August 2011

August_600The Teacher as Leader

On Tuesday, 09 August 2011, Dr Silvia Orta Senior Research Associate and Adjunct Faculty at Nova Southeastern University and Abraham S Fischler School of Education stimulated a debate about the teacher as a leader…

Acknowledging that leadership in education is a controversial subject and until recently associated with endorsed authority and position – for example, school administration, she went back to John Dewey as her starting point to show that while the idea of educational leadership as involving practicing teachers as central figures has been around for while, it has remained a seriously underdeveloped topic.


The older type of instruction tended to treat the teacher as a dictatorial rule: The newer type sometimes treats the teacher as a negligible fact, almost as an evil, through a necessary one. In reality, the teacher is the intellectual leader of a social group. He [she] is a leader, not in virtue of official position, but because of wider and deeper knowledge and matured experience. The supposition that the principle of freedom confers liberty upon the pupils, but the teacher is outside of its range and must abdicate all leaderships is merely silly. John Dewey (LW 8:337)

In the 1930s john Dewey looked into traditional classrooms and saw passivity, rigidity and uniformity locked in a place.

Teachers were the dispensers of knowledge staying at the front of the classrooms, while students the receivers of knowledge took their places in the rear.

Dewey believed schools should be places of participatory learning where students were actively engaged in learning and where teachers served as mentors and guides.

Many educational practices today are based on Dewey’s progressive ideas including Cooperative learning, multi-age grouping, activity centered, curricula that emphasizes self esteem, teaching of conflict resolution, critical thinking, getting along with others.

The ultimate goal of teaching is the ability to share one’s passion for learning and discovery with students. It is all about mentoring without selfishness and giving the best of you despite the hardships and the limited rewards.

When we think of leadership, specifically school leadership we tend to center on the school administrator including the principal, the central office administrator, or the superintendent in charge of leading students and their teachers toward academic and personal achievement.

This is correct, as they are in charge of leading staff and students to excellence and are accountable for those responsibilities; they are the instructional leaders setting the stage for a positive leaning environment.

However, more importantly, it is important to focus on leadership within the perspective teachers in the classroom where they are the guide in the learning process and responsible for instilling the passion for learning and discovery in the classroom.

  • Often referred to as the leadership Traits theory (Munro, Thorndike, Draines, Tead and others) the following are often given as effective leadership traits:
  • Physical and nervous energy
  • Sense of purpose and direction
  • Enthusiasm
  • Friendliness and affection
  • Integrity
  • Technical mastery
  • Decisiveness
  • Intelligence
  • Teaching skills
  • Faith

More recent effective leadership theories support the idea that effective leadership often depends on the leader’s ability and courage to face the facts in a particular situation; interpret or decode these facts or even data appropriately in light of the situation’s requirements, and follow the course of action that the facts dictate.

Strong leaders are compared to artist… they inspire, applaud, chastise, steer and stand on the side. They create, monitor, reinforce, encourage and stand in the back, and sometimes stand in front as well.

Not only does the teacher need to use dramatic skills to enliven a class, the lesson itself, while impromptu must be scripted in that the teacher knows where the class is going. In addition, a teaching needs to know what the other actors (students) should do and, finally, know exactly what students, as in an audience, should leave with in terms of skills acquired or practiced along with an enhanced affinity for the target language.

An art metaphor along with music suggests good teaching requires a foundation in a discipline and a degree of practiced ability. Artful teaching goes farther as it should be seen as something more than just using scripted lines or playing written music; artful teaching requires an investment in thought, energy and planning.

Looking to the conductor metaphor, an educator has much the same role. First, to understand each student’s strengths and weaknesses and to know how to make the most of strengths while helping those who are weaker improve to the level of the other players. Second, it involves ensuring all members of the class are always participating even if it is not their time to perform.

Third, good teaching requires conductors to know in detail what students are being asked to do and how they should perform. Finally, a good conductor is able to encourage everyone to practice and then practice even more in an effort to improve.

Other effective leader straits and how they relate to teacher leader includes

Physical and nervous energy

Teacher leader physical and nervous energy should be perceived by students and colleagues, in the sense of energy for the subject and for working with students.

A sense of purpose and direction

The teacher leader needs to have a sense of purpose and direction and be able to communicate this to his or her students.

Students need to know the direction and focus for the day and in the long term. Teacher leader should convey this sense of purpose to students in both verbal and nonverbal forms with their actions and demeanor.


Good leaders are enthusiasts; extraordinary teachers have a great passion for learning, for the subjects they teach, for their students and for effective instruction.

Friendliness and affection

The extraordinary teacher has an unconditional positive regard for students regardless of ethnicity, gender, economic background, language fluency, religion or learning challenges. All students are equal. A teacher leader has the ability to develop rapport and positive relationship with every student and their parents.


Have the ability to make a wise decision when facing sudden or unexpected situations. Have the habit of thinking quickly through problems and situations and make wise decisions regarding curricula, instructional processes, pedagogical concerns and students’ behavior.


A teacher leaders needs to have faith in their ability to ensure an environment in which students feel free to explore and investigate without concern for imperfection or failure.

Teaching is often seen as an act of faith requiring imaginative ways to consider what students should be able to learn, do, think and feel. Teachers must always be analyzing student possibilities and lose their fear that something planned might be too difficult for students to accomplish. It is this idea that teachers need to control or reduce their fear that makes effective teaching sometimes seem evangelical.

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