• Monica Simonsen, Ph.D.

Stepping "out of line" as an Inspirational Leader

On Sunday night, millions of people tuned in to watch their favorite celebrities walk the red carpet and to see who took home Emmys in 27 categories, ranging from Best Actress to Best Outstanding Comedy TV Series. In a sign that times are changing, 2019 may well represent the first time the viewership drops below 10 million people and is largely assumed to be the last time cable TV will hold off streaming services (such as Netflix and Amazon) and win the most Emmy’s. Combined with last week’s creative arts Emmy award winners, HBO won 34 total Emmys while Netflix earned 27 and Amazon had 15. The shift in demographics for TV viewership and the growing popularity in streaming services mirrors much of what we, in higher education are seeing happen to our own demographics and modality.


There is no shortage of industry chatter about how brick and mortar schools will respond to these changes and yet, within the walls of our existing institutions, those charged with growing or integrating online learning departments or programs, face significant resistance. The issues surrounding the growth of online learning and the implications for education is complex and requires strategic collaboration among respective stakeholders. However, it also requires inspirational leadership from those of us that are charged with facilitating these changes. Rallying support from colleagues and influencers within your university requires inspirational leadership.


During the Emmy’s, one acceptance speech seemed to resonate with people- in particular, women. It was that of, Alex Borestein, who won a second consecutive Emmy for Supporting Actress on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. After telling a few jokes and thanking her colleagues, she told a moving story about her grandmother whose own life was saved when she dared to “step out of line” at a concentration camp during the Holocaust. She challenged women around the world to follow that example and dare to “step out of line.”


Immediately- and almost predictably, the mantra, “Step out of line ladies,” spread like wild fire and the hashtag #stepoutofline started trending on social media. Ms. Borestein’s otherwise average speech was punctuated by a sentiment that sounded like a rallying cry. Why did this particular mantra go viral? What was it about the moment, the words, the inspiration, the simplicity of the phrase “step out of line” that has struck a chord with people around the world? Ms. Borestein managed to plug into the intensity of the #Metoo movement; the relevancy of the momentum around equal pay for women in entertainment, sports, and across industries; and the deep emotional connection to worldwide social injustices. By calling people (especially women) to “step out of line,” Ms. Borestein is challenging us to challenge the status quo, to challenge assumptions and “the way things have always been done.”


In a recent blog post, a classroom teacher challenged his colleagues to think about why we ask students to walk in literal straight lines in the hallway and quoting one of his former students, suggested that this was “to make teachers feel better about themselves” (Turner, 2019). He argues that teaching rigid rules that are “predicated on tradition” robs students of opportunities to improvise and make good decisions. He suggests that, instead of focusing on walking in a straight line- that teachers should focus on the “thoughtfulness of the journey (Turner, 2019).”


In each of our respective fields, innovation occurs only when we dare step out of line. When we let go of assumptions and rules that are really just traditions and then inspire people to join us. #stepoutofline


Battaglios, S. (September 22, 2019). HBO tops Emmys with 34 wins, fending off Netflix and a late surge from Amazon. Los Angelos Times. Retrieved September 22, 2019 from https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/business/story/2019-09-22/emmys-2019-scorecard


Lederman, D. and Lieberman, M. (March 20, 2019). How many public universities can ‘go big’ online? Inside HigherEd. Retrieved on September 21, 2019 from https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2019/03/20/states-and-university-systems-are-planning-major-online


Turner, B. (July 24, 2019). Why schools should stop forcing kids to walk in single-file lines. Retrieved on September 22, 2019 from https://theweek.com/articles/852334/why-schools-should-stop-forcing-kids-walk-singlefile-lines

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