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Leadership in teaching; what’s the secret?

Leadership in teaching
1. How vital is leadership in teaching?

Very, as you would expect.  But keep a sense of balance about it.  Other things are important too – scholarship, discipline, character, punctuality, courtesy. . . You know them all.

The trouble is that so much is talked about ’leadership skills’ and ‘teacher leadership’ by so-called ‘experts’ that you can be made to feel that there is a mighty mystique masking it.  Much is written about it too, so much that once again you are pushed into believing that it is all one vast, deep secret that can be penetrated only by the gifted few.

Not so.  There is no mystique; there is no secret.

2. So don’t by overawed; don’t tremble before it

All the talk about ‘how to be a leader’ may make you wonder whether you are up to it.  Don’t worry.  Rest assured, you are.  Anyone who wants to spend their future working days standing in front of a group of young people, trying to help them enjoy a more abundant life, is a potential leader already.

You are going to teach people how to learn, so we presume that you yourself know a bit about learning too.   Well, you can learn how to lead, just as a new mother and a new father can learn how to be a parent.

3. A willing teacher shows teacher leadership all the time

The famous ‘leadership skills’ are not a set of gadgets you carry around in a toolbox and flourish now and again when you want to make an impression.  There is no little secret crib notebook called ‘How to be a leader’ which you fish out of your back pocket whenever you meet a snag and want to be told how to get out of trouble.

Leadership in teaching comes from something much simpler than that.  Not a toolbox; not a crib notebook.  All you have to do is observe.  Not just look – observe.  Notice.  Spot something.  Something which, if you went and did it, would make matters better.

If you suggest a smarter way of presenting a project; if you start a new course of lessons; if you coach a team; if you stop to help a boy who is struggling; if you enthuse about something a girl has just done; if you give a pat on the back; even if you give a timely kick in the pants – you are leading.  These things are not in the toolboxor the crib notebook.  They are there because you thought of them.  And you can all think.

On Teaching, A Good teacher
Take a look at my memoir sharing stories and lessons from over 40 years of classroom teaching
4. These actions will show

If you do any of the things I mentioned above (and any of lots more), you are setting an  example. You are going out in front. (I venture to suggest that most of the leadership skills lists will mention the word ‘example’, so you are following the experts too.) Pupils like examples.  Everyone does. They find them comforting.  Something to follow.  They feel they are on the right track.   You can do it in a dozen ways – not just with work.  You can do it by means of your relations with colleagues, your attentiveness, your discretion, your dress, manners, bearing – anything.  They notice.  They will feel it’s possible.  Worth doing.  They’ll follow.  Presto – you are a leader. 

5. Leadership, in a way, is obvious

To repeat, working out how to be a leader at any rate leadership in teachin – is not a great secret or a great mystery.  So much of it springs from good sense, common decency, human kindness, sharp eyes, and native wit.  It may not always be easy to do, but it is usually easy to see when it needs to be done.

 So – in summary – how vital is leadership? 

It’s vital all right. But don’t be daunted, and don’t agonise about it; don’t consciously ‘perform’ it.  Just put a good idea into action.  Anyone can do it.  Set examples; anyone can do that too.  It can be hard, but it is do-able.  Go on; do it.  You’ll know when.

‘Teacher leadership’ is a somewhat preciously self-conscious phrase. If you stop to think, it’s pretty obvious what is involved, and it really doesn’t need a high-flown name.  It can be both simple and hard; but it can also be rewarding.


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Berwick Coates