Leadership is influence, and influence is power.
The power to do good.
The power to help others.
The power to elicit change.
We're teachers. Whether we want to be or not, we're leaders. It's one of those 132,342 things we signed up for without really realising it when we applied at uni. But we love it, because it means we can make a difference. Everyone you know is a leader, too.
“Everyone is a leader because everyone influences someone.” – John C Maxwell
As a teacher, your leadership influences how your students develop and behave. You have great influence on your peers and admin staff, too.
- Your environment depends on how you perform as a leader.
- The way people interact with you depends on how you perform as a leader.
- Your life/work outcomes depend on how you perform as a leader.
When you become a great leader, you tend to pave your own way. It’s not enough to be a follower. A sheep. You become the shepherd.
Being a good leader is integral for you and for those around you. You can’t escape it! So, you may as well get really, really good at it ;)
1. Walk your talk
“The most powerful leadership tool you have is your own personal example.” – John Wooden
If you expect a certain standard from others, you need to adhere to that standard yourself. Consistently. Be the image of what you want from the people around you, and from yourself. Be the example.
2. Be a great listener
“Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.” – Andy Stanley
No matter who you are, people will rely on you to listen to their problems and be a sounding board. They need you. Kids need you. I know it's nearly impossible to give your undivided attention to a student during class time, but it's important to do what you can.
Here’s a little exercise you can do to test your listening skills:
Find a partner. Adult or child! (No doubt your students will be better at talking for 2-3 minutes non-stop).
Have your partner speak for 2-3 minutes on a subject of their choice.
Resist butting in at any point. Simply close your mouth and listen for the entire time.
Have good eye contact and body language (lean in slightly, use facial expressions where necessary).
Listen to every word to try to gain an understanding of exactly what they’re telling you.
Have an open mind.
Re-state what the person just said and ask if your recount was accurate.
Reflect on how the listening exercise went.
Did you have to stop yourself from interjecting more than once?
Did you get distracted by your own thoughts and completely miss the point of the story?
Did you misinterpret any of it?
TIP 1: Ask appropriate follow-up questions. Remember, this conversation isn’t about you! Be fully interested in what the person is saying, then ask follow up questions to try to understand more. Use who, what, when, where, why and HOW.
TIP 2: Don’t try to solve all of their problems. Most of the time when someone voices whatever’s on their mind, its not because they need their problems solved. They’re perfectly capable of solving their own problems. They just need to let it all out in the open and get that weight off their shoulders. All they want is a little empathy to know that they’re not alone.
Brene Brown created the most wonderful little video on empathy. It helped me to completely understand the difference between EMPATHY and SYMPATHY. I highly recommend you watch it, and get your entire class to gather round when you do.
TIP 3: Never start a sentence with, ‘at least’. We often try to help shift a persons perspective by saying, “At least you have other friends.” (if they’re fighting with their bestie) or, “At least the crash was in your partners work car.” I know what we’re trying to do when we say these things, but all it ends up doing is belittling the other person’s feelings. What we may brush off as a small issue might feel like the end of the world for another. Especially for kids. Despite whether they have other friends, they still need resolution with their friend they're fighting with.
TIP 4: Be trustworthy. Don’t go blabbing to other people. Let the student/peer know that it’s a safe space and what you talk about will be kept between the two of you. Keep your word.
3. Admit when you’re wrong and learn from your mistakes
As human beings, we’re going to stuff up. Regularly. It’s so important to admit when things didn’t work out as we would have liked, and even more important to admit when we’re wrong and apologise. Kids appreciate this so much! They spend their school lives with you, being told they haven't done it quite right, or they should fix this mistake. To know that you make mistakes too will make them feel more at ease. Use every mistake or ‘failure’ as a learning experience and a valuable opportunity for growth and class discussion. It has the added benefit of helping form trust and emotional bonds with your class.
“’Failure’ is simply the chance to begin again, this time more intelligently.”
- Henry Ford
When you’re not afraid to be an open book and voice your mistakes, you give everyone around you permission to do the same. Grow together with your class and your peers.
4. Be kind to yourself
When you’re wrong or make a mistake, it is equally important to show kindness and understanding towards yourself. Like I just mentioned, mistakes aren’t bad. They’re valuable opportunities for growth. Therefore, you don’t need to beat yourself up about it.
Accept that the mistake happened. Learn the lesson. Be grateful for the lesson. Then move forward, this time with more knowledge. Share the lesson with those around you. We can all do with more learning opportunities.
That brings me to my next point.
5. Never stop learning
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”
– John F Kennedy
Never stop improving yourself. Never stop working on being better at all of the things you do. And I don't just mean attending 1-2 PD's per term. Work on you. Your wellbeing. Your work/life balance.
I feel like our growth throughout life is like a tree. We are the tree. Learning is the water. When we continually water the tree, it continues to grow. It shades the little plants beneath it's wide branches and helps them grow tall, too. As soon as we stop watering the tree, it may stay stagnant for a little while, but sooner or later, that tree will begin to deteriorate. We can’t let the tree deteriorate!
Always strive for improvement, and those around you will be inspired to do the same.
Who do you influence? Your students? Your family? Your friends? Your peers? Yourself?
Be a shepherd, not a sheep. Pave your own way through life and show those around you that it’s possible to do the same.
“Leaders are the creators of their lives. Followers let life happen to them.”
Love & Happiness
P.S Do you know someone who could really benefit from reading this? To give them the motivation and push they need to make a difference in their own lives and the lives of the young people around them? Share this post with them. Even if they don't embrace it straight away, you've done your part. Thank you.
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