desperate need for excellent leadership.

What is we are sitting on a powerhouse, and we just don’t know how to let it loose? What could happen?  The days of the Heroic Leader needs to come to an end. The heroic nature of it is in releasing the organization. The Cult of the CEO is dead.

Leadership becomes facilitative, the forward journey for people, fabric, and company.

Junzi on the Cross

Junzi on the Cross: A Discussion of Servant Leadership on the Dialectic Between the Son of the Ruler in Confucian Philosophy and the Son of Man in the Christian Worldview

This study’s objective was to develop leadership qualities within students in a Chinese university, through creating models of compromise between eastern and western philosophies, and then putting variable testing tools in place to observe whether changes took place. This research took place over two school terms, in which 36 leaders of small workgroups each term was examined. The aim of the research was to instill servant leadership principles into these leaders, and that through modeling they would instill those values into their group members. At the end of the research, while it has been proven that certain servant leadership have been instilled in student leaders, it is inconclusive whether or not those values have also been instilled into group members. However, student leaders did showcase humility and personal responsibility towards group members, two important qualities not normally present in Chinese leadership, but major qualities of traditional servant leadership.

This research began with the question: is it possible to raise servant leaders in China? China is well-known for being a country with authoritarian leadership. As early as the Zhou Dynasty (late B.C. 500) leadership in China was top-down, a society where each individual had their place written in Heaven as to role, responsibility, amount of land that could possibly be owned, to even salary. Today, there are studies being done to gauge the impact of servant leadership in China, but the majority of those studies are being conducted after-the-fact (see H. Yong’s study on servant leadership in the PRC). There are few studies being done today that are experiments of impact. This research is meant to remedy that injustice to some of the great leadership theories that are present in China’s vast history of philosophy and religion.

This research delves into the development of leadership agency in China (21, Chen); specifically leaders of student work groups in the college classroom who take charge of a team of students and create social programs which impact the local student population. This is a qualitative case study, but more importantly, it is exploratory research, to even see if there are viable paths for progression. I used an unstructured approach, as well as implemented an experimental method of instilling value into students which to my knowledge, has not been done before.

I also conducted a textual analysis of key texts in Confucian philosophy (the Analects) as and the Christian worldview (the Gospels) to compare the two leading philosophies/theologies from both eastern and western society. In order to conduct this research I selected outstanding students not of merit, but of leadership quality, which I shall refer to as pillars, as in Chinese philosophy a pillar is a person who stands out from the crowd in leadership quality (29, Sheh).


Leadership in China has traditionally been authoritarian, and to this day this style of leadership is prevalent in politics, business, even down to the family (193, Chen). Leadership is also extremely pragmatic, which says that regardless of the means, the end is the final goal (35, Rinehart). While this may be ethically unsound, this style of leadership does accomplish results. For the most part, Chinese government and Chinese business has remained paternalistic. In Chen and Lee’s book Leadership and Management in China, a group of researchers made an intense study on the peculiar aspects of paternalistic leadership, concluding that most Chinese leaders fall into a degree combination of three elements: authoritarianism  benevolence, and morality (176, Chen).

While many Chinese today do realize the importance of looking to other countries or cultures for guidance with leadership, many still accede to subordinate traditionality (181, Chen). Therefore, my premise for this research aims to change the paradigm of leadership by teaching the concept of servant leadership to Chinese students in the university, who are actively engaged in team building activities. While the concept of servant is somewhat present in traditional Chinese philosophy, far more comes from the words of Jesus himself in the Gospels, which has been watered down by Greenleaf (himself, a under-aggrandizing Quaker) to try and fit into a secular model anyone regardless of religion can adopt (27, Greenleaf). The goal of the research is to empower student pillars into a process of transformation (39, Rinehart); but in order to do that, I needed to take part in what Graen calls “the shared network leadership” model (289, Chen), which states that in order to successfully pass leadership principles into another culture, the transmitter must first understand the culture they are going to try and transform.

Research Topic

This study begins with the creation of leadership groups, but it goes beyond just creating situations for leadership. Conceptual leadership is the foundation of servant leadership (47, Greenleaf), because servant leadership deals not with issues of the hands but issues of the heart, deep passion and love for each person involved in the process. This foundation is the bedrock of all actions the leader makes (97, Rinehart), and were I modelling this leadership as a teacher from my own life, the foundation which stretch all the way to Jesus Christ, my own model for servant leadership. However, a key aspect of conceptual leadership is that it requires looking at both the forest and the trees, which in this case requires a careful analysis of operational power from a Chinese context. Whereas in the West operational power may rest on a leader’s positive qualities and past accomplishments, operational power (79, Greenleaf) in the East is focused on relationship and form. Therefore, I had to not only take this into account, but also move forward and begin to hand out responsibility in a way where the expectations matched the culture. This kind of delegation was absolutely essential to model for the pillars I intended to try and teach about servant leadership (52, Hayward).

I invoked the principle of primus inter pares (84, Greenleaf). In a college institution, there are no stakeholders involved in the process, and to find the archetypal trustee that Greenleaf describes as all servant leaders requiring to keep them accountable was impossible. Therefore, I became the trustee to each pillar, and we formed a relationship in that fashion. My goal was to help students form mental models to perceive leadership, while encouraging formation of relationship not only between myself and them, but between themselves and fellow team members. In this way the institution we set up was serving us (62, Greenleaf).

Target Group

Chinese leaders are natural at the art of self-cultivation. To cultivate the self is a means towards the self-evolution against instinctual desires and the movement towards wisdom and sagacity (61, Chen). Prime examples in Chinese history are the sage kings Yao and Shun, quoted often in the Analects of Confucius as pure examples of servant leaders. Other examples that are steeped in Chinese myth are the god-like Monkey King Sun Wukong, and his guide to human enlightenment, the sage-priest Sanzang, a reincarnated king in the body of a servant of Buddha. These stories serve as examples which many people who are concerned with leadership immediately think of; hence it is necessary to mention them.

One further aspect of the target group that needs be mentioned in the concept of harmony. Harmony is more popular today, due to the current President of China, Hu Jintao, having made the “harmonious society” a goal for his political tenure, although the concept has a much longer history in Chinese history than the 21st century. The saying of Confucius, “harmony is precious” has been used for thousands of years as a goal people in power should aspire (247, Chen). This is important to discuss because the pillars I chose to lead groups will often elect harmony over quality or task: if people in the group are not contributing to the work process, the leader will take it on him or herself to do the group rather than confronting that person about the issue.

Being top-tier students, they also desire achievement, as they are taught from a very young age that learning is more important than anything else (149, Sheh), except for money (which comes in a very close second). However, while achievement does occur high on the lists of goals for individuals, caring for members of the group does rate important as well (17, Chen).


As a Christian in an atheist country, I am in a unique position. Furthermore, the rejection of all religion, including Christianity, from having any place in government dialogue elevates my position as an educator in a top university for people who eventually go into either government or the social sector. While there are many Christians in China, there are many more non-Christians, some who ideologically refute the existence of any supernatural occurrences or even natural occurring acts of God. Part of what I am trying to teach these pillars of society is the concept of modeling, and by doing that myself I hope I can fill them with at least part of my philosophy and belief that serving others should be a naturally occurring phenomenon instead of something that is only guided my incentives (103, Rinehart).

I am also a foreign worker in a country that largely has remained ignorant of foreign concepts for the last 4,000 years (save for a brief period during the late 20th century until now, since they have been open). Therefore, the diversity of ideas that I offer the students as well as the depth of history that I carry with me (multiple cultural influences) can help in the process of modeling (38, Rinehart).

However, as a variable in this study, this information can only be useful if I am active in pursuing relationship with my elected pillars. I must be especially aware however, of the distinct historical imagination that already exists within my students; their ability to gauge the past and look towards the future is dependent on their perception of self-identity, if they can see a bigger picture, and if they consider the picture I offer to be of any value to them. Nevertheless, their historical imagination combined with mine, if put together would be highly beneficial to them as future leaders (9, Hayward).


To train servant leaders requires a different methodology than normal leaders. Where this research differs from other leadership training seminars is that all of the training I am doing will be hands-on, with in practical work groups doing meaningful projects which have the possibility of continuation past the end of the course. Students are given incentive in the form of grades rather than monetary promises or promotion, but due to the lack of a crisis situation (such as a training seminar or an actual crisis in the company) I have to personally help each pillars understand how they can best serve their group while maintaining distance and allowing them to discover the process on their own (68, Sheh). Not only do the pillars take charge of a group whom they have been told to serve, but they also embark on a community project which is focused primarily on social responsibility, something that comes naturally to most Chinese organizations and serves to place double-emphasis on the concept of servanthood (246, Chen)

There are four steps to the methodology of this project: (a) to analyze past efforts, (b) to set into motion a system which can be used both on-site and off-site in training leadership, (c) to carefully follow the variables throughout the two terms, and (d) follow through with the activities of the term and continue to promote leadership concepts throughout the semester.

Prior to this project, various activities had been subjected to students, including: a weekly leadership seminar, intended to train students in basic concepts; and electing class monitors in lieu of group leaders to maintain control of a class. However these two methods, both used in Fall and Spring of 2009 failed as engines of leadership; the class monitor found his or her job to be overwhelming, while the leadership elective remained as such: an optional elective for extra points, which few students considered important other than receiving a slightly higher score.


Students suffered from a lack of unity of purpose (100, Sheh) within work groups (having no leader), and monitors suffered from having insufficient execution power to set up systems of control, due to an overwhelming amount of work (23, Sheh). To deal with this issue student leaders were selected from student election, but often these leaders lacked both intution and willfulness, required abilities of servant leaders (37, Greenleaf, and 148, Hayward respectively).

When setting up a new system for guidance of pillars (servant leaders), I had first of all to put aside old notions of classroom management, and decide on a radical new approach. Personal communication on a weekly basis with leaders was required, as well as designing a system that promoted flexibility and impartiality towards all participants  The principle of impartiality states that all things have use, even if at first glance they do not seem so (87, Sheh). By acquiescing to this notion, facilitating a personality-based system (Myers-Briggs) for electing leadership was implemented, as I gave pillars far more opportunities to meet with me to discuss issues that occur on a weekly basis, from home meetings, weekly e-mails, personal phone calls, to even one-on-one leadership consultations. I opted for a flexible system, showing no partiality towards any student (such as a monitor) but allowed all to speak with me anytime (even at 9pm) without criticism. I hoped I was modeling basic values of servant leadership.

With the establishment of a system of accountability, setting roles and defining responsibility for group efforts, then focusing on analyzing specific variables: leaders, group response to the leader, and leader’s response to the “servant ethic” (209, Greenleaf), I hoped to forge a foundation of conceptual leadership the pillars would be able to take to the next level (47, Greenleaf).

Development of Original Model

The model developed for this research was composed of several aspects: (a) theoretical, (b) practical, and (c) intellectual.

In the theoretical model, I envisioned that servant leadership could be taught to students through a holistic lifestyle class, in which teaching was passed down through modeling as well as task. For example:

 original model (servant leadership)

Fig. 1

At first glance, the model above in Figure 1 seems like a fairly obvious concept for teaching a class. Concepts on servant leadership are delivered to the student via individual coaching sessions as well as through a weekly group task, which is individual according to each group member. For the leader of a group, he or she has a specific task which I will discuss shortly. The goal of this current model is to emulate holism, a concept that is deeply rooted in Chinese philosophy and which indicates that everything in the universe is inter-related and yet inter-dependent (83, Sheh).

As we can see from the model, the teaching is flexible and methods taught per week vary depending on the results and feedback from larger group projects, in which it is apparent whether or not servant leadership has been practiced or not. Servant leadership requires authenticity; otherwise it becomes nothing more than rote practice, but when coming from the heart, servant leadership has that amazing ability to bring people together as a team and function in the same heart (40, Rinehart).

The practical model used in this research deals with the individual group assignment given to each group or team pillar. At the beginning of the term the pillar must identify two qualities in each group member they will endeavor to work with an help improve, one strength and one weakness. In the following weeks, they must deliver to me a report on how they are progressing in helping that individual grow in that area. In this way, many team pillars have learned the art of submission, which is another quality that servant leaders possess: humility before others (10, Rinehart). For many pillars, this was the hardest element of their work, because of the abstract quality of the assignment and a fear to be seen in lower status than other group members; however due to the nature of upper leadership (myself, the teacher) they had litle recourse to deny the request, as strange as it may have sounded to them.

The final model used was the intellectual model. In this model, I would send e-mails to each pillar on a weekly basis instructing them in particular servant leadership concepts, beginning from the simple, and moving on every week to something more difficult. This model was taken from a paper Spears wrote in 1998, and illustrates many key elements of servant leadership that if applied to one’s paradigm, would greatly enhance abilities not only as a servant, but also as a leader.

servant leadership progression

Fig. 2

 From the beginning of the model (listening) begins the easiest of tasks: to learn how to listen instead of demand, to hear instead of tell. Each concept comes with specific rituals and routines the pillar must practice with his or her group members, finalizing in the concept of building community. By this point, the education portion of servant leadership has been completed, and the group may safety proceed with their projects and continue along the theoretical model to fruition. By using this model concepts such as vision and respect can be given to each pillar; whether or not they desire to utilize these models in their lives, however, is purely subjective.

The goal of this model was to create a practical model and basic set of theories on which servant leadership as a science could be based. In my studies on servant leadership, most of the research seemed bent towards learning to do goodwill to others: the Light side of leadership, wheras a writer like Robert Green, who wrote The 48 Laws of Power, would be the Dark side of leadership.

If we look into the foundations of servant leadership from both eastern and western philosophies, we find a very different source, and we can begin to build one final model.

In Confucian philosophy, servant leadership exists as form and pragmatism. For example, when Confucius says “Love your fellow men,” (217, Lin) he follows up later with, “It is harmful to make friends with three other types: the obsequious, the double-faced, and the smooth-tongued.” (291, Lin) The core concept of servant leadership from an eastern perspective is to give to others selflessly, either to be an example to other men, or to truly serve people without endangering yourself. “Why should that be?” Confucius asks, when his disciple inquires whether a man of honor (in Chinese, “junzi”) would jump into a well to save a drowning man. “A man of honor will try to rescue to man in the well, but he won’t jump in himself. He may be deceived, but he will not act foolishly.” (111, Lin) Therefore, if the man of honor (or “junzi”) could only rescue the man by drowning himself, he would refrain, as servanthood towards fellow men only extents as far as what is pragmatically allowed by one’s life. However, for the sake of ideals, the man of honor would gladly give up his life (269, Lin).

In the western perspective, servant leadership is founded on the principle of serving God with the whole heart, and modelling one’s life after Christ, who has modeled his life after his Father. The second concept that is widely spoken by Christ in the Gospels is the idea that “the humble shall be exalted, and the exalted shall be humbled,” (133, Cheney) a beautiful paradox and one which Christ repeats over and over again in a variety of different situations. The final concept that Christ repeats a number of times is to “love your neighbor as you would love yourself.” (157, Cheney) Whereas Confucius makes the statement, “Do not do to others what you do not wish others do to you.” (203, Lin)

From these two comparisons, we can begin to make a theory into a model for the Chinese leader. Whereas in eastern philosophy, serving others is dependent on form, pragmatism, and circumstance, western philosophy posits that serving others is about obeisance, humility, and selflessness. Eastern philosophy does contain selflessness, as Mencius states “the best practice of a leader is to help others do good,” (55, Sheh) but Mencius is still not willing to take that step outside of form and appear weak, whereas Christ says, “For he that is least among you all, he shall be great.” (107, Cheney) Now, to keep this from turning into a battle between philosophies, I will make some general observations and then develop a model useful in reaching eastern audiences with a western frame of mind.

When dealing with my Chinese pillars, I focused on teaching them to be humble, although I found that by doing so, many leaders felt that their position as leader was threatened and held little importance in the overall frame of group work. However, when these leaders took hold of the second concept: to take responsibility, and combine that with the authority which drafts and molds vision, suddenly the three concepts were congruent with each other. According to Figure 3, we can see that when eastern and western philosophy come together, if held together by responsibility and authority, the form is maintained and the sanctity of the pillar is maintained for all to see.

servant leadership keystone

Fig. 3

Few sensations are more painful than responsibility without power.” Churchill

Summary and Conclusions

My research was very idealistic. Much of the intended research which I have described in this paper did not actually happen, due to a number of factors. As a pilot study into whether or not servant leadership qualities can be instilled into Chinese students at the university level, I have concluded that they can be, but were not. I will first list the successes of this mission, and then list the reasons why certain aspects of this project failed.

Among student pillars, dogma prevailed. Greenleaf claims that without dogma, no activities within an organization can survive to fruition (117, Greenleaf). Pillars instrinsically understood the policies I set out for them and followed them as best they could, even when the assignment was incredibly abstract. The system was solid, and the educational model was easy to follow, even if they had to consult their friends about clarifications.

Benevolence was greatly practiced among student pillars. Benevolence is one of the key factors of Chinese leadership, be it servant leadership or not: it is to care for your followers in a holistic fashion, treating them as family and watching over their well-being (163, Chen). By creating groups that fostered friendship combined with task-oriented education, benevolence naturally blossomed in groups from pillars to participating group members. In some rare cases when the pillar was not present, instead of benevolence frustration became the driving incentive, but in most cases, pillars took very good care of their fellow colleagues.

Finally, because of the challenges students faced during the course of the semester, loyalty was highly prized among student pillars. For group members who participated fully in group acitivities, they were given the benefit of the doubt almost anytime they had to excuse themselves from work. Other students gladly covered for them.

I am glad to say that loyalty was a strong attribute of student pillars, as it is one of the prime requisities for servant leadership (123, Hayward), and the first step to acknowledging humility towards others. Finally, that humility many times expressed itself in the form of fluidity, in which leaders deign to make themselves invisible. This concept comes from Laozi, who stated, “Because in the end it does not claim greatness, its greatness is achieved.” (78, Sheh)

However, on the other hand, there were several factors that I failed to instill within my student pillars. First and foremost was calling, which is of utmost importance to a leader, but something which my student pillars could never have achieved due to being elected as leaders by me and not by themselves (300, Greenleaf). Greenleaf maintains servant leaders must be seekers, people who are constantly searching for turning points in which they can throw themselves as able servants (22, Greenleaf), which in the end is the ultimate qualification for taking initiative, a quality among servant leaders. Being elected takes away choice from any person, especially in the Chinese classroom, as being elected leave one without a choice to refuse the teacher.

I discovered that several of the pillars, while loyal and benevolent towards their group members, lied and cheated their way into either the good graces of their group members or into my own good graces, surprisingly. According to Hayward in his study on Winston Churchill (as well as both Sheh and Chen), moral character is a prime requirement for servant leaders, and in my course this concept failed to pass onto my student pillars. This is a glaring failure.

Finally, the last aspect of failure that I wish to mention is risk. Sheh comments that risk is a main factor in many Chinese businesses, but in my course, most leaders opted for the risk-less path until instructed not to do so by myself (150, Sheh). In the future, I hope to illuminate some of these principles through both modeling and direct teaching, before habits set in and form.

Evaluation and Recommendation

In evaluating the pillars, I used a variety of different methods. One method was through one-on-one interviews, in which I asked them a specific question about how they proceeded through the leadership process and they answered to the best of their ability. Another method I used was through a quantifiable survey, also known as scientific management (252, Chen), in which questions about team leadership were raised directly and they were asked to answer honesty. By the end of the evaluations, I discovered some striking things.

Firstly, that through the process of leading a group, these students gained in self-knowledge, although perhaps not in leadership ability. Many said that prior to the course they never saw themselves as leaders, but now after having gone through the process, they could tell that they were indeed gifted in certain areas of leadership. A very few said that the my calculations at the beginning of the class were improper, although they may have just been polite. Of course, the goal of any venture in leadership should not only be self-knowledge, but the knowledge of others (101, Sheh), at least in traditional Chinese philosophy.

My recommendations for future efforts include the following aspects: (a) instilling more of a concept of family among all students in a particular class, especially teaching pillars how to make their group members feel like they are a member of a special family (69, Hayward); teaching student pillars how to love selflessly, by eliciting basis responses of trust and responsibility from pillars to members (52, Greenleaf); using modeling to inspire student pillars, and asking them to inspire their own group members using the same methods (148, Sheh); and finally, implementing training and releasing policies, which will ensure leaders have the capacity to create leaders, so that the process can continue without end (148, Rinehart).


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Chen, C.C., & Lee, Y.T. (2008). Leadership and Management in China: Philosophies, Theories, and Practices. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cheney, J.M. (1969). The Life of Christ in Stereo: The Four Gospels Combined As One. Portland: Western Baptist Seminary Press.

Cheung, C.K., & Chan, A.C.F. (2008). Benefits of Hong Kong Chinese CEO’s Confucian and Daoist leadership styles. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 29, (6), 474-503.

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Greenleaf, R.K. (2002). Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power & Greatness. New Jersey: Paulist Press.

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Sheh, S. W. (2009). Chinese Leadership: Moving from Classical to Contemporary. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Business.


On the following pages are the definitions of terms relating to this study on servant leadership:

R.K. Greenleaf Pg. S.T. Rinehart Pg. C.C. Chen Pg. S.W. Sheh Pg.
Awareness 42 Authenticity 40 Authoritarianism 193 Achievement 149
Calling 300 Diversity 38 Benevolence 163 Autonomy 90
Conceptual leadership 47 Empowerment 39 Control mechanisms 20 Execution power 23
Dogma 117 Equipping 133 Dialecticism 100 Flexibility 104
Institution 62 Foundation 97 Excellence 245 Fluidity 78
Intuition 37 Modeling 103 Golden mean 249 Holism 83
Love 52 Pragmatism 35 Harmony 247 Humane 46
Operational power 79 Releasing 148 Humanism 17 Impartiality 87
Primus inter pares 84 Submission 111 Leadership agency 21 Incentive 68
Seeker 22 Paternalistic leadership 176 Inspiration 148
Servant ethic 209 S.F. Hayward Pg. Scientific management 252 Organizational learning 110
Servant leader 27 Moral character 150 Self-cultivation 61 Paradox 81
Trustee 125 Delegation 52 Sharing leadership 289 Pillars 29
Design 91 Sincerity 243 Risk 150
Destiny 153 Social responsibility 246 Self-knowledge 101
C. Buckland Pg. Family 69 Subordinate traditionality 181 Selflessness 53
Coaching 44 Forgiveness 118 Talent 27
Enabling 38 Historical imagination 9 Unity of purpose 100
Faciliation 29 Intellect 34 Visionary 144
Responsibility 4 Loyalty 123
Transformation 36 Relationship 127
Shared vision 38 Respect 71
Willfulness 148

Ethics and Virtue

The following is a series of notes taken from a class on Ethics I took from Dr. Ray Wheeler, back in January of 2009. The class took place at Daystar University, in Nairobi, Kenya.

Ethics is central to leadership because of the nature of the process of influence.

Influence: Engages followers

Accomplishes mutual goals

Ethics is central to leadership because of the impact leaders have on establishing the organization’s values.


Different forms of ethics:






II. Intention for Ethical Dilemmas

Our intentions assume a right or wrong, against a universal law.

Our intention is based on self-examination.


Ethics is the process of making decisions based on moral assumptions.


How do I handle conflicting values? “On the one side, I value truthfulness; on the other side I value human life.”


III. What is Ethics?

Ethos; customs, conduct or character (what society finds desirable)



Consideration of others



Values: ideas, principles or beliefs that are held as special

Morals: authoritative statements or ideals of what is right or wrong

Virtue: operative habit that is essentially good

Kindness, discipline, honesty, hospitality, etc., are examples of virtue.

Motive: reasons from which an individual determines behavior.

Anger, love, temper, desire for glory, etc., are examples of motive.


IV. A short history of ethics

[Plato] Eudaemonistic ethics: human wellbeing is the highest aim of moral thought and conduct to which the virtues are requisite skills and character traits.


[Aristotle] Ethics as grounded on virtues, but he rejected Plato’s insistence that training in sciences and metaphysics was a prerequisite to understanding the good.



Ethical behavior exhibits virtues in the mean between:




Virtue is contrasted by vice in pursuit of the mean,

The behaviors may be:




ethical grid

We must examine what we drift into easily… We must drag ourselves off in the contrary direction…”


The definition of the mean is determined by society.


The mother tree grows new trees through its roots, rather than scattered seeds

Its roots form new trees, which when are cut at the right time, form new groves

All trees are connected to one another


V. The Moral Agent

Aristotle: the moral agent can fulfill his or her moral obligation.

Example: Someone points a gun at you and says to rob the bank.

Duty: I do not steal.

Prima Facie: I will preserve my life.

I cannot obey both. If fail my duty due to duress, I will not be held morally responsible.


VI. Approaches to ethics

Teleological: decision based on the consequence

Essentially, teleological ethics is based on what happens.

The good (the end) drives the decision.

The result determines the rule.

The result is the basis of the action.

The result is sometimes used to break the rules.

The rule is good because of the result.


Deontological: decision based on duty

Essentially, deontological ethics are based on your beliefs.

The duty drives the decision.

The rule determines the result.

The rule is the basis of the act.

The rule is good regardless of the result.

The result is calculated within the rules.


PRINCIPLE: The more facts you discover as a leader the better the decision.


VII. Northouse’s Foci of Ethical Reasoning

Conduct-based ethics

Consequences (teleological theories)

Ethical egoism: decision made to my greatest benefit

Utilitarianism: what is the greatest possible good for the greatest number of people; using pragmatism as a style of invention

Act utilitarianism: is what is best in a specific case

Rule utilitarianism: is what is generally best in most contexts

Altruism: decisions should be made in light of the best interests of others

Leaders intent on benefiting others will pursue organizational goals.

Conversely self-focused leaders focus on personal achievement and control.

Duty (deontological theories)


Character-based ethics

Virtue-based theories


Can Kant’s Categorical Imperative remain?


Velasquez (1992)









Northouse (2004)

Builds community

Respects others

Serves others

Shows justice

Manifests honesty

Goal: to exercise awareness of the impact of leadership decisions


VIII. Models of Virtue





Self control






Goal: Live well in community. 

What virtues anchor our ethics?


IX. Ethics in organizational leadership

Point: ethics has to do with a) what leaders do and b) who leaders are.

Importance: in any decision-making situation implicit or explicit ethical issues exist.


X. Reflection

A leader is a person who has an unusual degree of power to create the conditions under which other people must live and move and have their being, conditions that can be either as illuminating as heaven or as shadowy as hell. A leader must take special responsibility for what’s going on inside his or her own self, inside his or her conscience, lest the act of leadership create more harm than good.” (Parker Palmer, “Leading from Within”)


What you are has a serious impact on what you do. A leader cannot separate himself from his responsibility. A leader has to accept the responsibilities of leadership. You have this impact whether or not you accept this responsibility. There is a direct teleological response that comes with every decision a leader makes.

Group Dynamics

The following is a series of notes taken from a class on Conflict Dynamics I took from Dr. Macmillan Kiiru, back in January of 2009. The class took place at Daystar University, in Nairobi, Kenya.

Group dynamics:
Focuses on advancing knowledge about the nature of Group Life

The Scientific study of the:

a) Nature of Groups, b) Behavior in Groups, and c) Group Development

The Knowledge of Group Dynamics helps the way we think and/or function in groups


“My life is our life.”


III. Assertive People:

  • Meet conflict directly
  • Does not pretend everything is ok
  • Looks for win/win situations
  • Brings the facts forward
  • Does not let offenses build
  • Willing to compromise to arrive at a destination
  • Open-minded to other solutions
  • Assist others in problem-solving
  • Address problems immediately
  • Let others how they truly feel
  • Upbeat, positive tone
  • Empathic reasoning
  • Seeking out constructive feedback
  • Refraining from ‘beating around the bush’
  • Making certain they are properly understood
  • Establishing healthy boundaries
  • Lack of attacking individual character
  • Always ask tough questions
  • Sensitivity towards feelings of others
  • Hold other people accountable

Honest, initiative, forgiving, trusting, humble, non-defensive, serving, reliable


Vs. being Aggressive:

  • Proud and self-centered
  • Want what it wants, without others concern
  • Always right
  • Must win at all costs
  • Attack others when disagree
  • Offensively opinionated
  • Exaggerated
  • Close-minded
  • Slams doors
  • Always seem angry
  • Constantly interrupts
  • Dominates conversations
  • Intentionally intimidates


IV. The Process

Many achievers are of necessity, aggressive. Aggressive people, however, tend to be very lonely. The environment around us demands certain behaviors that often are not necessarily positive. The backgrounds, the way we are raised at home, sometimes produce an aggressive or passive person. But we should look back, to see where we are. This is a discipline we work through.

How sustainable is aggressive behavior? It doesn’t last long. Aggression leads to “a cliff.” It can be self-destructive. That is why it is not self-sustainable. But assertive behavior is sustainable, because of the responsiveness of those around.


V. Understanding Groups:

1) A group may be defined as a number of individuals who join together to achieve a goal

2) People join groups in order to achieve goals they are unable to achieve by themselves

3) A collection of individuals who are interdependent in some way

4) A number of individuals who are interacting with one another


Groups have goals. They are interdependent, as they interact with each other. Often, though, the goal of the group is not the goal of the individual. How do you harmonize the group and individual goal?

Book Review: Organizational Culture and Leadership, by E.H. Schein

 All organizations contain an invisible culture, with varying strains of subcultures. These cultures can be accessed by analyzing three levels: artifacts (visible structures), values (philosophies), and assumptions (perceptions). Leaders are at the forefront of culture as models; by learning how to discern an organization’s culture, leaders can then create, transmit, change, maturate, and foster the life of what Schein calls a “learning culture.”

The Learning Leader, as Schein says, creates culture by spreading shared assumptions, which result in shared values, and those values then showcase as positive artifacts. The organization is a living structure, which matures alongside the culture and like any living thing, without food (leadership) and water (culture), can die. However, changing culture is complex and often lifelong, requiring the slow and gradual application of principles, while keeping a careful eye the leader’s relationship with the organization in question.

Schein’s opus is the combination of a sociological experiment and the application of metaphysical business principles on a theoretical level, and in some cases, explanation through example. He compares and contrasts two companies, Action and Multi, both organizations which deal in high-tech fields, the former in electronics, and the latter in medical technologies. Schein claims the principles he espouses throughout the book as fact, but whether or not they are is unclear as both companies’ stories end without a proper answer of whether the culture had changed or if anything positive had happened. Market forces appear to dominate the field more than his principles, but as examples of how leadership generates culture, they prove to be adequate for the purposes of the book.

It is my role-modeling in the classroom that essentially sets the stage for learning and cooperation. What this means is not only do leaders affect culture on a subconscious level, but they have the ability (if they train themselves) to affect culture on a conscious level, if they first recognize personal responsibility in the formation of culture, and then endeavor to create change within that culture.


Bibliographic information/citation

Schein, E.H. (1992). Organizational Culture and Leadership. (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

An Evaluation of Wang’s “Social exclusion and inequality in China”

Wang’s intent is to clarify the problems surrounding the Chinese university entrance exam by using Amartya Sen’s model of social exclusion. This is a curious concept, since he is marrying two different disciplines into the same school of thought (poverty studies and educational theory). While his introduction is short (two paragraphs), his background to the problems related to the university entrance examination is extensive, and is necessary to understand the implications of social exclusion when applied to the policies that surround the test. One of the weaknesses of the paper, however, is Wang’s extensive explanations of historical and economic-sociological concepts. Wang tends to focus more on applying previous literature to support his opinion, rather than creating and using verifiable data and individual case studies in order to show credence to a conclusion.

Two specific categories of literature are used to describe the problem of social exclusion in China regarding higher education. The first category of literature is related to social exclusion itself, a concept originated from Amartya Sen in his paper, “Social Exclusion: Concept, Application, and Scrutiny.” (Sen, 2000) In this way, Wang creates a correlation between poverty and education, specifically as Sen relates poverty through his capability theory by using variations of deprivations that people suffer under political and economic systems.

The other category of literature that Wang employs are economic/sociological statistical literature and political documents which outline state power over education and the dissemination of funds for use in education. In this way, Wang is uniquely advocating a participatory approach to his qualitative study. He utilizes few case studies (although his abstract says otherwise), although he does use political documents and statistics to back up his claims about how the structures of power in China are depriving students of the right to free higher education. His goal however, is to turn heads.

Wang primarily makes use of western scholars who are commenting on the concept of social exclusion (Devaney, Weber, Lenoir, Silver, Popay, Levitas, Rawls, Lindblad, Popkewitz, Vizard, Burchardt, Unterhalter, Robeyns, Saito, Jayaraj, and Subramanian), or western scholars commenting on the value of education (Rothschild, Mellor, Klasen, Healy, Slowey, Bradshaw, and Waters). He does use a few Chinese scholars who write about the college entrance examination (Zhang, Chen, Yuan, Yang, Yin, Liu, Xia, Bao, Chan, and Zhou) although the primary source of his information regarding national statistics is the NBSC (National Bureau of Statistics of China, 2008).

When Sen’s capability theory was applied to the Chinese context, Wang noticed several issues which led to the writing of this study. Those issues derive from an aspect of capability theory which deals with societal deprivations. There are four main problems that Wang describes in his study. The first problem is that the system changed from a free system to a user-pay system, which contributes to what Sen calls constitutive deprivation. The second issue that Wang elaborates on is universities in different regions developing differently and altering their recruitment systems based on familial backgrounds of prospective students, which Wang places within Sen’s active deprivation. The third problem that Wang writes about is the disparity between urban and rural populations, which he fits into Sen’s passive deprivation; what Wang also calls “passive exclusion.” Lastly, Wang speaks about Sen’s instrumental deprivation in the Chinese HE system as schools alter their admission policies and discriminate students according to “migrant status,” or according to their “elite status.”

In conclusion, Wang stresses that HE institutional design, rather than enhancing capability, corrals students to specific states and actions. He states that evaluation for admission should not only be limited to “educational input” and “learning outcomes,” but should return to a merit-based system, and move away from what is now a privilege-based system. Wang offers few solutions outside of system-wide and joint state, market and civil efforts, but he does express that if we apply Sen’s capability theory to HE admission in China, we can view the entire issue through a different lens, focusing on the active and instrumental deprivation within the institutional design of the system itself.


Wang, L. (2011) Social exclusion and inequality in higher education in China: A capability perspective. International Journal of Educational Development, 31, 277-286.

Sen, A. (2000) Social Exclusion: Concept, Application, and Scrutiny. Social development Papers, Asia Development Bank, No. 1.