All teachers are already leaders. It’s in the nature of teaching.
Teacher and leader, leader and teacher: two words with a similar sonority that seem to have so much in common. Can you be a good leader if you are not a good teacher? Can you be a good teacher if you are not a good leader? The obvious answer is no. The notion of leadership is inherent to the teaching profession. Indeed, the importance a teacher has on his or her students, whether they are children, teenagers or adults, goes way beyond the role of academic instruction.
When we look for synonyms of teacher, we can find words such as: educator, coach, trainer, mentor or guide. These terms clearly embrace the notions of inspiration, counsel, management and guidance. In one word, leadership. This is probably what makes the job of teachers so fascinating and so difficult at the same time. How can you be a leader to 20 children or 30 students all day long during the whole school year? It seems like a labor for Hercules! However, there are some techniques, attitudes and ideas you can adopt or at least try in order to fully embrace your role as a leader.
The teaching profession is somehow ungrateful since we don’t always get to see the influence or importance we have or had in our pupils. Nevertheless, rest assured that you always leave a trace, which can be small but significant, in every single one of your students, even when we or they don’t realize it. We cannot be life changers for everybody but we have the power to support everyone and guide them in the right direction. It surely requires patience, energy, optimism and hard work, but it is definitely worth it.
Now let’s take a look at actions, ideas and behaviors that are expected of a great leader and try to transpose them in the school environment.
8 Things a Teacher Leader Does
1. Listen (a Lot!)
We tend to think of a leader as a person who is listened to by many and whose words count. This is true, yet inspiring speeches must come from a great capacity of listening. To know your audience, you have to dedicate a significant amount of time actively listening to them. You can only be a good leader if you understand who people are, their fears, passions, motivations and desires. Listening is exactly what teachers should do with their pupils but also with other adults, colleagues, staff members and parents.
2. Nurture Self-confidence
We know that the lack of self-confidence has disastrous effects in a person’s life. A healthy self-esteem is generally built (or destroyed) during the years of primary education. According to Jack Camfield, 80 percent of children entering the first grade scored high on the self-esteem inventory. The number dropped to 20 percent by fifth grade and 5 when graduating high school! We have to wonder what is happening during these years. The worst thing a teacher can do is make a pupil feel bad, rejected or humiliated. The aim of teachers (and parents of course) is to make children believe in themselves and open their eyes to their true abilities. Leaders always try to get people to think more highly of themselves.
3. Unleash Everyone’s Creativity
Leaders are creative people. They are not afraid to try new and original ideas and approaches. Innovation is a cornerstone of their life. As teachers, we are constantly facing critical situations that we need to solve, and sometimes we have to create new tactics, new resources and new ways of teaching. Most importantly, you have to foster your students’ creativity: remember that creativity is contagious. Teachers should always encourage, channel and guide their own and their pupils’ creativity, never stifle it.
4. Learn as Much as You Teach
Great leaders are experts and pioneers. They always keep up with the latest trends of their field and are generally the first ones to try new techniques and tread new paths. What does it mean for teachers? That they should keep studying and learning everything they can about education. Teachers who don’t do it usually fall into monotony and frustration, and so do their students. After all, life is nothing but a learning experience.
5. Reflect Permanently on Your Own Practice
Leaders always observe and analyze the results of their actions, the outcomes of the steps they have taken. Teachers should do the same. It is essential to learn from our mistakes and try to improve everything we carry out. Self-reflection and self-assessment are key in the personal development of a person whose job is to guide young minds at such an important moment of their life.
6. Be Positive
A research study done by the University of Iowa gives us this terrifying statistic: The average 2-year-old child hears 432 negative statements per day, but only 32 positive statements. Negative words and statements generate negative actions or at least the lack of positive ones. A positive attitude is crucial in the development of young people’s characters, so always look on the bright side of life!
7. Promote a Sense of Community
We sometimes call teacher leaders the ones that have a role that goes beyond their classroom, literally the ones that lead other teachers. They get involved in school life, relate to colleagues and other staff, with parents and even with the life of the neighborhood or city. Your class should be a close-bound community and the same goes for your school. You should always try to include and involve everybody inside and outside your classroom.
8. Care and Be Ethical
Don’t pretend, don’t fake, don’t cheat! Everyone will end up knowing if your feelings are not true. “Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Said John C. Maxwell. If you show your students that you really care about them, their learning will be made easier. Besides, you must have ethical behavior at all times. To be a role model, you must act like one, not just speak. You cannot preach the protection of the environment and then throw trash in the street.