Creating Presence in the Age of Continual Change: Judicial Educators Leading the Edge

Dr. Maureen Conner

By Maureen E. Conner, Ph.D. (see endnote 1)


Dr. Maureen Conner
Maureen E. Conner, Ph.D.

Leadership development is a personal journey that most often takes place in public. Admired leadership characteristics (see endnote 2) are surprisingly consistent across organizations, cultures, and professions (Kouzes and Posner 2012). Though the characteristics may be the same, how they are expressed will distinguish successful leaders from those who are not. I contend that judicial branch educators (hereafter referred to as educators) are leaders and what they lead is change through education.

In 1995, I wrote an article for NASJE News titled “Creating Presence”. I heard from many colleagues about how helpful the concepts were in establishing the importance of education in the courts. Now, two decades later, creating presence is even more important. External forces that will not abate increasingly drive contemporary change. Directly meeting the challenges of change with a clear vision and unified voice is required to thrive in what will likely be a very exciting and frustrating time.

To meet the external forces with confidence, educators must know what the forces are, have a strong leadership plan, develop a versatile programmatic foundation, and retain staff members who are mission driven. One of the most comprehensive syntheses and analyses of the trends in global change was conducted by Al Gore and published in his book The Future (2013). He identified six emerging trends that are present now and will continue to expand in their size and influence for a long time to come. The trends are:

  • Earth Inc.—representing the deeply connected global economy that operates as an entity unto itself, which directs capital flow, labor, consumerism, and national governments.
  • The Global Mind—representing the planet-wide electronic communications grid that connects billions of ideas, people, information, and products that have given rise to all forms of intelligent devices, including robots.
  • Power in the Balance—representing a new balance of economic, political, and military power where the new equilibrium is shifting and multiplying global power centers.
  • Outgrowth—representing rapid and unsustainable population growth depleting the resources that humans have relied upon since the beginning of time.
  • The Reinvention of Life and Death—representing new biological, biochemical, genetic, and materials science technologies changing the molecular structure of life itself.
  • The Edge—representing the emergence of a new relationship between human civilization and the earth’s atmosphere and climate that allowed humankind to flourish for millennia.

You may think that there is nothing new here. That was my original reaction. However, the analysis presented by Gore demonstrates that the shifts are deeper, broader, and more rapid than originally envisioned. Thus, their impact is greater and more systemic. Educators who stay current with global trends can readily determine the impact these trends will have on the types of cases that will come before the courts resulting in the need to change the subject matter of education programs. What they may not have considered is how to maintain a strong and vibrant education organization in the midst of the changes. In this discussion, I focus on ten areas for educators to consider in their own leadership development, as well as the development of their organizations. They are: guiding philosophy, mission, values, voice, thinking, acting, competence, forward-looking, reflecting, and renewal.

Guiding Philosophy

Education in a judicial system is often defined as continuing professional development and training to address the presenting knowledge, skills, and abilities performance needs of judges and court personnel. It is true that education involves the aforementioned. I also challenge educators to use education as an impetus for change thus, leading courts to a place of prominence that provides certainty and stability in a changing world.

If judicial education is a vehicle for change then educators are the change agents. By extension educators are leaders. They must have a guiding philosophy about the role of education. Casting judicial education as a change movement implies that the educator’s philosophy must be larger, more powerful, and more long-range than it would otherwise be. Under this framework, judicial education is not creating educational events. It is leading the court organization to greater levels of achievement and judges and court personnel to excellent performance that transforms lives. Such a guiding philosophy will require educators to challenge the typical processes, goals, content, and intent of education. In short, they must challenge themselves and others to take a different path and to seek greater results. “Challenge is the opportunity for greatness. People do their best when there’s the chance to change the way things are…Leaders venture out. They test and they take risks with bold ideas” (Kouzes and Posner 2012, 156). Educators who see themselves as leaders will not be complacent about the role and opportunity of education to significantly improve the quality of life of those people who depend on the courts to be heard and protected. Adopting a guiding philosophy provides educators with a tool they can use to measure the progress they are making in developing education and training that challenges courts to meet their calling with strength and commitment.

Can adopting a guiding philosophy do even more? Yes, it can. A guiding philosophy becomes the center around which everything circles. Once a guiding philosophy is established, it can be used for many purposes. Perhaps one of the most important, in addition to educational programming, is recruiting education staff. Job announcements, position descriptions, and interview questions that are centered on the guiding philosophy of the organization act as the first level of screening. In order to ensure that educators are building organizations that live their mission and values, they must have staff members who are passionate about the guiding philosophy. Without that passion, educators will spend valuable time trying to motivate people who cannot be motivated because they do not “feel it.” Jim Collins in Good to Great (2001) referred to this as getting the right people on the bus without which, he contends, no leader can succeed.


The mission of judicial education is often explained in terms of inputs, outputs, and outcomes using educational terminology. Under this framework education seems devoid of passion and the ability to inspire. People are not motivated when they are educated to be ordinary and that includes education staff. Therefore, the entire organization must make transformation its sole mission. Jan Phillips, author of The Art of Original Thinking-The Making of a Thought Leader describes the power of transformation: “Transformation originates in people who see a better way or a fairer world, people who reveal themselves, disclose their dreams, and unfold their hopes in the presence of others. And this unfolding, this revelation of raw, unharnessed desire, this deep longing to be a force for good in the world is what inspires others to feel their own longings, to remember their own purpose, and to act, perhaps for the first time, in accordance with their inner spirit” (2006, 11).

An inspiring mission statement has many purposes. It serves to guide personnel selection, budgeting, and educational programming.

The education organization’s mission statement provides educators with an excellent second-level screening tool to evaluate potential job candidates. Individuals that educators chose for second interviews will require greater scrutiny. Do they have what it takes to be part of a team that is educating for transformation? Educators already know that candidates are passionate about the guiding philosophy or a second interview would not be scheduled. Now, the educators must discern whether candidates can internalize the guiding philosophy so that their passion drives them to live and breathe the transformation mission of education for change. Educators can make that assessment by using the organization’s mission statement as the basis for interview questions. For example, educators can ask candidates to discuss what the mission statement means, how they believe it defines organizational identity, and how it can be applied when developing and delivering education programs.

Mission statements are also an excellent tool for building and gaining support for the education budget. An education organization that is preparing to address new subject matter or new delivery methods may require different infusions of money from multiple sources. Therefore, every item in the budget should be tied to the mission statement in a way that guides all resource and expenditure decisions. Educators must carefully consider the budget justification packages that accompany any legislative or executive branch request, as well as those requests that are part of grant applications. Failure to do so will likely result in an unsuccessful attempt to secure funding.

The educational programming, itself, must be a full embodiment of the mission. Each offering is an opportunity to be an expression of the transformation mission. From needs assessment to instructor selection to program content to teaching, the mission must act as the center from which everything else emanates.


The very act of educating is an expression of values. Consider this explanation of values by Kouzes and Posner: “Values constitute your personal ‘bottom line’. They serve as guides to action. They inform the priorities you set and the decisions you make. They tell you when to say yes and when to say no. They also help you explain the choices you make and why you made them…All of the most critical decisions a leader makes involve values” (2012, 49).

Judicial systems that offer education to judges and court personnel are making a statement about the importance of knowledge and information in evolving the skills, abilities, and aptitudes of its members. The values that leaders hold become evident by what they say and do. Educators as leaders must know what they value. Their values are articulated through the way they approach education from content selection to delivery format to defining learner groups. Each and every education opportunity and challenge is an avenue for educators to express the values they hold about the role of courts in society. The importance of educators discovering and living their values cannot be overstated and that is certainly true if they want to lead.

Organizational development is a monumental task for educators. It starts with understanding that attending to the whole court organization is part of the mission of education. Articulating this mission as a value demonstrates that the courts will not settle for anything less than the best—the best personnel, the best budgets, the best services, and the best programs. To further a value-centered approach, educators can lead the way by evaluating whether the programming meets the values of the organization. As such, living the values is more than a slogan—it is a call to action.


When leaders develop their voice, they express their guiding philosophy, mission, and values in their own words. In so doing, they are perceived as authentic. The extent to which a person is authentic is the extent to which they will be trusted. If there is any incongruity between what leaders say and do, it will immediately be recognized and their credibility and authority will be comprised. Stephen M.R. Covey in his book The Speed of Trust-The One thing That Changes Everything explained the importance of trust this way: “Simply put, trust means confidence. The opposite of trust—distrust—is suspicion. When you trust people, you have confidence in them—in their integrity and in their abilities. When you distrust people, you are suspicious of them—of their integrity, their agenda, their capabilities, or their track record. It’s that simple” (2006, 5). Educators as leaders must develop ways of communicating that are consistent with what they care about. In short, they must find and use their voice to achieve their goal of advancing the rule of law through the expert preparation of judges and court personnel. A consistent and authentic voice sends the signal that the advancement of the judiciary can safely be placed in the hands of the educator.

How can consistency of voice be conveyed across the management and operations of the education organization? Using consistent voice can be evaluated by matching guiding philosophies, missions, and values against what the educator speaks, writes, and does. It is not just the educator who will be evaluated for consistency in voice. Others associated with the education enterprise will also be assessed for their consistent messaging, including staff members, advisory committee members, and instructors. It is the responsibility of the educator to institute a consistent voice across the education organization. While this requires discipline, it is necessary or credibility will be lost. Where there is no credibility there is no success. Thus, individual performance appraisal must include the achievement of consistent voice.


Asking the right questions and developing an intellectual framework to assess the veracity of the answers is the core of critical thinking. Asking questions is not foreign to educators as they routinely do so in the form of needs assessment and evaluation. Developing a critical thinking stance is necessary when the educator is a leader. Browne and Keeley in their book Asking the Right Questions A Guide to Critical Thinking (2010) explained critical thinking this way: “Critical thinking consists of an awareness of a set of interrelated critical questions, plus the ability and willingness to ask and answer them at appropriate times” (3). In the same book, they also explained that there are two types of critical thinking—weak-sense and strong-sense. They distinguish the two forms: “Weak-sense critical thinking is the use of critical thinking to defend your current beliefs. Strong-sense critical thinking is the use of the same skills to evaluate all claims and beliefs, especially your own” (8).

To sustain judicial education as a champion of change, the educator must ask the hard and probing questions that may lead to unpopular answers and issues that the judiciary doesn’t want to acknowledge or address. The very act of educating can produce critical thinking results if education is a forum for open, honest, and probing discussions expressed from multiple viewpoints. It is very easy for judicial systems to be insular and for weak-sense thinking to flourish. Brown and Keeley (2010) listed the four values of critical thinking, which are instructive for the development of educators as strong-sense leaders who in turn develop educational experiences that promote strong-sense thinking among the learners. The four values are:

  1. Autonomy. “Surely, we all want to pick and choose from the widest possible array of possibilities; otherwise, we may miss the one decision or option that we would have chosen if only we had not paid attention to only those who shared our value priorities. Supercharged autonomy requires us to listen to those with value priorities different from our own” (13).
  2. Curiosity. “…you need to listen and read, really listen and read. Other people have the power to move you forward, to liberate you from your current condition of partial knowledge. To be a critical thinker requires you to then ask questions about what you have encountered. Part of what you gain from other people is their insights and understanding, when what they have to offer meets the standards of good reasoning” (13-14).
  3. Humility. “Certainly some of us have insights that others do not have, but each of us is very limited in what we can do, and at honest moments we echo Socrates when he said that he knew that he did not know. Once we accept this reality, we can better recognize that our experiences with other people can fill in at least a few of the gaps in our present understanding” (14).
  4. Respect for good reasoning wherever you find it.”…all conclusions and opinions are not equally worthwhile. When you find strong reasoning, regardless of the race, age, wealth, or citizenship of the speaker or writer, rely on it until a better set of reasoning comes along” (14).

Browne and Keeley (2010) instruct people to become critical thinkers and engage in good reasoning by asking the following questions:

  • What are the issues and conclusions?
  • What are the reasons?
  • What words or phrases are ambiguous?
  • What are the value and descriptive assumptions?
  • Are there any fallacies in the reasoning?
  • How good is the evidence—intuition, personal experience, testimonials, and appeals to authority?
  • How good is the evidence—personal observation, research studies, case examples, and analogies?
  • Are there rival causes?
  • Are the statistics deceptive?
  • What significant information is omitted?
  • What reasonable conclusions are possible?

Edward De Bono (1999) encourages leaders to engage in new ways of thinking and he does so through his Six Hats method (see endnote 3). DeBono contends that people put themselves in thinking boxes, which reduces their ability to see a different future and also narrows their actions. “From the past we create standard situations. We judge into which “standard situation box” a new situation falls. Once we have made this judgement (sic), our course of action is clear. Such a system works very well in a stable world. In a stable world the standard situations of the past still apply. But in a changing world the standard situations may no longer apply. Instead of judging our way forward, we need to design our way forward” (3). Educators who lead change can develop learning experiences that result in new designs replacing the old situation boxes of reasoning. It is clear from the trends discussed in The Future (Gore 2013), deep and probing thinking is essential for survival. Therefore, to engage consistently at such a level, educators must be willing to question “what is” to get to “what can be.” According to Warren Berger (2014) it is all about asking the more beautiful question: “A beautiful question is an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something—and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change” (8).


Acting in the realm of education is often defined as curriculum development and program planning. It is indeed action—purposeful action. As Kouzes and Posner wrote: “Leadership is not about who you are; it’s about what you do” (2012, 15). How educators spend their time sends a message about what they value and how they will lead.

The Hedgehog Concept put forward by Jim Collins in his books Good to Great (2001) and Good to Great in the Social Sector (2005) is instructive related to the action of organizations and the people who lead them. While the Hedgehog Concept was initially developed for the private sector with a profit motive, Collins adapted it for the public sector because it can be applied to organizations with a social mission. The Hedgehog Concept is portrayed as three overlapping circles that when working at optimal performance transforms the organization from good to great (2005, 19). The circles have resonance for the courts and can be a factor in developing educational experiences that ignite and support change. “Circle 1: Passion—Understanding what your organization stands for, including its core values, mission, and purpose. Circle 2: Best at—Understanding what your organization can uniquely contribute to the people it touches, better than any other organization on the planet. Circle 3: Resource engine—Understanding what best drives your resource engine, broken into three parts: time, money, and brand” (2005, 19).

Courts are the enforcers of the rule of law. Courts have a mission like no other. Educators can lead through igniting the passion of judges and others to be the best at solving disputes and delivering justice. Thus, the Hedgehog Concept is appropriately applied to the courts and can be advanced by educators when they act as leaders of change. Consider the role that courts will be called upon to play related to Earth Inc., The Global Mind, Power in the Balance, Outgrowth, The Reinvention of Life and Death, and The Edge (Gore 2013). Holding the Hedgehog Concept as an axis for action will become even more important in the coming decades.

“At some level, competence connects with our dreams, with that part of us that yearns for unity with something greater than ourselves. We want to matter” (Wlodkowski 2008, 309). Educators must be competent in creating competence in others. Therefore, they must excel in adult learning theory, instructional design, subject matter development, teaching methodologies in traditional and electronic formats, needs assessment, and evaluation. Educators as leaders “…significantly increase people’s belief in their own ability to make a difference. They move from being in control to giving over control to others, becoming their coach. They help others learn new skills, develop existing talents, and provide the institutional supports required for ongoing growth and change. In the final analysis leaders turn their constituents into leaders” (Kouzes and Posner 2012, 243).

Educators lead the development of competence and confidence across the judicial branch, which is essential for a fully functioning independent judiciary. In so doing, educators are functioning at peak performance. Peak performance is referred to as flow. “People often refer to being ‘in the flow’ when they feel that they are performing effortlessly and expertly despite the difficulty of the experience. They are confident that their skills match the level of challenge of the experience, even though the challenge might be a bit of a stretch” (Kouzes and Posner 2012, 256). In order for educators to develop peak performance in others, they must first do it for themselves.


Effective educators address problems while simultaneously looking over the rim to see what is coming. The research conducted by Kouzes and Posner (2012) related to what people most want in a leader are honesty, forward-looking, competence, and inspiration (2012, 34-35). These elements of leadership remained consistent from 1987 to 2012; and, it has also remained consistent across countries, cultures, ethnicities, organizational functions and hierarchies, genders, levels of education, and age groups (Kouzes and Posner 2012). Leaders who are futuristic seem to command more credibility and, therefore, more respect. “Constituents also must believe that their leader knows where they’re headed and has a vision for the future. An expectation that their leaders be forward-looking is what sets leaders apart from other credible individuals” (Kouzes and Posner 2012, 37).

Education without vision will not drive excellence and certainly will not create change. John M. Bryson in his book Strategic Planning for Public and Nonprofit Organizations (2011) explained what is encompassed in the creation of a vision. “The vision should emphasize purposes, behavior, performance criteria, decision rules, and standards that serve the public and create public value…the vision should include a promise that the organization will support its members’ pursuit of the vision” (2011, 273). When educators lead vision creation, they move from individual action to group action. “When creating with others, all of the aspects of the process are magnified and multiplied due to the additional creators involved…the emotion involved in creating is for something that exists in the imagination” (Conner 1999, 36). While leaders must have a vision for the future, vision making for an organization is a group activity that must ignite the hearts and minds of those involved.

Howard Gardner in 5 Minds for the Future (2008) discussed the kinds of minds that people will need to thrive in the future.

  • Disciplined mind: “The disciplined mind has mastered at least one way of thinking—a distinctive mode of cognition that characterizes a specific scholarly discipline, craft, or profession” (3).
  • Synthesizing mind: “The synthesizing mind takes information from disparate sources, understands and evaluates that information objectively, and puts it together in ways that make sense to the synthesizer and also to other persons. Valuable in the past, the capacity to synthesize becomes ever more crucial as information continues to mount at dizzying rates” (3).
  • Creating mind: “…the creating mind breaks new ground. It puts forth new ideas, poses unfamiliar questions, conjures up fresh ways of thinking, and arrives at unexpected answers” (3).
  • Respectful mind: “…the respectful mind notes and welcomes differences between human individuals and between human groups, tries to understand these others, and seeks to work effectively with them” (3).
  • Ethical mind: “…the ethical mind ponders the nature of one’s work and the needs and desires of the society in which one lives. This mind conceptualizes how workers can serve purposes beyond self-interest and how citizens can work unselfishly to improve the lot of all” (3).

Each of the minds just described may cast the future differently. The educator is perfectly positioned to develop the five minds for the future through the educational process. However, educators must be prepared to develop their own minds because leaders always go first.


Reflection is essential so that thinking and acting remain purposeful. Parker Palmer in The Active Life: Wisdom for Work, Creativity, and Caring (1990) discussed the need to engage in reflection on the nature of action. “Ultimately, action will help to reveal what the reality is, if we pay attention to its outcomes. These are the crucial links between action and contemplation, for the function of contemplation in all its forms is to penetrate illusion and help us to touch reality” (25). The work of educating requires a great deal of reflection as educating is leading people to new heights of awareness and action. It is a journey of discovery for both the learner and the educator. Public life and the life of leaders can be full of frenetic activity that offers little time for reflection. Therefore, creating reflection time must be intentional. Education that champions change implies that both the educators and learners have engaged in deep thought. Kouzes and Posner (2012) believe that a leader’s ability to excel is dependent on how well the leader knows him/herself and that knowledge comes from inner guidance that is gained through reflection.


Renewal implies regeneration—a period of intellectual and physical rest that result in new levels of commitment and motivation. We often think of leadership in terms of grand displays that are larger than life. The truth is that leadership is mastering everyday events. Renewal works the same way in that it is an everyday event without which we will not thrive. What renews one person may not renew another. Exercise, meditation, yoga, reading, gardening, or just sitting with a cup of coffee or tea can be as renewing as a month in the mountains or a day on the beach. Renewal is personal. Renewal is good for the soul. Renewal is mandatory.

Michael A. Singer in his book The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself (2007) contends that the voices in our minds prevent us from living in the present. Living in the present is the only way to renew. Thus, we must find time to disconnect and just be.

Concluding Thoughts

The promise of education is tremendous. The reality of creating change through education is daunting but possible. Education leaders and court leaders—judges and administrators—must commit to the vision of placing education at the center of the administration of justice. Such a commitment will require the selection of educators who are leaders of change.

Educators in the judiciary must have three concepts of their role in courts. One concept is that of curriculum planner, program administrator, teacher, technologist, and evaluator. The second concept is that of a mentor, coach, and leader who provides others with the tools and inspiration they need to reach greater heights of professional performance resulting in the courts being the best in the world at creating justice for all. Third, is organizational caretaker of the soul of the courts through assuring the expression of the mission and values of the courts.

Educators as change leaders should ask three fundamental questions: What world do we want to live in? What role can the court play in creating and sustaining that world? How do we get there together? The answers likely can be found in original thinking. Jan Phillips posits that original thinking is the only thing that will take us to new places of understanding and doing—“…there is a kind of friction as opposing thoughts rub against each other, there is also the potential for creative fire that comes with that friction. And as original thinkers, that’s what we’re after” (2006, 92).

Educators through the curriculum development and program delivery process can create the climate for change that will prepare the courts to meet the future, as outlined by Gore (2013) and likely other futurists who came before him. Dan Cohen (2003, 3-4) identified 8 steps, which create a climate for change:

  • Increase urgency
  • Building guiding teams
  • Get the vision right
  • Communicate for buy-in
  • Enable action
  • Create short-term wins
  • Don’t let up
  • Make it stick

Educators must embody the change they wish to create remembering that change, to be successful, must eventually be owned by the system from the bottom up to the top down. “Hierarchical systems evolve from the bottom up. The purpose of the upper layers of the hierarchy is to serve the purposes of the lower layers” (Meadows 2008, 85). Educators must serve the top, the bottom, and all that lies in between—that is leading the edge.


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1. The subject of this paper, judicial branch educators as change leaders, was presented at the 6th International Conference on the Training of the Judiciary which was held in 2013 and was sponsored by the International Organization of Judicial Training (IOJT).  The conference paper will be published in an upcoming volume of the IOJT Journal.  The concepts of the IOJT conference presentation were also presented at the 2014 National Association of State Judicial Educators (NASJE) annual conference.  Upon the request of the NASJE President, the contents of the NASJE conference presentation were put to paper and are represented in this article—Maureen Conner. (back to text)

2. Kouzes and Posner (2012, 34-35) researched factors or attributes that comprised admired leadership characteristics among the research respondents from 1987 through 2012. The characteristics they measured over that period were: honest, forward-looking, competent, inspiring, intelligent, broad-minded, fair-minded, dependable, supportive, straightforward, cooperative, determined, courageous, ambitious, caring, loyal, imaginative, mature, self-controlled, and independent. The research respondents were from six continents: Africa, North America, South America, Asia, Europe, and Australia. The research respondents represented different cultures, ethnicities, organizational functions and hierarchies, genders, levels of education, and age groups. (back to text)

3. The Six Hats represent six ways of thinking and are color-coded. The White Hat considers facts and figures. The Red Hat explores emotions and feelings. The Black Hat is cautious and careful thinking. The Yellow Hat is speculative-positive thinking. The Green Hat is creative thinking. The Blue Hat focuses on control of thinking (DeBono 1999). (back to text)