The Art of Leadership for Keeping Community Communication Going in the Post-pandemic Era

 

Professional Development Article by Yoko Mori, University of Otago, New Zealand

Looking forward to the post-pandemic era, I find a hybrid model of face-to-face and virtual communication to be ideal for sustaining academic and empathetic interactions within our community of practice (i.e., a community of applied linguists comprised of students, teachers, and researchers). While online meetings have been a challenge—in that it is difficult to feel the same connectedness (e.g., as those in casual chats over coffee)—few academics can deny these events have also brought about advantages. To me, one advantage would be the inclusiveness of online and hybrid international conferences that have taken place. In this column, I would like to draw attention to conversations over these new forms of international conferences and touch on how imaginative leadership—which can take place via conference organizational leadership—is essential as we approach the post-pandemic era.

Since many international conferences have become virtual during this pandemic, many of us have “warped” (i.e., transferred instantly) from one country to another. In some fortunate cases, we have been able to build new friendships and strengthen existing ones. The world is, indeed, vast, but technology has enabled us to connect, re-connect, and evolve creatively even in the most challenging of times. Drawing on these experiences, inserting virtual gatherings between face-to-face conferences seems to be an option many of us would be willing to share in the future. In pre-pandemic times, a large number of international conferences had taken place annually or bi-annually with few or no gatherings in between them. However, this post-pandemic idea enables us to continue our conversations across a series of virtual gatherings to the next face-to-face conference or as new, entirely virtual communities. The potential synergy of having a continuous flow of virtual gatherings coupled with occasional face-to-face conferences is likely to: 1) broaden opportunities to enrich the knowledge base of the field, 2) strengthen relationships, and 3) promote community members’ professional development—notably, creating leadership opportunities for those individuals who take responsibility in keeping our academic communication going. In what follows, I focus on the third point: promoting community members’ professional development by nurturing leaders who can sustain active communication with our community of practice.

Palus and Horth (1996) claimed that leadership is a form of art making. According to the authors, the processes of leadership and art making are both “meaning making” in a community of practice. They argued that leadership and art making both require a lot of imagination and creativity. The authors proposed that these qualities are nurtured through co-inquiry where “powerful questions” facilitate exploration and “cultivation of doubt” leads to innovative ideas. Indeed, “leadership makes, remakes, and maintains the fabric of knowledge by which a group recognizes its identity and its work practices” (p. 54).

I have experienced conferences where both teachers and students contributed to take leadership roles in these creative endeavors. For example, in a recent international conference hosted by a US university, postgraduate students took initiative in creatively applying the virtual Gather platform to the on-site venue. This enabled virtual participants to interact and share the same time and space with those on-site, creating a sense of inclusivity. Also, this gave the postgraduate students a sense of leadership in being able to connect members of their academic community with one another. In this situation, indeed, “powerful questions” and energetic discussions developed as if everything were done on-site. What was most impressive to me was that these host students had the forethought and kindness to extend their knowledge to beginners like me, with no such experience using this virtual platform. A practice video via email was sent prior to the conference so that we could all participate stress-free. The homemade video made us feel much at-home, too. Now, in the post-conference phase, we exchange follow-up emails, opening up opportunities for further discussions and explorations. Essentially, we feel more connected because of the leadership roles the postgraduate students assumed as communication facilitators for our community of practice.

As we approach the new phase of life, coexisting with Covid-19, the importance of thinking about what we can carry on from this pandemic time is widely discussed. Imaginative leadership is what I think of and what I would like to carry forward from the many impressive experiences I had via virtual events. Whether it be through face-to-face or virtual communication, leadership which is founded on putting oneself in another’s shoes seems to be the key to sustain peaceful yet vigorous conversations for a better future. Of course, face-to-face communication remains ideal for many people; however, to make the most of the opportunities when we do get to exchange ideas with our academic community, the hybrid model of communication seems a constructive way to do so, not only in the ongoing situation, but also in the post-pandemic era.

Additionally, during this pandemic, I have learned that “community-specific language” and interactions help us to stay connected, to share our feelings and thoughts with peace of mind, even if we are at times overwhelmed with the “pandemic language” that has crept into our lives. Indeed, the famous slogan “Keep Calm and Carry On” lingers in my mind each time I have the honor to interact—virtually or otherwise—with members of our academic community. I cherish the opportunity I have to listen to stories of why community members continue to explore the paths they have chosen, and I feel it is a valuable opportunity to be immersed in familiar community-specific language—language I would have no opportunity to hear without the leadership of those who work to sustain the communication within our community. It is impossible to know when we will be able to fully enter the post-pandemic era; however, I believe the hybrid model of communication guided by imaginative leadership brings in light, keeping us going with hope in our community of practice.

 

References

Palus, C. J., & Horth, D. M. (1996). Leading creatively: The art of making sense. The Journal of Aesthetic Education, 30 (4), 53-68.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the editors (Nathan Thomas, Mariana Becker, Sooyoung Kang, and Katherine Kerschen) for their helpful review and support.

 

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Yoko Mori is a doctoral student of higher education at the University of Otago, New Zealand. Her research interests include professional identity development, motivation, English as a Medium of Instruction, intercultural communication, and internationalization of higher education.