(Moral) Leadership

These are interesting times.  Last week, I attended the Digital Pedagogy Institute at the University of Mary Washington in Fredricksburg, Virginia.  Attending this institute was re-energizing and interesting since I conversed with many higher education colleagues looking to change how online learning is delivered and transform what it can provide to student learning.  My discussions with my new friends and colleagues from around the nation allowed me to reflect on why I teach and what I hope my students gain from the knowledge we share in the online classroom environment.

At the end of the week, refreshed from my knowledge, my SHSU colleagues and I who attended the institute were reminded of the problems that have always been a part of U.S. history.  Just 66 miles down the road in Charlottesville, hatred and bigotry was in full display for all the world to see.  The discussions shared during our trip back was filled with anger, disappointment, and in very blunt terms, validation that all is not good in our nation when it comes to diversity concerns.  For me, the images of [tiki] torches held by adults, young and old, marching through the campus of a highly esteemed university were surreal.  The pictures I viewed on my smartphone that morning after were not only disturbing, but real and raw.  In my initial reactions, I felt numb.  You only see pictures like the ones you saw in history books, not in today’s newspapers.  It was happening.  Torches lit not to provide light for a march, but lit to intimidate and to remind all of us of our nation’s ugly racist past.  However, the individuals holding the torches were not hidden, they were for everyone to see.  What was once a secretive action by community members was now out in the open for everyone to see.

In the aftermath of the march and tragic death of Heather Heyer, we as a nation are still trying to make sense of everything that has and is occurring.  As of today, I believe the nation is trying to figure out what direction we are going.  Within these discussions are questions on leadership.  This posting isn’t going to address any person by name, but it will address how leaders respond to imagery and actions connected to Charlottesville and incidents of a similar and lesser nature.

The word “moral” in this posting is placed in parentheses on purpose.  Leadership involves much more than achieving goals.  In my teaching of leadership theory and concepts at both the master’s and doctoral level, the resources I used for class frequently addressed the avoidance of coercive leadership usually held by authoritarian individuals.  In my most recent teaching of the leadership course for doctoral students, I used Juana Bordas’ (2012) book Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age.  In the book, Bordas beautifully described different perspectives of leadership formed by cultural experiences and ideas.  In using the book, my students appreciated most, if not all, of the leadership knowledge provided by Bordas.  Among the most frequently discussed were the ideas of being a “leader among equals” and looking at leadership through a “we rather than I” lens.  Key to these two characteristics is the thought of how leadership impacts not just your organization, but the surrounding community and values of everyone affected by your organization’s actions.  Deeply embedded in Bordas’ teachings is the moral responsibility of being a leader.

I would add that being a leader is not always associated with a holding a top-level position.  Being a good leader also is reflective of what you value and what you hold close to your heart with regards to impact of your own actions and most importantly, the actions of your organization.

The above image is from CNBC.com is interesting to me when I view it.  As of this morning, there are many viewpoints and opinions being stated on how our current president responded to Charlottesville.  I personally deeply disagree with how this person views this national tragedy.  However, with regards to what I believe is moral leadership, those individuals standing to the side of the person speaking is the most important focus of the picture.  Moral leadership, I feel, is being tested at that moment.  There is no denying that individuals blazingly displaying Nazi flags and chanting nationalist slogans have no place in our democratic society.  So, with that simple knowledge, what made these individuals politely stay still and silent?  I wonder what was going through their minds as statements giving 50/50 blame on actions were being stated by their leader?  They just stood there.

(Moral) leadership.  I would like to think that all the individuals in the above picture are indeed moral individuals.  Morality is not necessarily something you tell others verbally on a daily basis, you show morality through your actions.  What you do and how you do it lets others understand your level of making sound and responsible decisions.  At times, your morality is tested.  When it is, you might often speak up or leave the presence of what you feel is immoral.

This summer, I attended a concert by Roger Waters, from the band Pink Floyd.  I grew up listening to Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” and appreciate the music of the band.  Anyone who is a fan of Mr. Waters knows that he wears his heart on his sleeve and doesn’t hold back on his views of politics and society.  Prior to attending his current “Us vs. Them” tour, I knew that one portion of his concert (interestingly enough during the classic “Pigs (Three Different Ones)”), he was going to let the audience how he personally feels about the current presidential administration.  I will be honest, he didn’t hold back any punches.  It was blunt, straightforward, and at the end of the song, a message so powerful that even I was aghast.  Knowing that I live in a red state, I was curious how the crowd would react.  While I guess that a majority of the audience responded to the messages and images with applause and cheers, I noticed some visibly in disagreement, leaving their seats making their way straight to the exits.  Their disapproval was shown by their own actions and I would guess that while many did agree with this part of the show, for those people who left, their values were challenged and they acted.  They (for what I could see) politely left.  So be it (and they missed a hell of a closing set!).

Going back to the image, I am struck on the different reactions to the press conference.  As of today, some reports state that some in the administration were uncomfortable, surprised, and flabbergasted.  However, my moral self would like to think that if I was in the same room or standing next to the individual, would I act in response to someone I call my leader?  Would my morality have more weight than my affiliation to a party of individual?  Would I visibly react (like my Roger Waters concert goers) or would I just accept it and move on?  I placed (moral) in parentheses because I believe for many of us, we consider ourselves moral but for some, we might find it convenient to hide it within a small space only to make visible when interestingly, no one cares to notice. That is what happened at the Roger Waters concert.  Folks left knowing that others were still enjoying the show.

Morality is still a concept that I am learning.  I go to Mass and try my best to learn how to become a moral person.  I do my best to read what others state on how to live a moral life (right now I’m reading The Book of Joy to learn from the Dalai Lama and Rev. Desmond Tutu).  In my actions as a faculty member, I try to do good and even when I have a challenging student, I show empathy to do my best to understand why that person is finding my course difficult.  Being a moral individual requires effort and constant reflection.  However, sometimes morality tests you to respond quickly and immediately.  I find that aspect fascinating and frightening.  How would I act as a moral leader?

To this day, I am still trying to break myself from being a (moral) leader to becoming a truly and fully moral leader.



Bordas, J. (2012). Salsa, soul, and spirit: Leadership for a multicultural age. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Dalia Lama, Desmond Tutu, & D.C. Abrams (2016).  The Book of Joy: Lasting happiness in a changing world. Random House Publishers.

De-“Google it”

(blog originally posted on August 9, 2017 on rmontelo.com)

Recently, one of my students in my online History of Higher Education summer course presented a short summary of her final campus history project to her classmates and myself during a videoconferencing meeting at the end of the session.  The student presented her topic on the Tougaloo Nine.  This historic moment at this college was an event that was not part of my higher education knowledge.  In short, the Tougaloo Nine were a group of African American students who attended Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi in 1961.  Denied access to the city public library to complete class assignments due to segregation, the students decided to hold a “read in” at the library as a protest of the segregationist policy in place at that location.  Hearing my student’s presentation fascinated me since I was actually becoming the learner, becoming aware of an important part of higher education history (in my opinion).

After hearing the presentation, I immediately texted my close faculty colleague in my program to ask him if he ever heard of the Tougoloo Nine.  I asked him since we both share a passion for knowledge on student activism and social justice actions in higher education.  As soon as I sent the text, he immediately responded that he didn’t know and that he wanted to learn more.  In the same time as he was typing his response, I shared with him my excitement in learning about this very interesting history event.  As soon as he read my second response, he asked to send him more information.  I could sense his deep interest when he typed “please fill me in!”  I read the text message and when I came upon his request to fill him in on additional knowledge, my response was almost immediate.

In a quick moment, I typed the message, “Google it.”


(gif from http://smartserp.com/blog/what-are-the-major-search-engines-other-than-google/)

Today, in our vast world of information technology and quick access to zillions of pieces of data and facts, we have privilege of accessing this information in effortless and fast means.  It just takes a few moments in a search bar to open the door to this vast land of knowledge.  Often when I’m researching on a topic, I reflect on how I did the practice of finding information when I was a college student.  I recall going first into the library to seek out which drawer to use to find my materials in the *card catalog*.  I recall if I really wanted to be “cutting edge”, I would sign my name on the list of other students to use the ERIC database on one of two computers connected to a dot-matrix printer that would provide the results of your searches in many folders of perforated printing paper (I would love to rip off the holed-strands of paper on the edge of the sheets!).  I recall if I didn’t get good results from my searches to remind myself that there were always the many sets of encyclopedias sitting on the shelves waiting to be used as a last resort.

My, how times have changed since then….or has it?

Going back to my colleagues request to learn about the Tougaloo Nine, I knew I had the information he was seeking.  I was the one who heard the information from my student right then and there, right?  I was the one who initiate the question of “did you know?”  So, why did I tell him to “Google it?”  Honestly, my response in my opinion wasv – excuse my language – a bit of an asshole-ish response.

Why?  I felt that I was not only being a good colleague and friend by not helping him more, but also not a good teacher.  I had knowledge.  The knowledge excited me.  In turn, I wanted someone else to know.  Once that interest was shown, I left my friend and colleague hanging.  I felt like bum.

To make myself feel better, I immediately gave a short written summary of the presentation and did a quick internet search using some of the reference information provided by my student and sent him via email a website where he could find more information.  I hoped that this would satisfy his curiosity and I would feel good that I gave him new knowledge.  As I reflected on this situation, which truth be known only lasted maybe ten minutes or so, I started to think about how my current role as a faculty member provides an interesting characteristic.

I am able to start the chain of information gathering and learning for individuals.  When you think about it, this is a very important role to fulfill.  As I write this, I am currently attending the Digital Pedagogy Institute (http://www.digitalpedagogylab.com/institute/) on the beautiful campus of the University of Mary Washington.  So far this week, we have discussed the many definitions of learning, teaching, and instructional delivery.  What makes these discussions unique is that they occurred in critical lenses.  Among the discussions with my colleagues have been how to we create communities and networks within the learning spaces we are asked to fill and direct.  As an online instructor, the task is extremely challenging since first, one must first debunk the myths one can have when you mention the words “online learning”.  Second, some students may not want to seek out community within an online classroom.  They might just want to be told what is needed to complete the course and that is it.  In any case, my role as a professor is to work with these challenges to create a learning space where one not only learns new knowledge, but also leaves hopefully with a new perspective in their own worldview.

Throughout the week, I have reflected on these tasks and how we as a society have approached the act of “learning”.  In my opinion, we have become a society where we have, in a sense, become more educated in that we now have access to resources that we not available to us ten or fifteen years ago.  If you do an internet search on “The Tougaloo Nine”, you will in most cases find several sources at your fingertips in a matter of seconds.  We are now able to find knowledge with great ease.  In addition, we have our own life experiences.  These experiences give us insight on how we should approach situations we encounter in our lives.  In the higher education arena, Love (2012) made the case that lived experiences provide what he called “informal theory”.  Informal theory served as an important bridge between theory and practice.  We are able to adapt formal theories from what we learn and observe in our daily lives.  Without sounding too theoretical, I understand his argument to be equal to stating “don’t underestimate what you already know!”  We know more than we realize.  However, in this age of technological advances, we fail to expose and optimize that knowledge.

Just Google it.”  No offense to the brilliant minds (although some work is currently needed with their mindfulness of diversity) at Google, search engines like those at Google and others have allowed us to become lazy teachers.  Instead of sharing the wealth of knowledge possessed from our experiences, we instead take the easy way out when one seeks to tap into our knowledge.  It is easy to just tell our students and friends to “google it” when they need help.  Our educated selves are now filled by proxies located in boxes on the top right hand of our computer screens.  When we excite another person with our new found knowledge on a topic, instead of telling the person what we have just learned, we often go with the easy response of saying, “google it!”

I find it a bit humorous that even knowledge that we know about our cities and communities are sometimes responded by a quick “google it” statement.  If a friend asks me about any recommendations on great places to eat in Houston, I will sometimes find myself telling them to consider a general area of the city and to then “google it”, even though I know a few places.  I guess I could be seen as the local expert of my current city, but instead, I trust instead the knowledge of an internet search.  In doing this act, I transferred my role as a trusted knowledge source to another entity that doesn’t know the personal needs of the person seeking my advice.  I removed myself from the learning process and in a sense, the relationship I have with the person asking for my help.

I titled this entry “De-‘Google it‘”.  This isn’t a manifesto arguing against the presence of the internet and to wish its demise.  I value what the internet has given society.  There is much to demise from the internet but one cannot argue how valuable it has become in education today.  If the internet should suddenly disappear, we would still be okay as a society.  I am certain that a degree of inconvenience will occur, but I would politely say “Welcome back to the 80s”.  However, we can do better.  By “de-googling”, I am making the argument to share what you know readily.  Start the process of unearthing the knowledge that you possess from your lived experience.  You have theories to put into play, as Love (2102) suggested in his article.  When someone asks you a question, first try to engage in dialogue with the individual(s) asking a question.  What do you know?  Make an attempt to talk about what you already know.  Learning is an active process and some would argue that if one does not show some level of effort in sharing and obtaining information, effective learning has not occurred.  “Google it” avoids this dialogue.

Returning back to my Tougaloo Nine scenario, I have followed up with my colleague and confessed that I felt like – again, excuse the language – “a total dick.”  In explaining my response, I felt that I as educators, I didn’t fulfill my role in his learning.  In that brief moment, I did feel the impact of what it means to be a teacher.  By not doing what good teachers do, I failed at educating.  After my confession, I did feel better.  We both understood that we would eventually discuss more this piece of higher education history and continue to learn about social justice in higher education.  While this hasn’t occurred just yet, I know now that we will do what Google cannot – to listen and hear what we know.  Maybe not or maybe so.  Hmmm, let me ask Alexa (just kidding!).



Love, P. (2012). Informal theory: The ignored link in theory-to-practice. Journal of College Student Development, 53(2), 177-191.