Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Leading from the Classroom

I just finished a leadership class at my church entitled, "A Leader Worth Following".  It was a shift to the conventional look at leadership.  What I liked most was it focused on leadership as influence rather than title. Just because someone has a "leadership" title, doesn't mean they are necessarily a leader worth following. There are people that have a leadership title that are, indeed, worthy of being followed.  But, I was challenged to understand that I am a leader even without a "title".  I'm a leader in my house, and I'm a leader in my classroom.  Many times, teachers miss this.  We know we are impacting and influencing the lives of so many students far beyond the walls of our class, but we miss that this is being a leader.  I loved the facilitators take on leadership, and it is so relevant to the classroom, I knew I wanted to share.  He said all leaders worth following have to focus on three areas: Authentic Character, Exceptional Competency and Relational Connections.

1.  Authentic Character-  Being authentic in the classroom is something that pulls students in and makes them want to learn and participate in the classroom.  Having great character means that all students are treated with respect and know that they are valued in the classroom.  Having authentic character also means that all students can feel safe in the classroom.  Also, it means that we do what we say we're going to do. Students appreciate a teacher that is consistent with everyone.  I try my best to be an encourager, a safe place for all students, and consistent.

2.  Exceptional Competency-  This is one that I think is of utmost importance in the classroom.  There are so many great and new strategies out there, and we need to be looking for the best ways to engage our students in the classroom.  Also, we need to be constant learners of our content.  I have learned so much Human Geography over the past 7 years, that it makes what I thought I knew my first year teaching the course laughable.  I keep thinking if I never attempted to learn more about the subject matter, how pathetic my class would be.  My students would hate it!  I would hate it!  I would probably want to quit.  I am very proud of the fact that my course and my teaching style isn't the same as it was 7 years ago or even 2 years ago.  Over the past year, I've learned more about teaching and learning through engaging on Twitter than I have in the previous 11 years teaching.  We NEED to model what it means to be a learner.  Our students don't know what it takes to be a true learner.  So many of them have perfected learning for the grade which will only get them so far.  They need to learn the importance of exceptional competency as well.

3.  Relational Connections-  We all remember those teachers that made the biggest impacts in our lives.  They are the ones that took the time to create a connection with us.  I've seen the importance of relationships.  This year, I decided I would write every one of my students a note and stick it to their answer sheet prior to the AP exam.  This was born out of this class I took.  It was very time consuming to write 110 individual notes, but when the students saw me after the test, they were so thankful.  They recognized the time it took to write each of them, and they were impressed they were each individual.  Many of them even posted pictures of them on Twitter, tagging me to show their gratitude.  I'm not sure if the notes will help them do better on the AP test, but they knew their teacher thought enough of them to write them a personal note.  One girl said, "Mr. Parker, did you really mean what you wrote?"  I said, "Of course I did!"  She almost started crying.  She told me it was the nicest thing a teacher ever said to her.  I know I'll remember the reaction these students had to such a small gesture.  It made me want to make this feel this special so many more times throughout the year.

So, teachers, you are a leader!  You have influence over a group of young people for a given time.  What will they take away from your classroom?  I want my students to learn as much geography as they can, but I want to instill in them a love of learning and a new perspective they've never before seen.  So, no, I have no official "leadership title", but I am a leader.  I hope that I can be a leader worth following to my students!