Tag Archives: Teacher-Leadership

More than just leading by example…

Long time, no write… enjoying the California summer and catching up on some reading. I came across a parable that really resonated with me.

I’m not always a great fan of parables. Many are great… short, meaningful and clearly an example of a bigger idea. Some, I find, don’t clearly articulate the intended idea (or, I could just be a bit slow in that area… ). See what you think about this one:

A student assigned to write an essay about an effective leader wrote this story:

“I’ve been taking a bus to school for years. Most passengers keep to themselves and no one ever talks to anyone else.

“About a year ago, an elderly man got on the bus and said loudly to the driver, ‘Good morning!’ Most people looked up, annoyed, and the bus driver just grunted. The next day the man got on at the same stop and again he said loudly, ‘Good morning!’ to the driver. Another grunt. By the fifth day, the driver relented and greeted the man with a semi-cheerful ‘Good morning!’ The man announced, ‘My name is Benny,’ and asked the driver, ‘What’s yours?’ The driver said his name was Ralph.

“That was the first time any of us heard the driver’s name and soon people began to talk to each other and say hello to Ralph and Benny. Soon Benny extended his cheerful ‘Good morning!’ to the whole bus. Within a few days his ‘Good morning!’ was returned by a whole bunch of ‘Good mornings’ and the entire bus seemed to be friendlier. People got to know each other.

“If a leader is someone who makes something happen, Benny was our leader in friendliness.

“A month ago, Benny didn’t get on the bus and we haven’t seen him since. Everyone began to ask about Benny and lots of people said he may have died. No one knew what to do and the bus got awful quiet again.

“So last week, I started to act like Benny and say, ‘Good morning!’ to everyone and they cheered up again. I guess I’m the leader now. I hope Benny comes back to see what he started.”

(From Michael Josephson and the Josephson Institute of Ethics – original page: Commentary 838.4: A Parable About Leadership)

It’s not just walking the talk. This was a clear example of that. It also says that a leader must be persistent, confident and caring. Someone who knows he or she can make a positive change and then takes steps to do so. Finally, it says, empower others to keep the ball rolling… Good Morning!

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Age Old problem solved, the Zen way…How a glass is both half full, half empty and completely full at the same time. Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gothunkyourself/; used under the http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/ license

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Teachers ARE Leaders!

The fact is, (supported by research provided by Robert Marzano, John Hattie, William Sanders, Sandra Horn and S. Paul Wright)  individual teachers can have a profound impact on student learning. For me, the operative word here is “can”. I’ve been reflecting recently on how to link this possibility with a concrete reality. How can we empower our teachers to develop the traits that will have a positive impact on learning? What are the key traits? Marzano (2003, What Works in Schools: Translating Research Into Action) identifies three key, interdependent, areas that, when employed effectively by teachers, have a positive impact on learning:

  • Instructional Strategies
  • Classroom Management
  • Classroom Curriculum Design

All three “teacher-level factors” must be effectively combined to improve student learning. Think about the expert teachers you have known (and, I distinguish ‘expert’ from ‘experienced’ – they’re not the same)… they are highly committed to improving themselves, seeking and offering feedback and helping fellow teachers. They are also thinkers! They model problem-solving and risk-taking, trying new assessment, instructional and behavioral strategies as needed.  They are, typically, recognized as informal leaders amongst fellow faculty.

These teacher-leaders model the traits that most agree education is supposed to develop in students: lifelong learning, tolerance, responsibility, and effective communication. Teachers ARE leaders! So… how do we empower ALL teachers to develop these traits? How can we build teacher leadership?

I read an article recently that highlighted the importance of having dynamic administrators or other role models during a teacher’s early ‘formative’ career years demonstrate those traits. It has a huge impact on whether they develop as teacher leaders. It made me think back to the role models, mentors and occasional excellent principals that I had when I first started teaching.

It’s simple, really…

Encourage and actively model the traits of teacher leadership that are so important for schools to develop and focus on those teachers who are still in their ‘formative’ years. Encourage the risk-taking, reflection, commitment to being involved and help teachers refine any areas of curriculum design, classroom management or instructional strategies that can be improved. Feedback, the number one factor influencing student learning… also can have an amazing impact on teacher learning and empowering teachers as leaders!