Students in PHIL 120: Perspectives of Self do a rope course exercise.

It was January of 2018 when the two women happened to sit together at the Crucial Conversations Training program. They spoke about their respective experiences teaching philosophy and working as a life coach. And a year later they began teaching a class together.

John Stewart Kennedy Professor of Philosophy Marianne Janack has been teaching “Perspectives of Self” at Hamilton for 17 years, after teaching it for four years elsewhere.

This was executive coach Lisa Baker’s first time in teaching in higher education, though she has over 20 years of experience in corporate technology implementation and project management. Baker is currently also doing work as a career advisor in the Career Center.

The chance meeting at Crucial Conversations, a four half-day workshop for improving communication skills in the workforce, led to discussion of Janack’s “Perspectives of Self” course. Baker was intrigued and mentioned that she would want to sit in on the class at some point.

 “I said, ‘Yeah, that’d be great!’” Janack recalled. “After I was talking to Lisa about the stuff she does with life coaching, the way she ties it to self-knowledge, I thought, ‘Actually, we could do something more interesting, we could co-teach this.’” 

PHIL 120: Perspectives of Self was offered as a joint course with both Janack’s traditional philosophy and Baker’s experiential learning for the first time this semester. When the two were discussing co-teaching this class, Janack decided to trust Baker with her portion of the curriculum and gave her no instructions other than to provide material to “grow self-awareness.”

“I think part of the reason I wanted Lisa to do this is because in evaluations in the past, students have said, ‘I really liked this course, it was really interesting, but I wish we had done more self-knowledge practices and thinking about one’s own life and narrative,” Janack said.

 “So this … gives us an opportunity to do that. But I think the byproduct that I hadn’t anticipated is it’s good for teaching students how to have class discussion and how to interact with each other,” said Janack.

After earning bachelor’s degrees in elementary education and fine arts and a master's in information management, Baker joined the corporate world. The economy, however, was not on her side. She was laid off four times, worked contract IT, and was ultimately laid off in 2014. By chance, she ended up at a leadership development program that changed her perspective entirely.

“That was the first time in my career that I’d stopped and had anybody ask me important questions like, ‘Why are you doing what you’re doing?’” Baker said. “It started me down this path of reexamining and I knew I wanted more of that stuff, so I grew my knowledge of leadership development.”

While still working in IT, she pursued this track that she had stumbled upon, becoming a certified facilitator of the leadership program she had attended and credentialed through the International Coach Federation (ICS).  She officially left IT in 2016 and did work with intact teams, co-founded The Leaders Co-Lab, which helps executive teams work better together in a collective leadership model, and started her own coaching and consulting practice.

“There’s so much evidence-based material available now that supports and makes such a strong case for self-awareness, growing more effective leaders. And these are growing people who have the capacity for leading bigger transformations,” Baker said.

Janack’s portion of the course runs through a conceptual timeline, spanning from Rene Descartes and Jorge Luis Borges to Christine Overall and Daniel Dennett. Baker’s portion consists of both activities and discussions, ranging from conversations about overcoming fears, thinking about assumptions, doing rope course exercises, and personality type exploration. Students keep journals and end every experiential class with reflective questions to answer.

“I thought Lisa could (provide) ways of thinking about your life in a bigger … how to deal with people you live and work with, to give you the flexibility to not get stuck in ruts along the way,” Janack said.

 “Lisa … sort of recreated this life for herself, and she’s put it together in these really interesting ways, and we probably don’t do enough of bringing people like her into classes to talk really quite frankly about how life happens to you,” Janack concluded.

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