richardjamesrogers.com is the official blog of Richard James Rogers: high school Science teacher and the award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management: 45 Secrets That All High School Teachers Need to Know.
Teachers are expected to demonstrate high competency in a range of skill areas. Some skills that may come to mind are personal organisation, classroom management, behaviour management and confidence in the use of educational technology. One skill that may not immediately come to mind, however, is leadership: yet this is vital, as teachers are required to be good leaders of their students (and, sometimes, other teachers). Today, I’ve invited Mitch from Destination TEFL, Bangkok, to to share his tips on how to be a good leader in the classroom.
This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.
Truly great teachers must also be leaders. By devoting time and energy towards developing leadership skills, along with technical teaching skills, teachers can make a profound impact on their students that transcends the information they teach.
Leadership seems to be a bit of a buzzword these days, but maybe there’s a reason for that.
Just take a look around. In government, the corporate world, and yes, in education too, our world seems to be suffering from a lack of leadership. We have a surplus of bosses, managers, and influencers, but not enough true leaders.
But together we’re going to change that.
The classroom is your domain, one place in the world where you truly can make a difference. You may not be able to fix the government, or even the overall culture at your school (toxic bosses tend not to take feedback well), but you can absolutely change your classroom and, in so doing, your students’ lives.
Here’s how to do it.
What is true leadership?
In order to become great leaders in the classroom, we need to really nail down what leadership actually is. And more importantly, what it isn’t.
Good leadership is NOT:
- Being right all the time
- Never making mistakes
- Making all of the decisions
- Always being strong, confident, and outgoing
Surprising, right? Many of the usual stereotypes we have about leadership (ones that many leaders today try a bit too hard to represent) aren’t actually what leadership is about at all.
True leadership, especially in a classroom full of students, is much more nuanced and, honestly, more accessible than many are led to believe.
In contrast to the list above, true leadership in the classroom looks a lot more like:
- Being human, and acknowledging mistakes
- Letting your students make decisions, and teaching them to make the right ones
- Being the best version of yourself, not fitting into boxes
- Focusing on empathy and emotional intelligence
Real leadership is about putting others first, and doing your best to help them become the best versions of themselves they can be. As teachers, this is something that probably sounds familiar to us!
So now that we know what leadership is, how do we grow in these areas and incorporate them into our classroom?
Becoming a leader in the classroom
The first step in becoming a better leader is to know that you can!
People are conditioned to believe that you are either born with leadership qualities or not, and this is true for something like being naturally outgoing. But that’s not what great leaders are really made of.
Emotional intelligence is something you can work on. Taking responsibility and acknowledging mistakes is something you can work on. Becoming the best version of yourself is something you can work on.
Real leadership is accessible, and it’s accessible to you.
All becoming a leader in the classroom takes is recognizing areas you want to grow in as a leader, focusing on developing yourself in those areas, and (most importantly) finding opportunities to implement what you’re working on in the classroom.
Maybe you want to work on developing your emotional intelligence. So you take the first step and start reading articles about improving your EQ.
You listen to their advice and start doing things like labeling your emotions, practicing empathy, and opening yourself up to feedback. The more you do this, the more you notice your sensitivity to other people’s emotions increasing.
Now it’s time for the most important step: bringing it into the classroom!
What better group of people to practice empathy and emotional intelligence with than your students? You start looking for root causes of misbehavior, and the emotions that underlie them. You teach your students to become aware of their own emotions, and the emotions of their classmates. Most importantly, you provide an example of how to do this.
Congratulations, you have not only become a better teacher, but you’ve also become a true leader. You are now impacting your students not only through what you teach them, but how you teach them.
You’re no longer just teaching them about English, now you’re teaching them about life.
Becoming a great leader, and a great teacher, takes time. It isn’t something that can be done in one semester: it’s an ongoing process of self-discovery and self-improvement.
However, as people teaching abroad, we’re no strangers to this process. Living and working abroad is a journey of self-discovery, finding new and exciting pieces of yourself in different contexts and cultures, growing in ways you never thought possible.
Leadership in the classroom is another one of those ways, and it’s an area of self-improvement that will end up changing not only your own life but the lives of others.
At the end of the day, that’s what teaching is all about!
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