Ganz’s Pedagogy as Practice

… a core concept in Leadership Skills and Atlas 109

Ganz2Concept description

In their 2011 paper, Learning to Lead – A Pedagogy of Practice (at, accessed 7 January 2016), Marshall Ganz and Emily S. Lin set out four learning structures – projects, scaffolds, reflections and contexts – that enable them to take engage in pedagogy as practice.

“Pedagogy as practice takes experiential learning a step farther: we practice what we teach in the way we teach it. We teach leadership by practicing leadership. This requires a learning venue in which we, as instructors, “accept responsibility for enabling others to achieve purpose in the face of uncertainty.” We base this approach on requiring students to take responsibility for a project rooted in their values, intended to achieve a specific goal within a specified time (day, workshop, semester) which they may or may not achieve, and that requires engagement of others. The risk of failure is real, consequential, and transparent. Similarly we make our pedagogy as transparent as we can, invite adaptation, and, using probing and targeted questions, coach—rather than instruct—students in their development of each of the five practices.” (Ganz and Lin, op. cit., n.p.)

The four structures are (direct quotations from the Ganz and Lin paper):

  1. Project-focused learning: If, as teachers, we model leadership by enabling our students to achieve purpose in the face of the uncertainty of their projects, then students begin to actually learn leadership through their experience of commitment to an organizing project.
  2. Scaffolded learning: Learning new skills requires venturing beyond the limits of one’s perceived competence—a step both exciting and frightening, and one that requires motivational, conceptual, and behavioral resources. Scholars describe this uncharted territory as a “zone of proximal development”—a space between what an individual will do on their own and what they will undertake with the encouragement of another—parent, teacher, or coach (Vygotsky, 1978). Just as one must fall to learn to keep one’s balance on a bicycle, “training wheels” can, for a time, help a learner acquire courage to face the moment when they must come off. The pedagogical challenge is deciding when such “scaffolding” provides productive support, and when it inhibits development. We offer scaffolding for the hands (behavioral), for the head (intellectual), and for the heart (motivational) (Hackman & Wageman, 2005).
  3. Critical reflection: Among the challenges of teaching leadership are assumptions students bring with them about familiar skills that may serve perfectly well in private life, but not in public life—such as how to build relationships. While scholars of learning emphasize the need to engage prior knowledge explicitly when building new knowledge (Strike & Posner, 1985; Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 1999), unexamined assumptions about leadership are especially challenging. Although few people may have prior knowledge about, for example, quantum physics, everyone has theories about how to build relationships, tell stories, and strategize outcomes.
  4. Cross-contextual learning: Deep understanding of practice requires learning how to distinguish what is particular to a given context or content from what is core to the integrity of a process. For example, when it comes to building relationships, cultures vary widely in their rituals of expectation, encounter and follow-up. But relationships themselves grow out of reciprocal exchange between parties, commitments reaching beyond a single exchange, and the possibility of future utility, growth, or learning.

References (from Ganz and Lin paper)

Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L., & Cocking, R.R. (Eds.) (1999). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Hackman, J. R., & Wageman, R. (2005). A theory of team coaching. Academy of Management Review, 30, 269-287.

Strike, K. A., & Posner, G. J. (1985). A conceptual change view of learning and understanding. In L. H. T. West & A. L. Pines (Eds.), Cognitive structure and conceptual change (211-231). New York: Academic Press.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, & E. Souberman (Eds.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Source: Marshall Ganz and Emily Lin. (2011). Learning to Lead: Pedagogy in Practice
Chapter 22 in the Handbook for Teaching Leadership. Ed. Nitin Nohria, Rakesh Khurana and Scott Snook. (SAGE Publications), p.353-367, at, accessed 6 January 2016.

Atlas topic, subject, and course

The Study of Leadership and Communication (core topic) in Leadership Skills and Atlas 109.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 9 January 2016.

Image: Media Advisory – Front-Line RNs to hear from Marshall Ganz Tomorrow, at, accessed 7 June 2016.