Glimmering reflections of heart-shaped lights in a dark sky

Jeremy LaCasse, 20 Years of Learning

Jeremy LaCasseLeadership Lab, Leadership Programs, Pedagogy Of Leadership®, Student Leadership

20 years!

I’m thrilled to introduce the first in a series of blogs that celebrate the gcLi’s 20th anniversary. During the upcoming months, together with Jeremy LaCasse and several others, we’ll reflect on the groundbreaking contributions the gcLi community has made over the past two decades, and we’ll consider the tremendously vital call–and work!–that remains.

Whether you attended the Leadership Lab in 2005 or 2013, in 2015 or 2023, we hope these blogs are reminders of your time at Fountain Valley… the dew on your sandaled feet, the energy in your awakened soul, and the sound of the chime as you stepped away from the circle.

gcLi: You have to go, to know. 

Emily Tymus Ihrke

Editor, gcLi

20 Years of Learning

Jeremy LaCasse, Executive Director, gcLi, Assistant Head of School for Student Life, Taft School in Watertown, CT

In June of 2005, the gcLi offered the very first Leadership Lab, gathering roughly 50 educators to discuss how to teach students to lead. While we had a capable faculty and had spent twelve months creating the curriculum, we were truly untested. As with any great endeavor, we stepped into a void of sorts, and the outcome could have been nearly anything. While history suggests that we succeeded, we have learned much in the last 20 years. Still, I have two strong memories of that first Lab that have held as guiding principles for the work of helping educators to teach leadership. 

First, Dr. JoAnn Deak provided a framework for understanding brain development and how that tied into the work of teaching leadership. The stories JoAnn shared to help educators see how complex neurologic concepts applied to the individual and group interactions they had with their students set an important foundation for our work. Every person in the room left knowing that the interactions we had with our students would have a profound effect on them, particularly their brains. 

Those concepts have largely held for the last twenty years. Ask any Leadership Lab graduate about their “red line,” and they will quickly recount the importance of understanding emotional management for the teacher and how we, the educators, often function as a student’s prefrontal cortex, helping them to manage their emotions and remain in an emotional space that allows for learning. To this day, teachers of leadership must understand and employ this idea if we are going to engage students and help them understand one of the key parts of leadership – helping their group remain in an emotional space where the group can learn. 

Second, I remember the moment at the end of the Leadership Lab when the faculty gathered to reflect on the experience. It was a beautiful Thursday morning and we met in the Hacienda Courtyard. We reflected on the week and all that we had learned together. The first cohort taught us much about our blindspots; how the makeup of our faculty and some of our practices could limit the inclusivity that we needed for the learning we wanted; the pacing, or modulating for those well versed in our Heiftzian sensibilities, of the week; the practices around feedback that we needed to utilize if we were to truly teach leadership.

bright sun in a blue sky

We also basked in the glow of our shared work. We knew we had done something of significant meaning and that we had shared a model that would make a powerful difference in the lives of our graduates and, by extension, in their students. The bond we held mirrored what we knew needs to happen between students and teachers if they are going to trust one another enough to take on the challenges of learning to lead. Having a group come together in this way is truly special and unique. Many people go through their lives not having a moment when they truly connect with others around a meaningful shared challenge. 

In our case, at the end of our meeting and with people needing to catch flights to the disparate points we call home, we got up to go, walking in concert down the hill from the Hacienda to the dorm. We reached the spot where we needed to separate and all froze, not wanting to break the moment. The only solace we took in parting was the knowledge that next summer would present an opportunity to engage yet another group of eager educators, primed to help students lead. 

While my memory focuses on the faculty, I know that similar things have happened for our participants. In the course of a short week, the gcLi faculty helps our participants come together, learn from one another, and see how critical relationships like these are to both leading and learning to lead. Leadership is inherently about groups doing meaningful work together and that can only happen at a high level when the group learns to see each other, to value each other’s contribution, and to wholly trust one another. Trust is a risky endeavor, and truly exceptional educators, like the ones who attend the Leadership Lab, relish the opportunity to help students trust them, to trust their peers, and to trust that working together, even with its risks, is worth doing for the good of the whole. 

The interceding 20 years from 2005 to 2024 have seen lots of minor adjustments to the curriculum of the Leadership Lab and transitions in our faculty. The constants have been a desire of all involved to help teach leadership and to learn from one another. 

The results are nearly 1,000 graduates from schools across the country doing great and meaningful work helping students to learn to lead. I am already excited about the next 20 years as we still have much to do. Thank you all for joining the gcLi for this important journey. 

Jeremy LaCasse, Executive Director of The Gardner Carney Leadership Institute, is currently Assistant Head of School for Student Life at the Taft School. LaCasse held the Shotwell Chair for Leadership and Character Development at Berkshire School. He also directed the Ritt Kellogg Mountain Program; served as Dean of the sixth and fourth forms; taught European history and Medieval history; and coached the ski and crew programs. Following his time at Berkshire, he served as the Dean of Students at Fountain Valley School of Colorado, and following FVS, he was the Head of senior school at Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh, PA; the Head of Kents Hill School in Kents Hill, ME; and the Assistant Head of School at Cheshire Academy, in Cheshire, CT. He graduated with a B.A. in History from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine and earned an M.A. in private school leadership from the Klingenstein Center, Teachers College at Columbia University.