The ILA Experience
by Hadassah Weiner-Friedman
It all started two semesters ago at the Union Institute and University residency meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio when Dr. Bernice Ledbetter made the announcement of the November 2009 conference for the ILA (International Leadership Association) meeting in Prague, Czech Republic. At that point she got my full attention and when I looked up and I came eye to eye with Bill, one of my colleagues, I said to him: “Let’s do this” and it felt as though he had been reading my mind as he immediately agreed. When Gwen noticed what was going on between us she volunteered to join in as well, and we instantly became a team.
After a few months of constant dialogue over the phone & email, and several re-writes we were able to put a proposal together. Then on the day of submission despite troubles with the website, we finally got it in on time. The waiting period seemed long, and I really thought that we didn’t stand a chance after speaking with Josh Tarr (ILA coordinator) who told me that they had received over 300 proposals for this year’s conference.
The deadline for the waited announcement finally came and we heard that our proposal had been approved for a round table session. I was so excited after reading the email that I called Bill during working hours and screamed at him “Bill, We are in! ”, he politely asked me to hold on since he was in the middle of conducting a presentation. I could sense that he was trying to keep himself calm until he could step out of the office to be able to respond and be free to express his excitement. After our brief conversation I called Gwen who was also very happy to hear the good news.
During the semester that followed we encountered some difficulties and differences within our working style, which was ironic because our proposal was titled: When my leadership style offends you…We also had decided to take the opportunity to present our work during the summer residency at Union in Cincinnati for practice, but the outcome was unsuccessful since our differences and various issues surfaced during the presentation. Nevertheless we decided to continue to communicate with each other by email and as the day got closer to sign up for the conference I received a message from Bill letting me know that due to personal reasons he would not be able to attend. Gwen and I were now the only ones presenting, but at this point not together. Each of us would present our individual papers since we received notice that the session had been upgraded to a concurrent session.
We had a brief conference call with the rest of the presenters from the other institutions who were scheduled to present during our session, this gave us a chance to hear each other’s voices since we would not meet in person until the day of the conference. On November 8th, my husband and I were on our way to Prague, the conference was being held in the Jewish Quarter.
Prague was nothing like what I had envisioned, the place is simply enchanted with beautiful historic buildings, cites, and a rich culture. After settling in and finding the right accommodations, I proceeded with the registration process at the conference. There were so many people and the atmosphere felt lively and positive. The coordinators are extremely attentive to everyone’s needs and everything seemed to proceed very smoothly. Our first day at the conference involved a pre-conference presentation by a holocaust survivor Mrs. Helga Hoskova who is an artist and a well-known member of the Jewish community in the Czech Republic. She shared her life story with the ILA participants showing a short documentary of her family life before and after World War II. At the end of this activity our group had lunch together and then took a guided tour through the ‘Jewish Quarter’ and walked towards the art gallery where some of her work was being exhibited. This day was pretty emotional since her drawings interpreted the Jewish life experience within a Nazi camp through the eyes of the young child that she was at the time. She was inspired by the words of her father who instructed her to “Draw what you see” once he knew that his life would soon come to an end in one of the crematoriums. She somehow managed to hide all of her drawings which are now a treasured collection. In this documentary she expressed a very profound sentiment as Mrs. Hoskova stated that “They all had something special to give that helped them to survive”. She was referring to the talents of the other young children, some new how to sing, others knew how to tell stories, and they all shared these gifts providing the needed hope while living under such miserable conditions. The Jewish population in Prague came near to extinction under heavy persecution by the Nazis followed by the Communists until it all ended just twenty years ago. This fascinating history can be learned by visiting the exhibits at several different synagogues that are now museums. My husband and I were very inspired after being able to pray during the Sabbath morning services at a synagogue that has been operating for the past 720 years. It was built in the 1500’s. This experience added a special feeling to my state of being; I was at a spiritual high right before my presentation.
We were actually there during the 20th anniversary celebration of the Velvet Revolution. On that day special celebrations were scheduled throughout the city, all the stores closed early and everyone was on the streets recreating the march that took place on the day of their liberation.
At the conference I was able to attend various presentations; one was an interview between Dr. Richard Couto, one of my current professors at Union and Dr. Jean Lipman-Blumen. This was a very fun and refreshing experience since Dr. Lipman-Blumen is so knowledgeable and to the point; she has a very lively personality. The audience really enjoyed her personal stories and achievements; it felt as if we had known her for many years. Another session presented by Dr. Couto and Dr. Ledbetter, dealt with the concepts of Theory IV and Engendering Adaptive Work, all regarding perspectives on the work of Ronald Heifetz. Also interesting was the presentation given by Dr. Barbara Crosby and Dr. John Bryson. I attended this session as a result of Dr. Volckmann’s suggesting that I look for anything that involved an integral type of theory. Their topic had to do with Crossing Boundaries to Make the Good More Common and it concentrated on examining the state of knowledge about cross-boundary leadership that includes a host of leaders and committed followers who can bring together sectors, cultures, and nationalities to tackle shared challenges such as climate change and the global economic downturn.
My presentation was held on the last day of the conference, the participants in this session were all involved in long distance learning education and they were just superb; especially my new colleague and friend Faith, who helped me with the power point presentation since I don’t operate any electronics on the Jewish Sabbath. She knew all about my customs and was very understanding. She sat next to me and just took care of everything. In a short time I felt at ease and better able to concentrate on my lecture after having felt a little nervous at the beginning. The audience was very supportive and attentive and I felt right at home. My topic had to do with Transforming Triggering Factors into Pedagogic Communication when dealing with differences. I have attached a copy of my power point to share the ideas and recommendations that can assist in avoiding conflict within a classroom setting which usually arises when discussing politics or social issues. My husband’s opinion as a former educator is that the presentation went very well, but after all he is my husband, what can he say? I felt much better when others came up to me to thank me and ask me a few questions at the end. It was a very receptive audience!
Shortly after my presentation the closing event took place. Everyone was gathered inside the big conference room and different speakers thanked the ILA for providing all the participants with such wonderful experience and opportunity. It was very emotional for everyone especially when the speakers shared their feelings about their tour of the Jewish Quarter, and also about the commemoration of the Velvet Revolution, 20 years ago. I was thrilled to see Ronald Heifetz in person and to listen to some insights about his new book, I cannot recall the title but I remember that it has to do with the challenge of the adaptive work. My most valuable observation was to notice that every single participant at this conference had a purpose and a plan that will impact a change that will benefit a group of peoples or a community in a certain place in the world. I was very inspired by this realization.
I am eagerly awaiting next year’s ILA and thinking about what to present then….
About the Author
Hadassah Weiner-Friedman is a PhD student in Interdisciplinary Studies with concentration in Ethical & Creative Leadershipat Union Institute and University. Hadassah Weiner-Friedman BA, MA, Doctoral Candidate and has a Master of Education in Administration and Supervision from Loyola University in Chicago, Illinois. She has worked in the Miami Dade County Public School System in South Florida since 1989 serving in various capacities including: instructional, non-instructional and administrative.