Go Ahead: Build a Leader, an Inquiry Teacher, or an Octopus!

December 8, 2019

It was decades ago – 1981 – that I was leading a leadership retreat for about 30 high school students from Los Angeles and Orange 2019 Chadwick Inquiry TeacherCounty high schools. We were staying in a wooded getaway for three days, immersed in varied experiences to begin a year-long program of rallying students at their schools to be engaged in meaningful service.

In a moment of thinking the process was all too cerebral, a colleague, Megan Swezey Fogarty, and I came up with this idea to have students “build-a-leader” and this has been going on and on and on in various forms ever since. How would I have ever imagined that this initial drawing experience would generate such insight and in-depth follow-up conversation? The UPside is seeing 100% of the youth engaged as they work simultaneously to add their ideas, building one idea atop another, laughing and truly collaborating. All ideas welcome! The first time students built a leader in our retreat, they added knees for flexibility, a bald spot for open-mindedness, and one group turned it over and added a buttocks for something to fall back on. I knew this idea was a keeper.

Same with adults as I lead this during numerous workshops around the world with different focuses. Same laughter, same ping-pong of ideas, same collaboration with 100% engagement. Same meaningful conversations and range of insights.Nagoya Teacher

In 38 years of “build-a-___,” participants of all ages have built leaders and learners. They have built advisors and advisees. And friends, teachers, graduates. In one room, parents built teens while in another teens built parents and then had quite a conversation. Through the NYC Youth Leadership Councils program that CBK Associates creates and leads professional development for, we have police officers building effective facilitators before leading this with their youth council members. This is a process for everyone.

My recent 2019 fall travel season brought some wild ingenuity to this process. At the Nagoya Service Learning and Advisory two-day workshops, I have no idea how this happened: a few adult groups were using animals as their form, for example, one group built-an-administrator in the form of a dolphin, and another an octopus. One group went full abstract and built a service learning brain! Now there is an entire new world of possibilities!

Post travel I also received a fab visual from

Octopus Nagoya

Emily Nunn and Jessica Sonneveld, educators at the Chadwick International School in Incheon, South Korea, with this note: “Emily and I have been reading ‘The Power of Inquiry’. Instead of writing out what an inquiry teacher looks like, we decided to use the tool we learnt during your workshop and made our learning visible by drawing what we think an inquiry teacher looks like. Although she doesn’t look like the average human, it truly shows how incredible teachers with an inquiry mindset are! I have attached a photo for your viewing pleasure.”

Thank you Emily and Jessica, and all the wild and crazy thinkers who keep me inspired and enlivened! To download a description of how to lead Build-a ___, go to this link of RESOURCES and enjoy! Send me pics! 

Please send comments, questions, and ideas OR to receive a description of how to lead “Build-a ___” with your students or any group, email me at Indeed I have used this process in corporate, nonprofit and government consulting with adults. Will send details!!

Screenshot (17)

Grateful for these opportunities to connect and grow.


Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A., is an educator/author who loves to dance, travel, take walks, read, write, and collaborate with others all over the world — and loves time with my family

Catch my latest podcast HERE.

July 13-16, 2020 – Join us in UPstate NY for the Advisory and Service Learning Summer Institute, at Carey Conference Center outside Albany. Sponsored by the New York State Association of Independent Schools and open to ALL educators; I love leading this in-depth experience where we all catapult to great heights, together! Joined this year by Chris Neal, CBK Associates consultant, and his work on Equity and Diversity. 

More dates soon! Check the CALENDAR on this website

Contact and check out the Calendar on this website.

Follow me on Twitter @cbkaye and LinkedIn and Facebook at Cathryn Berger Kaye