Being in the classroom, from when I started as a secondary school English teacher in 1980, was always an enjoyable challenge and one from which I found rich reward. Alongside the day job I taught GCSE and A level classes to adults at night school for several years, and I also continued to teach during my ten years of headship.
For me, however, it wasn’t enough to offer complete professional fulfilment. I wanted the new challenge of helping staff develop personally and professionally and the opportunity to reach more students by working with an increased number of staff. I wanted to take on some sort of leadership role.
Over the years, I have had several conversations with teachers who said something along the lines of, “I don’t ever want a leadership role. I love being in the classroom – that’s what I trained for, and I don’t want to move into the position of doing less teaching in order to do more management and admin.” Although I could understand why some teachers might say this, I was always left thinking: But isn't every teacher a leader of learning within their own classroom?
So what do leaders do?
- They help those they lead to achieve their potential, and act as positive role models.
- They offer a judicious balance of support and challenge, so that they both encourage, and stretch. They help others to see that aiming for something which is achievable with effort is where real progress and satisfaction lies.
- They organise and guide the development and growth of others.
- They sometimes ‘run interference’, filtering out the noise and helping those they lead to focus on what they can do to improve.
- They celebrate success and help others to recognise their achievements, to feel good about how far they have come and to keep up their levels of motivation as they move forward from this point.
All these points are qualities that good teachers possesses, so shouldn’t we be celebrating the leadership that takes place every day in each classroom?
Whether or not a teacher decides in due course to step into a role with a formal leadership title, perhaps we need to recognise that teachers ARE leaders, and ensure they give themselves full credit for their leadership skills.
Dr Jill Berry is an educational consultant and former independent school head, and is a source of inspiration for aspiring and existing school leaders around the country.