Lessons In Leadership: Dr. Jennie Lane

“Other people have helped by pushing and enabling me; by holding the bar high for me.  If I had my way, I would still be back in the backroom typing activity guides.”  ~Dr. Jennie Lane

Jennie Lane is Director for the Wisconsin K-12 Energy Education Program (KEEP) and has been with the program since it began in 1995. Through its activity guide, teacher inservice courses, and hands-on resource kits, KEEP makes the subject of energy attractive and meaningful to teachers and their students. Over 3,500 K-12 teachers have participated in KEEP courses and continue to interact with KEEP staff and each other to increase and improve energy education in Wisconsin. In addition to her work with KEEP, Jennie serves on the executive committee with the Board of Directors for the Midwest Renewable Energy Association,  chairs the Research Committee of the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board, and chairs the Membership Committee of the North American Association for Environmental Education. Jennie’s past experience includes co-authoring the Project WET Curriculum and Activity Guide, which has an international distribution and has received several awards. She taught at a teachers’ college in Thailand during her Peace Corps service, in the public school systems in New York City and Lewiston, Maine, and at UW-Stevens Point. She received her BS in biology from Florida Southern College and Master’s degrees from Columbia Teachers College and the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point. She earned her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from UW-Madison.

Jennie is leaving Wisconsin soon for a new teaching adventure in Turkey.  She will be a Senior Lecturer within the Teacher Education department at Bilkent University in
Ankara. She will be teaching Biology Methods, Curriculum and Instruction, Environmental Issues, and observing teacher practicum and advising graduate students.

Q: Do you consider yourself a leader?

I consider myself more of an enabler or facilitator than a leader.  I prefer being a behind the scenes person – I am not competitive by nature (except with myself!).  I facilitate people who have leadership skills to be who they want to be.  Not that I’ve never taken the lead, but being in front or in the limelight is not where I want to be.  As my sister says, “I don’t care who’s in charge as long as someone is in charge.”  I prefer someone else be the leader, and if there is someone willing to do it, I like to help them.

Q: Why do you think others consider you a leader?

I think the main reason would be my historical perspective and analytical thinking skills.  I am good at finding patterns, seeing connections, and solving problems. I prove my worth by what I do and can provide; stakeholders have come to recognize KEEP as a reliable program that gets things done. But I also think it is because I have played a facilitative role.  I help people make the connections or take the steps that they need to make or take to help them accomplish their goals. KEEP was the vision of various people and resource managers, and I helped to design the programs, hire the staff, and build the networks that enabled KEEP to be the program that it is.

Q: And that is not leadership?

Oftentimes when I think of leadership, I think of a more charismatic and inspirational personality.  I am not comfortable in that role.  I am not a cheerleader type of person.  I don’t have a particular vision I am trying to make happen.  I like to take someone else’s vision and help to make it happen.  For example, with KEEP we conducted a statewide nominal assessment and created a vision with teachers, and those results became my drive.  I saw myself as the teachers’ servant.  Teachers told us what they needed to make energy education happen, and that became my drive. I guess you could say teachers’ needs drove me to leadership.

Q:  What is the change or difference you are working towards?  What is your ultimate goal?

I want to facilitate people becoming the best they can be.  And part of that is being environmentally literate and living ecologically within the world.  By walking the talk, I hope to inspire others to do the same.

Q: What are the greatest challenges you see in getting to that goal?

I have to be sure I am encouraging people to be who they want to be, rather than who I think they should be.  I also have to realize that some people just don’t have that interest or passion and all the facilitating and enabling I can do won’t make a difference.  Sometimes it doesn’t matter what anyone does, but sometimes just the right strategy can click with a person.

Q: How do other people help? 

There are a lot of co-facilitators and enablers out there that are willing to take the time to provide resources or advise to help others along too.  Other people have helped by pushing and enabling me; by holding the bar high for me.  If I had my way, I would still be back in the backroom typing activity guides.

Q: How do you wish other people would help?

I think having enthusiasm, patience, and dedication to work together helps a lot.  You can also remind me to have fun once in a while.

Q: Do you have any advice for how others could be better leaders or ‘followers’?

Get to know each other.  Understand the needs and interests of all those involved so it is the shared vision that is being supported rather than just one individual’s vision. Try as much as possible to get the ego out the way so there can be a true collaborative effort.

I also think it is good for people to put themselves in roles where they are more challenged and more of a minor character.  Right now I feel on top of my game.  If there is a question or problem, I know how to fix it, or who to call for help.  I am comfortable.  Now [with my move to teach in Turkey], I am putting myself in a situation where I am a peon and have to learn the ropes all over again.  Maybe it’s good to do that once in a while; to re-learn those skills, and gain new ones.  It’s good to have leaders that stay in their positions, but it’s also good to be able to let something go. Maybe I am getting too comfortable where I am here behind the scenes.

Q: What vision do you have for environmental education in the future?

I would like to see education be more of a collaborative, applied, and integrated approach. The lines between subject areas would be blurred.  Project and place based education would be the foundation.  People would learn to be more conscientious of their place in the ecosystem and their use of resources.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share or would like people to know?

I think a quality of a good leader is that if something goes wrong, they take the blame, and if it goes right, they share the credit.  I also wonder if it is possible to not have leaders.  Will we always have to have leaders, or should leaders always be facilitators?

Q: Any questions you think I should ask leaders in the future?

What do you like or not like about your leadership role?

I like when the pieces fall into place and the problem you’re working on presents itself as the ‘pretty picture’ at the end.  I don’t like that I sometimes just want to take a backseat and can’t, or when I’m counting on someone and it’s not a team effort.

What you like and don’t like about being a follower?

I like to learn from and appreciate leadership.  I don’t like when things aren’t done well or sloppily.  That is what often motivates me to take the lead.


Recognizing the critical role of leaders in advancing education for environmental literacy and sustainability, The Wisconsin Environmental Education Foundation (WEEF) has been working to highlight individuals that are leading the way in Wisconsin.  Dr. Jennie Lane recently agreed to speak with WEEF Program Director, Jesse Haney, about her role as an environmental education leader in Wisconsin.

For more Lessons in Leadership from Wisconsin environmental educators, visit the Wisconsin Association for Environmental Education blog and look for WEEF’s guest blogger entries.  Do you know a leader in Wisconsin EE we should talk to?  Contact Jesse Haney at jehaney@uwsp.edu with your ideas.

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