The role of a creative leader is not to have all the ideas; it’s to create a culture where everyone can have ideas and feel they’re valued.
~Sir Ken Robinson
I am a middle child and relished the role of “leading” my younger brother. He, however, wasn’t a very cooperative follower. 🙂 While I was somewhat shy as a child, I could organize my group of friends at recess like it was my job. I lived in the country without many neighbors, but the two younger neighbor girls that I played with always heeded my direction. Okay, so they didn’t have much choice, but it worked for me, nevertheless.
I had the mindset of a leader and my actions reflected that. As I entered adolescence, and then young adulthood, those leadership skills were somewhat dormant as I battled teenage angst and all that goes with it. Later, they reemerged as a classroom teacher, and then continued to strengthen and grow when I became a curriculum director, and now as a consultant.
I have always enjoyed spending time with young children, and have always enjoyed learning and growing. Those two passions led me to a career in education. That took leadership to a whole new level. I’m not of the notion that you are either born a leader, or not. No, while some people might have characteristics that make leading easier for them, we can all develop leadership capabilities.
Teachers, you are all leaders. You are the leaders in your classroom, in your hallway, and like it or not, in the community. The number of students you impact each year is mind blowing. Why did you become an educator? I think it’s safe to say that the majority of us became teachers because we wanted to make a difference in the lives of the students we’d be teaching. We had a desire to serve them in some way.
Think back to a time when you were a student in your favorite teacher’s classroom. What made him/her your favorite? I bet it wasn’t because of the awesome lectures they gave, or the super fun worksheets you got to do for homework each night. I’m guessing it was more about how they related to you personally, or how engaging they made the learning process.
Exceptional teachers and exceptional leaders all seem to possess the same traits. They have a servant attitude. They work to build relationships with each of their students. They think and teach innovatively. And they each have a desire to continue growing.
In the classroom
Building relationships has to be what happens first before true learning and change can occur.
As a teacher, you enter the classroom every day with the absolute assurance that you are going to influence every student’s life that day. It’s true. You will make an impact of some kind every single day you see that child. The question is, what type of impact will you have?
- Connect with them
- Start each day with the goal to serve your students better than you did yesterday
- Allow students to hold the reins of their own learning
- Teach leadership skills (true leaders produce more leaders)
Before PokemonGo was even a thing, I had a young boy who would only write about Pokemon during writer’s workshop. Every. Single. Day. I tried to “encourage” him to investigate new topics…to no avail. In order to grow his writing skills I had to find a way to connect with him. So, I let him teach me all about the world of Pokemon through his writing. He’s twenty-three now. I’m pretty sure he grew out of the Pokemon phase, but still has writing strategies to help him be successful in everyday life. I could’ve played the teacher card and “made” him write about something else, but he wouldn’t have enjoyed that or produced his best writing. He was willing to learn what I was teaching because I met him at his place of interest. We have to allow students to hold the reins of their own learning.
In the hallway (and beyond)
Teachers are not only leaders in the classroom and to their students. You lead in the hallway. You lead in your school building. And you lead in the district. You probably all have a grade level or department chair. Most likely, that person is seen as the leader of your team. While that is true, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other leaders on the team, and multiple ways to serve as leaders.
- Share what you are doing in the classroom
- Be vulnerable with one another
- Reflect on experiences and discuss best practices
- Use your gifts (organization, etc.)
- Open your classroom up for visitors to observe
Have you heard of the #ObserveMe movement? If you are open to having other teachers or administrators observe you during their free time, then you simply hang a sign outside your door with the hashtag #ObserveMe. Some teachers include pieces of paper, like this teacher, to inform the observer what she wants you to look for in her instruction. Others just have a dry erase board that they change when their goals change. It’s a brilliant way to increase your learning, while being vulnerable with your colleagues. Some amazing learning occurs for both the observers and the teacher being observed. And it costs you nothing but time and some brain power.
In the community
I once heard a principal say that they’d never live in the town where they worked. While I understand the need for privacy, I think that is a sad statement. You miss out on learning about your students’ lives and connecting with their families on a personal level if you aren’t a part of the community.
- Interact with parents and students in the community
- Go to community events
- Attend sporting and fine arts events (shows you support your students)
- Be real, but maintain integrity
What leadership characteristics most resonate with you? Having a servant’s heart? Building relationships? Being innovative in thinking and teaching? A strong desire to grow? In which areas do you need to try a little harder? Why do you stay in education? I stay because I believe in the power of innovative education. I believe in the foundation of servant leadership. It’s not a job. It’s not a position. And it’s more than a philosophy or style of leadership. It’s part of who we are. We are educators. AND, we are leaders.