I have been gifted with incredible students who constantly amaze me and catalyze my commitment to supporting their leadership development. I teach Sustainable Leadership at Presidio Graduate School.

Let me take you inside my classroom: We teach our course “laptopless”–that is, without laptops–because leadership is learned through practice, feedback and reflection. This spring I am teaching 36 students in San Francisco for an all day Leadership Course. We do five full days spread over four months. To start each class, I bring a bundle of sticks and make a faux campfire in the center of the room to invoke the notion that we are all gathered to tell stories about our leadership journey. This “campfire” is the metaphor for our learning as we tend it throughout the semester.

I have found beginnings and endings are of incredible importance so after we set the campfire, we start the day with a brief exercise to acknowledge our arrival and readiness for learning. Then, each person declares their intention for the day and for the arc of the course. This is important because it sets the tone for creating a practice environment vs. a performance zone.

Leadership cannot be simply performed, it must be practiced with room to internalize, reflect, and experiment. To make a space for this I always include a peer coaching “walk and talk” where students talk about people and experiences that have impacted them greatly. Afterward they write a reflection journal on the following questions:

What are your most deeply held values?
Where did they come from?
Have your values changed significantly since your childhood?
How do your values inform your actions?

Their journals are filled with stories of their journeys and how they have been active architects in shaping their lives and their education. In general, as people understand their competencies, opportunities and passions, their capacity for leadership emerges and deepens. This is what the leadership strand of our curriculum at PGS does. Our students have come to PGS from diverse directions, seeking to add the business skills needed to accomplish the visions that their core values have been shaping and it’s important to integrate new learning and behavior with previous experience, to build on it authentically.

At the end of the class we “check-out” briefly. Each student shares what they are taking from the class, or thoughts they are left with. One student last week summarized it with a metaphor. He said that in this program he’s now walking with other “through-hikers”– referring to the people who hike the long trails: the Pacific Coast, the Appalachian, etc. — who are in it for the long run, not just day hikers. When you’re through-hiking, you take the time to reflect, learn from what you’ve experienced on the trail thus far, and take each day as another opportunity to notice new things. Then you can confidently take new risks and you develop a respect for the practice and the changes that are necessary for our lives to thrive.