Philosophy & Research
The Areté Leadership Program is an experiential, adventure-based, positive psychology character education program. It employs a transformational approach to leadership training by focusing on developing emotional competencies and values of character. The competencies addressed in Areté include both intrapersonal (self- understanding) such as mastery of feelings, insight, ability to manage emotions and goal directed behavior and interpersonal skills (social abilities) such as empathy, altruism and emotional intimacy (Vandervoort, 2006).
There are three components that comprise the foundation of the Areté Experience. They are: emotional intelligence/competencies, transformational learning, and mentorship.
Utilizing the concept of emotional intelligence (EI) or emotional competencies (EC) as Ciarrochi & Scott (2006) have purported, the philosophy of the Areté Leadership Program is to assist the student in developing his/her potential and making his/her contribution to the betterment of society; thus, focusing on the development of the student as a whole person rather than on just one aspect of their development such as intellectual or academic growth. American business schools have employed the concept of EI in their curriculum because they have encountered the ability to relate with others as a most significant key to success (Gilbert, 2006). Goleman, (1995) has demonstrated that EI has a direct link to effectiveness as a leader and has identified 5 categories of EI which are self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. Areté provides opportunities for students to develop these areas through challenging trainings and activities that improve communication, critical thinking, civic responsibility and teamwork skills while further enhancing one’s self esteem.
There are recognized benefits in both academic and personal/social arenas to incorporating a focus of emotional competencies in an adolescents’ educational experience. Academically, one such positive impact from EI training has been an increase in the student’s learning and higher standardized test scores due to decreased emotional and behavioral problems (Vandervoort, 2006; Goleman, 1995, Hawkins, Von Cleave, & Catalano, 1991,). The gain in self-knowledge or EI has assisted students in making prudent career choices and create better social support networks which has been shown to be negatively correlated with mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and aggression (Vandervoort, 2006; House, Landis & Umberson, 1988).
Areté impacts the student’s overall educational process and helps to reduce unhealthy risk-taking behaviors. Moreover, Areté empowers individuals with decision-making, critical thinking, coping and communication skills which will enhance their secondary, college and eventually their whole life experience. Areté creates a bridge between higher education academics and the community by acknowledging the power of youth as resource when equipped with emotional competencies.
To achieve growth in self-understanding, Areté employs a transformational learning process. Mezirow, (1997) describes a significant kind of knowledge transformation as a paradigm shift or perspective transformation. As opposed to assimilative learning where newly acquired information fits into pre-existing knowledge structure, perspective transformation involves the following:
1. An activating event that exposes limitations of the student’s current knowledge.
2. Opportunities for the student to identify and articulate the underlying assumptions in their current knowledge.
3. Critical self reflection to assess origin of assumptions and how they affect their understanding.
4. Critical discourse with other students.
5. Opportunities to test and apply new perspectives (Mezirow, 1997).
The Areté Leadership Institute integrates EI concepts in a transformational learning approach. As mentioned earlier, in the business field, emotional intelligence has become, increasingly popular as a measure for identifying effective leaders (Palmer, Walls, Burgess, & Stought, 2001). A two-pronged experiential approach is implemented to facilitate the learning of these concepts: outdoor leadership/ropes courses and service learning.
Three components (e.g., leadership behavior, conflict resolution and interpersonal relations) have shown a relationship with emotional intelligence and these skills are have been demonstrated to be important for experiential outdoor leadership (Hayashi, 2005). Areté combines EI with the experiential training to increase the likelihood of gains in participant self-knowledge. As a training method, low and high ropes courses provide an opportunity to participate in challenging team work activities which focus on the development of interpersonal and intrapersonal competencies. Bryan & Starr, (2005) found that “ropes courses experiences closely mirrored attendees work experiences and that it allowed for the participants to be transformational leaders without the office politic ramifications or other external pressures”, p. 338. It is this practice of transformational learning and leadership that allows the participant to increase in their self understanding in a holistic fashion that affords them the opportunity to try new facets of themselves and feel the incongruence of the experience as it relates to their sense of identity. Areté works by providing situations in which experiential education gives the students the opportunities to practice the critical thinking skills vital to making choices which will lead to their productivity as students and members of the community.
The second approach is Service Learning. Young people engage in activities that meet the needs of others and the community and Learning. The experiences of serving others are used as an opportunity for self-reflection and learning. Service Learning is an experiential approach to learning about life and leadership through active participation in purposefully organized service that is conducted in and meets the needs of communities. It provides young people with opportunities to use newly acquired academic skills and knowledge in a real life situation in their own communities. It also helps students to develop a sense of caring for others, all of which are components of the EI. Specific leadership competencies that are based on EI do not always establish themselves through general life experience (Goleman, 2004) as evidenced by people knowing morally what is correct but sometimes their actions do not reflect what they know. Service-learning creates empathy and feelings of altruism while promoting personal and social responsibility. There is more of a perceived responsibility to others and an increased awareness of societal problems and concern for others welfare. Similarly, in the category of social competencies, service-learning allows for the development of mature relationships and social competence outside of school while promoting problem-solving skills. Service-learning helps students gain a better understanding of the information taught to them and also gives them a better understanding of themselves. The students gain self-concept, self-esteem and self-efficacy. Students are viewed as valuable resources for their own education, the education of others and the well-being of the communities in which they are members.
Lastly, the ability to create an effective learning environment and to provide the right information, guidance and support, so people can improve their EI positive identity role models or mentors are utilized. Sanchez, (2005, p.59) poignantly directs our attention to the value of building character and emotional competencies in our children when he states, “great civilizations of the world point out a disconcertingly common denominator of survival: a civilizations citizenry could to varying degrees be academically competent, but once the same citizenry failed to be educated in the virtue of character, it steadily declined”.
One of the most powerful ways to education young adolescents is to use a positive peer culture through the implementation of a mentoring program (Hawkey, 2006;Oman,Wessely, & Aspy, 2004; Bowers, Woods, Carlyon & Friman, 2000). Many studies that have examined the benefits of using positive peer culture and mentoring techniques and have identified the use of positive peer culture and mentoring techniques can affect behavior change in such areas as improving social interactions, increasing youth assets (e.g., responsible choice and community involvement) which correlates with lower substance use and the installment of EI concepts.
Areté incorporates a mentoring program as another level of training for the groups participants, including the mentor him/herself. Each year participants of Areté return. Do a high return rate, the program is able to incorporate a multilevel experience. As Zachary (2005), states, “a true mentoring culture has a constant emphasis on mentoring excellence, and the bar for competency and skills mastery is continuously raised”, p.26. Areté mentors continue to build on the emotional competencies they have developed by guiding participants and themselves through transformational learning. The positive, open and accepting environment allows for new ideas and self-discoveries to be experienced. “The cycle begins as participants become aware of their existing assumptions and self-awareness converts into self-understanding as the challenging process continues; thus, old beliefs are disposed and new more productive ideas and actions take their place”,(Zachary, 2005, p.27). The mentor’s experience includes continued growth of new skills but also as renewed sense of responsibility in the guidance of their mentee’s in the setting of their personal goals.
It is Areté’s intention that participants transform into enlightened citizens who contribute to a free and just society by developing and/or enhancing a student’s personal philosophy of leadership through self-understanding, respect for others, and social activism with the acknowledgement of responsibility inherent in a community. Though an Areté experience can be a challenging process, it is a wellness encounter that stretches the mind, fosters new attitudes and encourages creativity and imagination in the human experience.
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