Teachers as Leaders: Creating Communities of Authentic Learning

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By Liz Cox, PhD student at Boston College and English teacher at Needham High School

Find her on Twitter at @elizabethkcox

The best ways to demonstrate leadership in the classroom lie beyond the material that will appear on tests and quizzes. As a teacher, I hope to instill leadership qualities in my students and, therefore, consciously model the behaviors and attitudes I hope to see from them.

I would argue that the most important part of teaching is fostering the conditions for a community of learners. Students and teachers must feel valued and encouraged to be contributing members of the class. At the beginning of the school year, my students and I create classroom norms and guidelines that will contribute to an effective learning environment. This engages students in a decision-making process, empowering them with voice and choice. My hope is that this process helps students understand themselves as learners and leaders.

I have two guiding principles for my classroom: respect and responsibility. I explain to students that they have my respect the moment they walk in the door, but I understand that I need to earn their respect. To do that I make sure that they know how seriously I take my job by taking responsibility for their work and mine. As I begin this next school year, I want to acknowledge that education often advantages some while disadvantaging others and work to change this. By taking an inquiry stance in my own practice—working to transform teaching and learning by seeking answers to the questions and dilemmas that arise in the day-to-day work of teachers—I hope to encourage students to inquire into their own learning and lives.

As a high school teacher, I often feel as though I am not doing enough to reach all of my students, especially those who seem happy to just “pass.” I work hard to hold high expectations for all students, as well as for myself. Since I began my teaching career many years ago I have always said that I wanted to be the kind of teacher that students don’t want to disappoint. We have all had that kind of teacher. One who expected our best work and wouldn’t accept less. The difference, from a leadership standpoint, is that the very best teachers will also offer high levels of support. My expectations, as well as the ways in which I offer support, are communicated to my students and their families. Such clarity and transparency, I hope, demonstrates my authenticity and commitment to their success and well-being.

My goal is to demonstrate an ethic of care for my students and encourage my colleagues to do the same. We know better than anyone that students should be treated as humans, not just numbers or scores on standardized tests. We know better than anyone that there is so much more to their worlds than what can be written within the lines. We know better than anyone that teaching can be the most challenging, yet most rewarding career; and we wouldn’t do it unless we were confident we could lead our students to success and happiness.

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