“What made you a successful teacher will make you a successful leader.” Jack was the dean of Lesley University’s Graduate School of Education and during my first full year of leading LRCE’s teacher prep program, he served as my mentor through a fellowship with Deans for Impact. Jack probably repeated the above statement a dozen times over our year-plus together and I’ve often come back to those words to center my thinking. If something is off-track at LRCE, you can bet I return to thinking about what worked in a middle-school classroom for guidance. Here is a non-exhaustive list in no particular order of my takeaways on how to be an effective teacher or an effective leader:
- Limit the rules to key universal truths
- Decide the objective first
- Shorter feedback loops speed up growth
- Feedback is about future behavior
- If you become good at solving problems, more will come to you to solve
- Your job is to be effective
It’s easy to get caught up in your first year of teaching with developing a large list of cans and (more likely) cannots for your students to follow. A shorter, simpler list that can be easily applied more generically across situations is always a better move. Leaders must do very similar work when making decisions and setting strategy. We are often called on to make calls on minutiae or problems of the moment. It takes discipline to limit your decisions to those that help our teams have clear guiding principles.
Students are far more likely to achieve a classroom objective if that objective is decided upon prior to designing a lesson. And that objective needs to be aligned to their end-of-course exam. Your team works the same way. By clearly stating the goals and their intended outcome, effective leaders set up their teams to plan clearly and have agency in the design of their work.
Students that get near real-time feedback about if they are on-track or off-track along with direction on what needs to change always grow, regardless of prior performance level. Your team needs the same. Feedback that comes in an end-of-year review or quarterly is nearly useless beyond documenting what was. Smaller and sooner is always better for feedback.
As a frustrated teacher, early in my career, this was simple to get wrong on the regular. When feedback to students focuses on the past, it misses the point. Effective feedback reaffirms a correct behavior to continue or points out what needs to change in the future.
Whether it is a supply issue, a minor disagreement or an answer that is simple to look up — teach your students a system to figure it out. An accurate and lasting self-image is born from self-reliance and accomplishment. Your team’s engagement with you works in the same way.
Well that takes away some excuses, doesn’t it? A relentless focus on determining if what you are doing is effective is the path to transforming your students’ (and your organization’s) success. I might have been plenty talented as a teacher, but nothing really turned until I became more reflective and helped my students learn how to reflect on their own work as well.
There are so many more examples…
Effective classroom teaching is its own unique art, one that you never fully master. Hidden in that art are clear parallels to effective leadership. What do you see that is the same?