Monday, June 4, 2012

Leadership in the Classroom

I've picked up some books on leadership, because I will need all the people skills I can get in order to motivate my department colleagues to work together, on things they don't necessarily already believe in. You can laugh secretly if you will, but I think leadership can be taught and learned, and I think next year I will appreciate every piece of advice I have gathered on this topic.

One thing that has surprised me is how closely aligned the leadership principles are to my vision of an effective teacher in their role as a classroom manager. The first book I finished on the topic, unbeknownst to me at the start of the book, was written by a pastor who worked for years as a religious leader. (His name is John Maxwell.) Here are some examples of things he mentioned that I think apply very well inside a classroom:

"Thomas Aquinas [...] once said that when you want to convert someone to your view, you go over to where he is standing, take him by the hand (mentally speaking), and guide him. You don't stand across the room and shout at him; you don't call him a dummy; you don't order him to come over to where you are. You start where he is, and work from that position. That's the only way to get him to budge."

"Always deal with the problem issues up front. This establishes a base of trust, which is necessary in any relationship. Failure to recognize and handle problems allows them to color the issues and create barriers and negative feelings. [...] Count on having to deal with problems at some point. Better it be at the start."

"The boss drives people; the leader coaches them. The boss depends upon authority; the leader, on good will. The boss says 'I'; the leader, 'We.' The boss fixes the blame for the breakdown; the leader fixes the breakdown. The boss knows how it is done; the leader shows how. The boss says 'Go!'; the leader, 'Let's go.'"

"In the workforce, successful managers have learned the tremendous value of encouragement. It's the greatest management principle. Why? Because you get the kind of behavior you reward. You don't get what you hope for, ask for, wish for, or beg for. You get what you reward."

And, I can't find one of the quotes that I liked, but something else that touched me toward the end of the book was about how you can make a lasting impact on a person (a sign of successful leadership) by encouraging them that they are capable of doing something, and then helping them to achieve success while under your leadership. This will give them tools and confidence to be successful long after you are gone. This parallels what I have been thinking about the most important gift we can give our students -- the confidence that they can work at something and actually get better at it.

The book had other gems, more specific to leading a group of people at work; I really like how he's a straight-shooter, even though some of his principles are too closely affiliated with running a church for me to immediately see how it applies outside of the religious field. But these quotes above I think are excellent reminders for building relationships with our students, and I am already on my second Maxwell book (and feeling pretty excited about it)!


  1. Very cool stuff. My one observation on leadership comes from watching the (vaguely Dilbert-like company) why husband worked at for a while Dilbert-like place for a while. From looking at what they did right and did wrong, an important principle is to value the ideas and innovations of the people who are working for you. Having a sense of ownership of a goal or project makes a big difference for how hard and well people work.

  2. Have you read the stuff from Sharon Dweck on the "growth" mindset vs. "fixed" mindset? It's all about learning to approach a task with exactly what you said -- the idea that you *can* get better at something... it's not a case of "well, I'm not good at..."
    Another cool site for things learning is -- click on the link to brains being like closets for a great graphic of the difference between the math expert and the math students' minds...