27 May 2012

What Being a Classroom Teacher Taught Me about Being a Leader

In January 2009 I left the classroom and have been working in various leadership positions since then.  Even though I long often for the classroom, I have found if I remember these ten things I did in my classroom, I am more successful as a leader.  I only wish being a leader hadn't meant having to leave the classroom because it shouldn't have to be that way.  Teachers are leaders too!

  1.  Value each individual.  No matter how busy my schedule became or how many students there were, I found it important to treat each unique individual with respect because respect goes a long way in building student/teacher working relationships. 
  2. Provide choice.  Student choice in learning was by far one of my favorite tricks in my teacher goody bag.  When people feel they have a choice about what they need to do, they generally enjoy the task and learn in the process.
  3. Provide frequent feedback.  Frequent, descriptive feedback has been shown to be one of the greatest factors for improving student achievement. 
  4. Use passions positively.  I entered the teaching profession because I am passionate about teaching and learning.  Sometimes these passions cause me to react emotionally to imprudent decisions made in public education. 
  5. Be creative with resources.  I spent my entire teaching career in Title 1 eligible schools, so we always had to be creative when looking for books, supplies, and equipment.  It’s amazing what you can get when you ask for help from the community.
  6. Encourage collaboration and creativity.  These skills are supremely important for living a productive life, so I always liked to provide students opportunities to collaborate with one another and with opportunities to express their understanding of text in creative ways (e.g. through creating a painting, a poem, a song, a movie, a skit, etc.).
  7. Listen more than talk. This goes back a long way for me.  As an undergraduate, I practiced Rogerian Therapy (Person Centered Therapy) for part of my graduation requirements for a B.A. in psychology.  This was all about listening to the client.  I employed similar listening skills in my classroom.
  8. Provide experiences. As a believer in John Dewey’s philosophy of education, I believe students should experience positive interactions and learning opportunities which will prepare them to be confident and capable citizens in society. 
  9. Don’t try to do everything because I can’t and shouldn’t.  This theory applies in the classroom and in the work place.  For a smooth running classroom where learning was happening, I needed the students to work harder than me.  This took a ton of up-front preparation, but my classroom always ran itself when I was a facilitator of learning rather than a deliverer of knowledge.
  10. Set specific and measurable goals, but don’t forget the stuff that can’t be measured. While achieving success and reaching goals often meant I needed  to have numbers or measurable data for my students, I believe we must remember that being human centered doesn't always equate with measuring in numbers.