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Paying it forward: SGML prof offers insights to local 7th graders

May 02, 2007

For Pierre Balthazard it was another day at the office. For gifted seventh graders at Copperwood School in the Peoria Unified School District, it was a chance to experience a real, live college classroom presentation by an expert in the field of management and leadership.

Balthazard, a professor in Arizona State University’s School of Global Management and Leadership and the associate director of its Center for Responsible Leadership, recently made a pair of 90-minute appearances at Copperwood to deliver a professional development exercise that combined lessons in ethical principles, decision-making under uncertainty, assessment, and team management.

“Pierre was excellent,” reported Ayse Miller, of the Copperwood Center for Differentiated Instruction (CCDI) and a seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher at the school, who asked Balthazard to present a college-like lecture on a challenging topic.

“It was great for the kids to have a connection with an expert outside the school,” said Miller, who is a member of the Arizona Association for Gifted and Talented and has taught at Copperwood for three years. “Pierre offered our students a real-life application of ethics concerning data collection, which is invaluable since the decisions we make are based on the data we have, which must be good in order to make good decisions.

“The opportunity to collaborate with others, like Pierre, who share their expertise with us, is invaluable,” said Miller.

The CCDI is a special program for students who possess advanced intellectual, academic or creative capabilities. Many of the students, according to Miller, will enter distinguished scholar programs in high school.

Among the areas of ethics and social responsibility presented by Balthazard over two days were team-building insights, group mentality and the right amount of opposition necessary to create the movement that results in the highest-quality product or presentation, team and individual evaluation, and team, and individual decision-making processes.

“What Pierre brought to our class is the idea that the students must constantly assess themselves and understand there is a cycle that is dynamic within each team and with each project,” said Miller. “He showed the kids it is important to evaluate the dynamics in order to implement the project successfully, but also to reflect, assess and evaluate afterward, because the cycle is ever-changing.”

For Balthazard, the visit to a class that has taken apart and rebuilt CPUs and has focused on such heady and topical subjects as urban sprawl, alternative fuel sources, the structure of ecosystems, and what Miller calls “the global mentality,” wasn’t the culture shock he might have imagined.

“The level of discourse was similar to a college class,” he said.

“The kids made some of the classic mistakes I see with executives, but were very open to learn and ‘dissect’ the logic. They did very well at learning the assessment and management skills of team performance.”

Balthazard, who also serves as the director of graduate studies for the School of Global Management and Leadership, was impressed with the students’ ability to grasp complex concepts.

“Beneficence, justice and respect are not usually discussed analytically with grade school students,” he said. “By exploring real-life dilemmas in regards to these principles, the students came to a better understanding of conflicting issues in society.

“Those kids are really tuned in to the events affecting our world. I just provided some tools and a challenge to seek opportunities to enhance their knowledge in this increasingly critical area.”