Individuality and collaboration: Leadership qualities – A reflection

EDUC 830
Simon Fraser University – Faculty of Education
MEd Post-Secondary, VCC Cohort
Implementation of Educational Programs
Professor: Dr. Glenn Galy
Student: Kathryn Truant
May 30, 2021


The following quote from Change Management – A Guide to Effective Implementation (McCalman, Paton & Siebert, 2016), illustrates the contradictions that leaders in education face:

[The] leadership process does ironically require managers having the capacity to function as transformational leaders and then working with established cultural norms in order to change some of these. This is the ‘paradox of cultural change’. To change culture one must work with the culture that one is trying to change… (p. 79).

Change is evolution; it is unavoidable. Change is necessary. Tradition must also be considered as well.


I chose the above quote to reflect on because it is a paradox – I love the challenge of trying to discover solutions to contradictions, and trying to find the balance that allows for individuals to be collaborators. I also identify with the difficulty that leaders face, especially the change that must occur in a student during the transfer of learning. As a clinical instructor, I am discovering that my students are individuals, and not just vessels to be filled with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that I impart on them. An example of this occurred recently when I was contracted as a subject matter expert (SME) at an oral surgery clinic in my community. The surgeon had hired a new dental assistant (one year out of college), with little or no experience in oral surgery. It was my role to train her. I use a scaffolded approach that does not overwhelm, and I try to focus on building from what my students already know (or what I assume they know). My approach backfired, and my student was not open or interested in receiving my great wisdom. At the time, I was baffled – I had not experienced outright belligerence before, and I was afraid to share this with the surgeon because it made me feel like a failure. I continued with my approach – an approach, by the way, that worked well on previous occasions with other students. This one was different: had I lost my edge, my authenticity, and my legitimateness? Eventually, I shared my concerns with the surgeon and he seemed satisfied with my student’s progress. But, it was still bothering me.        

            Months later I was contracted again by the same surgeon to tweak some emerging technologies with the same assistant. I was ready – I had resources and engaging training activities planned – things would go well this time! The results of my tutelage did not improve; my student resisted my instruction with such open hostility that my disappointment was obvious. I assumed that I was a collaborative instructor: I felt that my approach was learner-centred. I had not encountered a student like this before. In hindsight, I admit that I was not considering her as an individual. She told me (finally) that she likes to figure things out for herself – individualism – which is okay, but I took it personally, and this made me reluctant to help her. I thought, ‘why re-invent the wheel?’


My student and I were now both reluctant to collaborate on the assigned task. There are two sides to this – hence the paradox – and I believe that this is the key to unlocking what I want to do in this Master’s program. This reflection is the greatest ‘aha’ moment for me in the program to date: true collaboration can only arise from the empowerment of all stakeholders. In this week’s video lecture, my professor introduced Bolman and Gallos’ Reframing Academic Leadership where they argue “that the respect that we show others in seeking their participation and involvement will only deepen their commitment to our organization and to our leadership success” (as cited in Galy, 2021). The weight in this statement for me was Dr. Galy’s assertion that, “while we value autonomy, and individuality it does impede consensus and collaboration” (2021).

            This train of thought reminds me of Brookfield’s resistant learner, “as teachers we see clearly the value of learning and we all too easily assume students can see this too. The reason that certain understandings or skills are important is so obvious to us that we may feel they need minimal justification” (2015, p. 234). I admit that my approach bordered on being oppressive because I do not like being told what to do either. I am not talking about following direction and receiving guidance. I am talking about being subjected to another person’s prescribed perspective. Freire explains, “resolution of the oppressor-oppressed contradiction indeed implies the disappearance of the oppressors as a dominant class” (1970, p. 38).


I strongly suspect that my student felt oppressed by me. She did not feel free to collaborate with me, or accept my collaborative intentions. She reminds me of myself at that stage of my career. I am an individual. I have strong opinions, and I cannot thrive without a sense of autonomy. I also have a strong commitment to community. Balancing this paradox is what will drive me moving forward as an educator. My student needs my assistance, AND I must be willing to include her in my leadership strategies. For example, my student is a future leader: if I model good leadership skills as an SME by allowing her to create her own curriculum – her own SME manual that she will carry forward (and it does not have to ‘look’ like mine) – then this is a step in the right direction with this type of learner. Further, I must be okay with her wanting to inform herself in a collaborative spirit. Allow me the respect to help you. Let me collaborate. I will assist in your establishment of leadership. I began trying to articulate individuality and collaboration a little over a year ago:

My students need to be afforded freedom to act as individuals in the bigger scheme of things. They need to learn from mistakes in a safe environment. Each of my students bring something special as individuals to clinic each day. I learn from them, and they learn from each other. If outcomes are being met in an effective way, I am open to suggestions to improve efficiency. We are a community of individuals working toward a common vision: ours is to practice in service to ourselves, and each other (Truant, 2020, p. 6).

I am going to re-iterate my statement from the reflective section: Change is evolution; it is unavoidable. Change is necessary. Tradition must also be considered as well. Further, an educator must know their students. “Leadership involves the creation of followers through the establishment of relationships that produce meaning systems as the basis of collective action towards change” (McCalman et al., 2016, p. 80).

            My brain is buzzing thinking about this. I am to blame in my feeling of failure with my reluctant student. As a teacher and an SME, I do not want my students to feel oppressed. Paulo Freire explains, “an act is oppressive only when it prevents people from being more fully human” (1970, p. 39). The difficult part of this paradox for me is determining the steps I will take to establish myself as a leader (who deserves followers). The first step will be to create a clear and comprehensive needs assessment that reflects where my learners are. In the past, I assumed gaps and designed my transfer of learning strategies accordingly. No wonder my student felt oppressed. During my PID, I wrote a blog post about the reluctant learner, and I spoke about my mentor and how I was afforded respect on my own journey to become an SME (Truant, 2018) – the light bulb above my head has been flickering for a while, and now that roles are reversed and I am now the aspiring leader, it is starting to shine a little brighter. This reflection is a view of the subjective micro environments that need to be considered in program planning; it is a cautionary reminder to plan programs based on strong needs assessment. My next reflection will look at a larger corporate overview, specifically objective change management.


Bolman, L. G., & Gallos, J. V. (2011). Reframing academic leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Brookfield, S. D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Freire, P. (1996). The pedagogy of the oppressed (New revised edition). New York: Penguin.

Galy, G. (2021, May 19). Week 3: EDUC830 [Lecture video]. Simon Fraser University. Faculty of Education. MEd Curriculum and Instruction Post-Secondary.

McCalman, J., Paton, R. A., & Siebert, S. (2016). Change management – A guide to effective implementation (4th ed.). Los Angeles: Sage.

Truant, K. (2020). On individualism:A commentary [Course assignment]. EDUC 823. Simon Fraser University. Faculty of Education. MEdCurriculum and Instruction Post-Secondary.

Truant, K. (2018, May 8). Value and expectancy. Kathryn Truant CDA ID. Retrieved from