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Setting the Right Example: Teacher Leadership Qualities That Make a Difference

A female education leader mentors three male teachers in a conference room.

Although leadership can take different forms in different roles, many qualities of leaders overlap across all fields and careers. One important field that affects all others in society is education. Teachers can make a difference in the lives of their students by implementing key teacher leadership qualities. In order to set the right example for their students, teachers should build their teaching practices upon a solid foundation of leadership. In fact, all those who pursue careers in educational environments—including but not limited to teachers, central office leaders, nonprofit leaders, foundation leaders, and principals—can approach their positions as leaders in education. Since leadership is a way of being, leaders in different educational roles can make a difference by setting the right example for the students they impact. Students interested in pursuing careers as educational leaders can earn their Master of Education in Education Policy and Leadership at American University.

What Is Leadership?

While leadership is implemented differently across various fields and careers, core leadership qualities remain the same. There are several essential qualities that constitute good leaders, from excellent communication and decision-making skills to integrity. Many educational leaders and scholars have researched and written about leadership in education and have created a definition of teacher leadership. This helps teachers and educational leaders set a trajectory for their careers. Two experts in this area who exhibit teacher leadership qualities in their own lives are Peter Senge and Ronald A. Heifetz.

According to Ronald A. Heifetz in his book Leadership Without Easy Answers, there is a crisis in leadership in every setting. He argues that the problem lies not only with the need for leaders but with the societal expectations placed on leaders. He offers a social contract including both theory and practice to potential leaders and those who look to leaders. He draws upon real-life examples of leaders, having researched their lives and decisions for several years. Heifetz also discusses how effective leaders understand when to lead by using authority and when to lead without using it.

In his article “The Dawn of System Leadership,” Peter Senge also discusses leadership qualities. He addresses the need for system leaders in educational environments to cultivate collective leadership. He draws from Heifetz’s concept of adaptive leadership, showing how pivotal leaders can be in cultivating an environment for learning. Senge explains certain key elements of leadership, such as adaptive work, which can be broken down into strategic and practical principles for leaders to implement in educational settings.

Teacher Leadership Qualities That Make a Difference

Individuals in different educational leadership roles can make a difference by exhibiting a variety of leadership qualities. One key teacher leadership quality consists of listening and reacting to situations accordingly. Teachers can take the time to listen to their students and respond carefully, clarifying any confusing information during periods of instruction. On a more personal level, teachers can establish relationships with students by being attentive to their concerns and treating them with patience and kindness. When students are dealing with difficult situations at home or at school, they will often trust a teacher who has an open heart and open ear to help them process what is happening.

Other leaders in education can also exhibit important leadership qualities in their roles. Central office leaders can make a difference by analyzing student and teacher data to improve educator goals and outcomes. They serve as advocates for effective learning so that students can receive a high-quality education. Other leaders such as principals implement leadership qualities such as organization and communication skills to effectively manage schools. Principals facilitate educational programs, communicate with parents, host trainings for teachers, as well as carry out other important educational duties.

When settings beyond public schools are considered, such as private schools, charter schools, independent programs, and nonprofit organizations, many additional leaders can be seen playing a role in educating students. In the modern education system, many nonprofit leaders and foundation leaders provide classes, school programs, foundations, and educational supplements for students. These leaders exhibit qualities such as problem-solving and decision-making skills on a daily basis, establishing a mission and vision for their organizations and foundations.

Setting the Right Example

Effective teachers and educational role models do not just have a role as a leader in their careers but rather live a life that exemplifies teacher leadership qualities. Leadership is not so much a job as it is a way of being. Leaders in different educational roles can set the right example for the individuals working for and alongside them through integrity, enthusiasm, and excellent communication. Teachers can set the right example for their students by expressing genuine excitement for learning and pursuing knowledge.

Educational leaders make a difference in their communities as well as their schools, as they cultivate safe and healthy learning environments. By raising up intelligent and effective lifelong learners, teacher leaders help promote critical-thinking skills that individuals can take with them throughout their lives.

Pursue a Career as a Teacher

To develop their own knowledge and critical-thinking skills, students preparing for meaningful careers in education can pursue higher education themselves. Students interested in making a difference in the lives of students and teachers can earn a Master of Education in Education Policy and Leadership at American University. Students in the program develop the knowledge and skills necessary to create equitable and effective educational environments. Students who exhibit high levels of professional and academic excellence can build upon that foundation to have a greater impact in education.

Students in the program develop important leadership qualities, whether they are pursuing careers as teachers, central office leaders, principals, nonprofit organization leaders, or foundation leaders. If you are interested in developing your teacher leadership qualities, explore how the Master of Education in Education Policy and Leadership program at American University can help you pursue your educational and professional goals.

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