November 1, 2011 Leave a comment
No one reports to me at West Chester University, but in the past, I’ve headed large and small departments and taught for many years. Of necessity, I’ve thought about the qualities of good leaders and found the strengths and lapses in myself. I did my best as a leader when I remembered five lessons from the classroom.
- LESSON ONE: Teacher-leaders share knowledge. Can you imagine a teacher who won’t tell his students how to punctuate a sentence for fear they might surpass his writing skill? Or a math instructor who refuses to teach quadratic equations because that talent gives her power and position she intends to hoard? Only the worst teachers—or leaders—say, in so many words, “What I know makes me special, so I’m going to keep it to myself!”
- LESSON TWO: Teacher-leaders expect their employees to help one another, to play fair, and to collaborate. Can you imagine the results for a teacher who pits his students against one another in order to maintain his tight control? Effective teachers encourage students to work together in teams, discussion groups, study sessions, and mentoring or tutoring relationships. Some leaders forget this lesson, as did a college official I knew in another state: he secretly assigned the same duties to more than one person so the folks involved would stay at each other’s throats and stay away from his.
- LESSON THREE: Teacher-leaders view everyone as of equal worth, even if each person has different responsibilities and authority. Can you imagine a teacher who fails to greet someone because that individual is a mere student? Yet most of us have found ourselves invisible to some folks above a certain lofty level. Great teacher-leaders do not regard anyone as a lower order of being.
- LESSON FOUR: Teacher-leaders seek to bring out the very best in their employees, encouraging them to grow, to dream, and to strive for those dreams through practical, concrete steps. The success of any individual contributes to the success of the group and of its leader. In addition to conveying information and skills, strong teachers want to inspire their students to love their subject, to work hard, to find satisfaction and fulfillment, and to understand the meaning in what they are learning and doing. And so it is with great leaders in the world beyond the classroom.
- LESSON FIVE: Teacher-leaders learn from their employees. The notion that the best way to learn a subject is to teach it is no mere cliché, nor is the idea that students themselves have lessons to offer. So it is, too, with the finest leaders and those they lead. Everyone brings unique talents and contributions, just as we each have our individual weaknesses and needs.
I miss teaching, but I hope to remember some of its most important lessons. Whether I am formally in a position of leadership or am leading informally in a short-term context, I will offer most if I remember the best of the teachers I knew and the best of myself in those now-distant classrooms.
Winnie Hayek, Office of the President, West Chester University