Lead to Be a Great Teacher

The difference between a high quality learning environment and a chaotic disaster will be whether you, the teacher, accept the overriding responsibility to blanket every aspect of your classroom with persistent, fair-but-firm leadership, all the time. Expect good initial efforts from yourself first, flowing into your class results, every day (there are no days off).

Don't allow yourself to become part of the herd – lead. If leading does not come to you naturally, then you must learn how to persuade others to follow you. Read Step 1 to learn how you can be a great leader, in turn allowing you to become a more effective, great teacher.


  1. Realize that the awe of a new school year in a new class on day one won't last, for "you as teacher in name and position only". The needed cooperation and respect comes on the basis of leadership into successful learning opportunities every day.
  2. Respect students, and their needs for success and involvement: Thank the class for working and doing well. Facilitate whole class, and smaller groups with students leading or having the floor when you call on them, and help with what is seen as necessary to follow you to receive the promised good results – if you can deliver them.
  3. Succeed by breeding success. Busy-work (things they already know) will not bring ultimate success. But, the students need new learning activities. "Success breeds success, but failure breeds failure."
    • Handle a Writing Assignment at Work need to be understandable and to seem successful to the student.
  4. Focus on definite (certain) accountability, but, also, with a focus on applications instead of mere repetitions; use a quiz to motivate a summary; and use a test to motivate recap and review (namely, successful reps for learning without boredom):
    • Renew hope: Reteaching, without starting over; keep making use of learned skills. Retesting can help for competency or excellence. The coach-teacher/leader facilitates athleticism/academics (successful reps for learning without boredom).
  5. Expect resistance against excellence that is gained by discomfort (temporary embarrassment, fear, confusion or boredom). Discomfort is a critical element of daily renewal, coming out of moments of confusion and embarrassment, but not from boredom.
    • Confusion motivates learning – if the students are allowed to demand clarifying of confusing elements. It is critical to be renewed by clarifying confusion again and again, and to pass on renewed viability to your class.
    • Super-focus (without Stay Focused on a Job Despite Interruptions) and then take a break: "work from bell to bell with breaks in the stress – being on the edge of your chair leaning toward the future," may be one way to express this.
  6. Earn attention in your class by success in achievement. However, be sure to share the floor, as needed. Ensure that others have the floor at your behest, and at the same time keep a sense of overarching authority and contagious enthusiasm in order to maintain the students' cooperation. Retaining the initial starry feeling that "this is my awe inspiring new class/teacher" (or regaining) that first day kind of awe of the new-teacher/subject is tricky, but aiming for this is a precious goal.
  7. Avoid ungraceful meanness and abusive shouting. Such negative approaches to marshaling attention and action is not "leadership". Leadership consists of acts or instances of guidance; direction; leading; for example, "They prospered under his/her leadership toward their shared goals for learning."[1]
  8. Instruct positive expectations that translate into assisting you to have authority in your class. These positive expectations will help you to do what you expect as you manage the circumstances that are benefiting the whole. Maintain this initial position every day by showing that you are not allowing a vacuum of leadership to lead to a loss of the initial unquestioned position of the teacher as the main leader in the classroom. Insist on your finding ways to:
    • Engage students,
    • Involve students,
    • Promote student-centered learning (and enjoy their learning).
  9. Depend on progressive discipline within your/their classroom. This involves step-by-step calm, firm, and fair discipline, that will impact not only their learning with you but their education as a whole and eventually pass through to their careers. Instill discipline by your plans and by having the students working and learning to become successful without frenzy.
  10. Depend on student centered goals, but question: "Are we enabling unacceptable behavior in order for us to appease those persons (who are causing disruption) in order for us not be rejected, confronted, challenged, or hated by them?" Avoid fusion with the role of students and confusion of goals for the teacher-leadership role within the class learning unit.
  11. Show confidence which overcomes doubt and fear, anger and anxiety by creating a peace of mind that helps both you and your class. Nourish and nurture good expectations.
  12. Criticize or praise the whole class: "Wow, everybody is working!" And individual work or credit (objectively), never praise the student in front of others (to subjective).
    • Ask for students to agree: "Wasn't that a great job. Yeah that was right on! Great Job!" Praise a child for work!
    • Praise the "great job" and "fine work" publicly. That is as simple as asking, "You see?" and praising them "You got it! Okay?" Leadership inspires confidence in others and draws out the trust and best efforts of the group to complete the task well. A leader who conveys confidence towards the proposed objective inspires the best effort from class members.
    • Present a positive and also authoritative (not authoritarian) demeanor: Students have the handy ability to be able to tell, if a teacher is not confident. So you must consistently show confidence as a person and in your leadership role. If they suspect your lack of confidence, then they will take advantage of the situation, attempting to get away with everything while largely ignoring you, making poor choices, being disrespectful or even Deal With Disruptive Kids at a Church Event. They may pretend to give in: "Oh, I'm sorry. Oh, okay I'll stop.", but "not" for long.
  13. Create daily successful discipline. This will bring the opportunity to give motivation and much more than just hope. Hope has limitations. Success elicits your faith, love of learning and expectation to experience change by believing in it, expecting it, but not just hoping for it.
    • Backing off and relaxing from your few consistent rules can be based on circumstances where you share power when students work in groups, but then you must regain that consistency – or suffer the loss of your position as "leader-one" and your control of that classroom to chaos, boredom, or frenzy, if you allow a free-for-all or loss of your position to a student(s) who wants to run the class, or ignore you.
  14. Know what to do as a leader who is out in front of the class or group, followed by the others. If you are not being followed by at least one other person you are not leading and the following proverb applies to you: "He who thinks he leads but has no followers is on a lonely, individual walk." Do more than survive in the classroom because you can't be taking a walk all alone; the real leaders in your class may run right over you.

Seven Rules of Leadership

There are seven personal characteristics that are foundational to good leadership. Some characteristics may be more naturally present in the personality of a "natural leader". However, each of these characteristics can also be developed and strengthened. Diligently and consistently develop and strengthen these characteristics (whether they come naturally or not) in your leadership role.[2]

  1. Be known to live honestly, i.e.: “Walk/Work your talk!” with integrity -- and in doing that, earn the right to have responsibility for others' success. True authority is born from respect for the purpose, good character and trustworthiness of the person who leads them to opportunity for success.
  2. Be enthusiastic about your and the students' work (praise the work not the student) or the cause and also about your role as leader. People will respond more openly to a person of passion and dedication -- but by not complaining against the student and never demeaning the work... Leaders need to be able to be a "source of inspiration", and be a motivator getting the work into gear towards the required action or cause. It is impossible to make a student do anything -- but inspire and coach the techniques: "Do it this way!" -- and "Right. That's it!"
  3. Roll up your sleeves and get dirty/do not sit, or yawn and look bored. Although the responsibilities and roles of a leader and follower are different, the leader needs to be seen to be part of the team working towards the goal. This kind of leader will not be afraid to work.
  4. Be orderly and purposeful in situations of uncertainty by portraying a confident and positive demeanor. People look to the leader during times of uncertainty and unfamiliarity to find reassurance and security.
  5. Tolerate ambiguity (wait and see) and remain calm, proactively composed and steadfast to the main purpose. Storms, emotions, and crises come and go and a good leader takes these as part of the journey and keeps a cool head. In turn, students learn to follow suit.
  6. Focus on the whole but see its parts to Be More Analytical and break it down into sub parts for closer inspection. So then, the goal is in view – a good leader views the situation as a whole, and also in part:
    • Always be breaking the course down into manageable steps and making progress towards each part and the finish line. The course changes each day. It is not one race, but many sprints.
  7. Raise the bar. A good leader is committed to excellence. Second best does not lead to the best success. The good leader not only maintains high standards, but is proactive to advance the goal forward in order to achieve excellence in all areas.

Texas Teaching Fellows on Leadership

The following section is primarily focused on children from under-privileged backgrounds who can easily give up on their academic pursuits without adequate teacher encouragement and leadership. Not all of these steps will be applicable to your situation but see which elements best fit your own teaching context.

  1. Energize yourself to lead enthusiastically to press goals for student motivation.
    • Focus to bring out student ambitions: by leading to reach goals in student achievement.
    • Face and overcome obstacles by leadership: to improve achievement.
  2. Help students believe that they can achieve. A study showed that teachers who lead many students in low-income (at risk) areas to as much as two to four years’ worth of academic progress in a single year had used unusually ambitious, "measurable goals. Rally your students around the idea that they begin to believe that they could double their learning this year:
    • Urge them on to demonstrate "at least two years" of measurable reading growth for improving in all subjects, and to achieve eighty percent (80%) mastery of rigorous, attainable, measurable math and science standards. But a clear focus is not enough to get many of them to where you want your students to academically achieve even more by the end of the year.
  3. Break a cycle of student, self-fulfilling low expectations. This cycle all too often characterizes "disbelief in learning" because of your students’ lower sense of academic self-worth and perspective on the value of purposeful activity in school. To break through this:
    • Instill Give Encouragement (by successfully achieving early and often) and a need for students and families to be enthused to work harder to achieve bigger goals.
    • Change students’ belief that it is already decided what their intelligence (understanding and applications) will be: No, it is not really set. Work can improve. They are young and still can grow and change for the best, in many ways!
  4. Show them how their work can be “more accurate/more clever" and "more rewarding" by working hard/and cleverly enough. Maintain high expectations at all times, while still inspiring your students from right where they are academically.
  5. Avoid mushy sentimental praise: But, "Your work was quick, clever and right on!" is something that sounds "athletic/physical" and everyone may be accepting of that, but "you're so smart" may sound like mush and criticism to others who did not receive that "vanity"/praise.
  6. Ensure your students "begin to believe that their work can" succeed by hustling, "trying 'hard enough' " (opposed to "being" smart enough).
    • Call, email, or text parents throughout the day with updates on their children. Each week send home student work with "Post-Its" for parents to make comments on; when they’re returned, laminate the comments and put them on the wall to keep students proud and motivated.
  7. Plan to purposely create a vision in students for success. To succeed in the challenging environments where an achievement gap is prevalent, teachers must backwards-plan to begin each idea from individual lessons through the year calendar, with keys:
    • “Where are my student's current achievement levels versus where I will lead them to move and to reach?” and
    • “What is the best possible use of time to move them forward?”.
  8. Infuse your goal-driven purpose to create efficiency in every aspect of instruction and classroom management. Not just organized learning objectives in units, but lead them in logical order so that the skills are built on each other, with the school’s calendar taken into account. For each week’s unit plan look at the objectives for that unit, then write five assessment questions per objective, and only then plan lessons.
  9. Execute plans with judgment and adjustments. Strong classroom leaders are effective executors, making good judgments about when to follow through on their plans and when to adjust them in light of incoming data. They offer their students consistent, caring, demanding leadership, and constantly seek to maximize the time students have to work hard toward their goals.
  10. Offer and accept handshake greetings at the door when students first enter your room to a high five that you receive on the way out.
  11. Be consistent and clear with your few rules, many procedures, and student-centered lessons. Your kids will know what to expect from you and may be excited on a daily basis by what you have in store for them that day.
  12. Continuously increase effectiveness to accelerate student learning. Be a strong leader as your own toughest critic, constantly seeking ways to improve your skills.
    • Use data to reflect and improve on your teaching and to ensure that you maximize your impact. You might even consider occasionally Record Quality Audio when Videotaping a Presentation your morning classes and fast forward viewing the footage that day, slowing it to play to critique your instruction and to tweak lesson plans for the afternoon classes.
  13. Work relentlessly to navigate challenges. In many low-income communities, schools with the least capacity serve children with the greatest need. To make significant academic progress with students, highly effective teachers go above and beyond the traditional role of “teacher” and do whatever it takes to lead their students to academic success. Successful teachers refuse to allow the inevitable challenges that they face to become roadblocks. Instead, they see these as obstacles to be overcome on their path to achieving ambitious goals.
    • Make it your personal mission to do everything humanly possible to help students get on a college bound path (or to know how to make informed choices about taking an alternative but equally successful path).
    • Offer Be a Tutor during lunch hour and after school every day except for the day reserved for faculty conferences.
    • Consider special Saturday school from 9 a.m. until noon.

Promoting Critical Thinking in the Classroom

  1. Become more tolerant of "conflict," "inconsistency" or "confrontation", in the classroom. By raising issues that create dissonance, you teach children how to deal with disharmony and to value having their ideas stretched in new directions. Refrain from expressing your own bias so that students have the space to debate and resolve problems without being directed by any preconceived notions.
  2. Be aware that encouraging critical thinking can promote (some) kind of a psychological discomfort in (some) students as conflicting accounts of information and ideas are argued and debated. Such discomfort may motivate them to resolve their opposing views on issues.[3] [4]
    • Engage student-critical-thinking, those students must encounter the dissonance of conflicting ideas. [5]
    • Dissonance discussed by Festinger (1957) promotes a psychological discomfort which occurs in the presence of an inconsistency. Inconsistency when found in opposition can motivate students to solve, stir, and resolve issues.
  3. Promote and facilitate logical and emotive ideas by both: (1) "analysis" involving dis-assembling/digesting concepts into constituent parts (recording data and statistics) and (2) "synthesis" which involves assembling concepts from information and data that may have been found by analysis. Synthesis is of the higher order of thinking compared to analysis because synthesis is creative: as in writing, designing, forming or inventing a process, system or story. Analysis is similar to detailing the elemental framework of existing concepts as in opening, displaying, explaining parts of ideas.
  4. Help students develop skills for resolving such dissonance. Frager (1984) models conducting critical thinking classes and provides samples of popular issues that promote it, for example: "banning smoking in public places", the "bias infused in some sports stories", and "historical incidents written from American (individualized) and Russian (socialized) in opposing perspectives".
  5. Allow conflicts and confrontational thinking. If you find this to be useful from an instructional point of view and you're prepared to develop materials for promoting engaged thinking, and if you practice (repeatedly) using exciting, topical critical procedures, then using critical thinking activities in the classroom can produce positive, involved, and enthralling results.


  • Realize that much of teaching is leadership: It is the framework of the foundation of teaching.
  • These efforts require contagious enthusiasm to move upward toward grade-level goals, when successfully aligned with established objectives/standards for learning.
  • An athlete does not learn the play-book in one or even a few easy sessions -- or get in shape in one instance of "brutal" conditioning, alligator crawls and wind sprints. No, the vital, crucial wind sprints are day-by-day-by-day.
  • Leadership is the framework of into which the solid material can be built and includes several principles of effective teaching.

Related Articles

  • Build a Student's Confidence
  • Be a Great Relief Teacher
  • Put Metacognition in Process for Teachers
  • Lead With Integrity
  • Motivate Adult Learners
  • Date a Teacher

Sources and Citations

  1. dictionary.reference.com – definition, leadership, http://dictionary.reference.com
  2. Adapted from Groco, "Seven Rules of Leadership", http://www.groco.com/readingroom/nav_business.aspx GROCO.com
  3. Festinger, 1957
  4. U.S. Department of Education, http://www.vtaide.com/png/ERIC/Critical-Thinking.htm
  5. Frager (1984) and Johnson and Johnson (1979)
  • This article is partially from TTF, Texas Teaching Fellows is a program in direct partnership with certain local school districts in Texas to promote, recruit and help train new teachers.