1. Invest your attention, don’t just pay.
2. Navigate by your values.
3. Collaborate on your life story.
The difference between paying attention and investing it is crucial. When you pay for an item you have what you need and nothing further is expected or required. On the other hand when you make an investment you are entering into an intimate long-term relationship (a majority of the time). The people in leadership are expected to reveal to you very intimate details of how the business is using your investment to accomplish their purpose and provide you with a return on that investment.
The advice to invest your attention is equally applicable to both students and teachers. In my view everyone in a classroom is an agent of learning, someone who is supposed to be actively engaged with their own learning process. If teachers take the view that they are simply delivering knowledge, skills, and information to students, then they short change both the students and themselves. Investing your attention in your students means putting your relationship with them; building a foundation of safety, developing trust, and being authentic; ahead of everything else.
Teachers are caught in a web of complex expectations, requirements, and details that make their work very challenging. Your most important guide to action needs to be your personal values. Get clear on exactly what you value most about yourself, your students, your job, and your workplace. Once you have that figured out, clearly stated in a concise form and posted where you can remind yourself regularly, then you can stop sweating the details. Being true to your values is the most important thing you can do as a human being, it is the most important lesson anyone can teach a child. And remember, your values are not negotiable, nothing is more important. Quit or get fired, before you compromise your values.
Collaboration is the essence of what you are called to do as a teacher. The whole point of creating schools was to enable you to have a protected place to collaborate with your students on the creation of the grand Mystery called an education. You are not delivering it like a pizza, you are not granting it like a wish, you are a collaborative co-creator of the cognitive maps that these people will use to navigate through the rest of their lives.
The only question is what kind of life story are you co-creating with your students. Is is a story of the romance of your favorite subject, the adventure of discovering the deatails of some aspect of the world, a sci-fi fantasy of creating a possible future, or is it a dull list of dates and names of unscrupulous men? Do you remember every teacher you had? I don’t. I remember only a select few who shined the light of their values on my world and encouraged me to shine mine in theirs. Together we created magical times together, even if we were doing otherwise dull activities.
If you have been teaching a while, can you remember every student you’ve ever had? I remember the students I had while I was doing my private teaching practice homeschooling other people’s kids and many of the kids from my camp counselor days, but I don’t remember all of the students I had in the after-school programs and day care centers. The difference is that I am not as well suited to handling masses of kids, so when I am in teaching situations where I have the right time and space for my talents, then I am not only enjoying myself more, I am also a better teacher to every single student. Figure out what it takes for you to shine as a teacher, and find or create ways to teach that way. Finding the right genre for the story of your life as a teacher means that you have to match your talents with the opportunities available, or create new opportunities, like I did.
So to re-iterate my suggestions for effective classroom leadership:
1. Invest your attention, don’t just pay. The returns on this kind of investment are more enthusiasm for both yourself and your students.
2. Navigate by your values. If you navigate in your life according to other people’s expectations then you will become lost. But, when you use your values as the guiding light in your life then you will find your passion which is the ultimate source of the energy you need to overcome all the complex details that you handle everyday.
3. Collaborate on your life story. Let go of the traditional notions about how your superior knowledge, skills, and information entitle you to be in control. You don’t have as much control as they would like to imagine you do, so the best you can do is engage with your students as co-authors of the time in life you will share together.