As part of this month’s Top 12 Global Teacher Bloggers series, hosted by CM Rubin World, I decided to tackle the question “What are the best ways a teacher can demonstrate leadership in the classroom?” as the blogger-at-large. Over the past few weeks, one distinguishing factor has surfaced as I’ve worked with a number of educators from across the country: empathy. The best teachers demonstrate empathy in their classrooms.
Empathy for Themselves
“Future You will really appreciate it if Current You takes notes.” I often say in workshops. Despite our efforts to encourage students to capture their learning, teachers regularly skip this step in their own professional development. However, the true leaders, the teachers who will take what we uncover during our workshops and implement new ideas in the classroom, are those who engage in reflection when given the opportunity and make deep connections between the workshop content and their own classes.
Empathy for Students
Several weeks ago, I had the privilege of working with a group of teacher-leaders in a school in Providence, RI. This group wanted to push their thinking forward and really examine the role not only of technology in their classrooms, but also of how they could shift their curricula given the abundance of information now available via mobile devices. Though their students each had an iPad to support their learning, the teachers also benefitted from a Macbook. During the workshop, I explained that I did not want the teachers to use any tool that the students could not readily access – namely their laptops.
As we explored the concept of workshop archiving and note taking strategies, one gentleman came to an amazing revelation: he had never considered organization from the perspective of his students. Most times, he prescribed solutions based on what was convenient for him without considering the fact that his students navigated between seven teachers and seven different routines on a given day.
Last October, Grant Wiggins published an account from a veteran teacher who shadowed a high school student for two days. The teachers who take the time to see school through the eyes of their students assume a new level of leadership in their classrooms.
Empathy for Colleagues
I worked with a wonderful assistant (Dee Kosik, @koscikd) last week during our Summer Workshops in Atlanta. Any time a teacher had a question or needed additional instruction, she immediately provided the requisite support. On the second day, I asked her to stop doing so.
As educators, we want to provide assistance and ensure success. However, we are so used to providing answers that we forget what it feels like to develop as critical thinkers and problem solvers. By having empathy, we remember what it was like to struggle and then achieve the desired skill or concept. We want our colleagues to have the same sense of success while still mitigating some of the frustrations associated with learning. By approaching each context with empathy, we are modeling the perseverance that we hope our colleagues – and students – will attain as they gain the confidence to implement new ideas in their classrooms as well as the pedagogical approach to serve as a facilitator of inquiry rather than a disseminator of information.
In many ways, it comes down to the age-old adage: great leaders lead by example.