Friday, July 25, 2014

Teachers are Leaders

“The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. S/he is the one who gets the people to do the greatest things.” 
-Ronald Reagan

I am an avid collector of quotations about leadership. Over the years, I came upon a realization: nearly every single quote about leaders and leadership that I have collected over the years makes just as much sense if one were to replace the word "leader" with "teacher" or "leadership" with "teaching." As but one example, try it with the Reagan quote above (while also, perhaps, replacing "People" with "Students"). Here are a few final quotes originally about leadership, but which also prove interchangeable with teaching:

  • As a leader (teacher), your principal job is to create an operating environment where others can do great things.
  • No person can be a great leader (teacher) unless he takes genuine joy in the successes of those under him.
  • good leader (teacher) inspires others with confidence in him; a great leader (teacher) inspires them with confidence in themselves.
  • Leadership (Teaching) is practiced not so much in words as in attitude and in actions.

Teachers play many roles within--and outside--the classrooms of our schools. Chief among them? Their role as leaders of the young people with whom they interact every day over the course of a semester or school year. Of course, our very best teachers lead in a variety of ways and lead not only their students, but others with whom they interact.

First and foremost, teachers lead in their classrooms. They lead my modeling, by speaking, by listening, by demonstrating trust and expecting it in return. They lead by setting high expectations for their students--but even higher expectations for themselves. They lead by taking risks with their students, letting them know it is important to try new things and that failure is an important part of learning. They lead by creating a "culture of caring" in their classrooms, and by engaging, inspiring, and empowering the students they teach each and every day. They lead by giving their students the gift of confidence. They lead by doing but, more importantly, by being. Teachers are leaders.

Great teachers also find ways to lead outside their own classroom, often in the form of helping their colleagues grow and learn. They lead by coaching, listening, and inviting fellow teachers into their classrooms. They lead by mentoring a new teacher, teaching a professional learning session, and developing both collegial and collaborative relationships with all staff members at their schools. When a fellow teacher experiences a personal loss or tragedy, they lead by offering support and compassion. They lead by finding the good in the work they are doing and the people with whom they are doing it. They lead by giving their colleagues the gift of confidence. They lead by doing but, more importantly, by being. Teachers are leaders.

Finally, teachers are constantly finding new ways to lead themselves. Great teachers are constantly seeking out new ways to learn and grow. They lead themselves by staying current with research and literature about their profession. They lead in this way by taking classes or earning advanced degrees. They lead themselves by trying things that are outside their comfort zone if they think it will improve their students' learning. They lead themselves by reflecting, by remaining curious, by staying positive, by knowing that what they do makes a difference. They lead by giving themselves the gift of confidence. Teachers lead by doing but, more importantly, by being. Teachers are leaders.

Expectations for teachers seem to grow annually--if not daily. The duties and responsibilities for which we hold teachers accountable are vast and multifarious. It is hard work to be sure--but no other job I know of comes with as many concomitant rewards. As we approach the start of another new school year, a shout out to the teachers--and leaders--of our nation's future leaders.

3 Worth Reading:

1. 9 Reasons Great Teachers Make Great Leaders by Deborah Chang:

2. 10 Roles for Teacher Leaders by Cindy Harrison and Joellen Killion

3. Are Teachers Really Leaders in Disguise? by Ronald E. Riggio


  1. Jeff,

    I completely agree that the critical elements of Teaching and Leading are one-in-the-same. And in our role as school leaders, I believe that one of the most important roles we play is to grow, nurture, and awaken this skill-set in our teachers: to serve as leaders for their students.

    What you've successfully done here is capture the essence of Leadership:

    It's about PEOPLE and the efforts we make to RELATE to one another.

    Thanks for motivating ME, to be a better leader, Jeff.

    ~ Dennis

  2. Dennis,
    Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment! You are correct that the key to success in both teaching and leading is the relationship piece. Thank you for motivating me also; best,

  3. Nice post Dr. Zoul. Your last point truly resonated with me. I have heard a comment that has disturbed me in the past..."This is the way we've always done it." This comment is poisonous to a growth mindset. I completely agree that Great Teachers constantly seek new ways to learn and grow. I also agree that there is great value in leaving one's comfort zone. Personally speaking, I try to encourage this to the utmost and allow teachers to take risks and try new things.

    I appreciated this read, it was a no brainer to share with my teachers. Thanks


    1. Ben,
      Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I agree with you that the mindset you reference can be poisonous to innovation and growth. Kudos to you for always modeling the way by trying new and better ways to do this important work; best,