Mutual Reciprocity Makes This EMBA Classroom Click

Al Chiaradonna hardly needs a second career, but he loves it just the same.

Two decades ago, he added teaching responsibilities to his already crowded plate of work and life, and was immediately hooked. Now as an adjunct professor at Villanova University, Chiaradonna teaches strategic management and leadership courses for the EMBA Program and heads its executive coaching program. And as an executive, he runs SEI’s North American Private Banking business and hosts the blog Front and Centered.

A Love of Education and Belief in the MBA Drive Decision to Teach

“Education has made a big difference in my life,” says Chiaradonna, one of the first in his family to graduate from college. He credits that experience for helping launch his professional career and when his alma mater Temple University invited him to teach, he eagerly accepted the challenge.

In the mid 1990s, he decided to pursue his MBA at the Harvard Business School. After graduating from Harvard, he made a commitment to helping others see the virtues of an MBA. He designed an Executive MBA Program for his then employer Andersen Worldwide, and he also co-taught and guest lectured at the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania before joining Villanova’s EMBA Program.

Since then, he has received the Villanova Executive MBA Excellence in Teaching Award for 12 of the 16 nomination cycles. What is his secret to success?

Keeping it Fun Means Engaging EMBA Students

“If you think of your best teachers, they are the ones that keep you entertained on the topic regardless of what it was they taught,” says Chiaradonna. “I want it to be fun. I want the students to feel they can’t wait to be there.”

Chiaradonna encourages engagement in a number of ways. He rarely turns on PowerPoint —“I am never behind a podium”— instead he asks questions, uses cases, and facilitates discussion. Several years ago, he flipped the classroom, and students read articles, watch videos, and complete assignments before class, leaving more time for dialog. In addition, participation is 50 percent of the grade.

“You also have to have a knack for making the complex simple,” he says.” You have to be willing to learn from others.”

EMBA Students Help Create a Great Dynamic

To that last point, Chiaradonna takes student feedback and evaluations very seriously. He also remains on the hunt for new ideas to improve his classroom, including integrating remote learning and introducing an EMBA book club in his leadership class, to emphasize the concept that all “leaders are learners.”

“The classroom is so fun to me,” he says. “It’s really a big experiment for everyone.” 

EMBA students help create a great dynamic, Chiaradonna says. “I admire the desire and passion in EMBA students.” In turn, Chiaradonna delivers all he has. “When I am teaching, I am bringing my whole self.” The resulting atmosphere of respect and trust builds a solid foundation for learning. 

“It’s that mutual reciprocity that makes the EMBA classroom click.”

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