Advance your career with the Trinity DipTESOL course. Register for our free live seminar

Register now for any of our upcoming ELT events to celebrate 25 years of teacher training

5 Steps to make an effective leader in education: A reflective guide

James McIntyre-Ure is a university senior educator. He has a Diploma in Coaching and a strong background in education including a Degree, Masters degree and over 15 years experience teaching English in South Korea, Thailand, Spain, Malta, Ireland and Vietnam. His work on teacher wellbeing has been showcased at multiple international conferences.
He specialises in motivation, building confidence and gaining a greater sense of self-control and he uses evidence-based Positive Psychology when coaching or mentoring teachers.

He recently completed the Leadership in ELT course. In this blog post he describes his 5 steps to make an effective leader in education.

Leadership is not just a title, it’s a mindset and a skill. Whether you’re seeking to advance in your current career or exploring new opportunities, developing your leadership skills can be a valuable asset. Rather than waiting to be asked, you can take a proactive approach to finding new challenges and raising your profile in your school.

This article outlines an approach based on Duncan Foord’s concept of The Horse’s Mouth (The Developing Teacher, 2009).

The following five steps, accompanied by reflective questions, can help you develop your leadership skills and make a positive impact in your school:

1. Think of a project

Brainstorm different ways you could develop as a teacher. By thinking of ways you can take on a new challenge, you demonstrate your commitment to personal growth and your willingness to step out of your comfort zone. It also shows that you have the perspective of a leader by seeing the bigger picture.

Brainstorm different ways you could develop as a teacher

Reflective Questions:

  • Why is it important for you to take on a new challenge as a teacher?
  • What are some ways you can challenge yourself to grow?


I was studying a Diploma in Positive Psychology and learned useful ways to motivate people. I had always wanted to run a workshop for teachers so I suggested designing and facilitating one. It was a wonderful learning experience!

2. Arrange to meet your boss to discuss it and get agreement

Find a project that benefits both the school and you. Agreeing on a project that acts as a partnership and helps you grow as a leader while benefiting the school. It also shows your dedication to the school’s success and your own professional development; both of these being leadership qualities.

Arrange to meet your boss to discuss it and get agreement

Reflective Questions:

  • What are some specific examples of projects that align with both the school’s needs and your personal goals?
  • How can you ensure that these projects are beneficial to both parties?


An area of concern that I noticed as a teacher was student’s use of L1 in the classroom and phones being a major distraction. This affected the pass rate for students and my classroom management skills, so putting together a list of solutions and hosting a roundtable discussion was mutually beneficial to both the teacher and the school.

3. Make a SMART plan

Once an agreement has been made, it’s important to think about goals that are specific, measurable, attainable and realistic within a given time frame. It sometimes helps to think of an ideal outcome and work your way backwards from there.

Some ideas are great in theory, but more complicated in practice. Nevertheless, preparing a plan and seeking feedback from your boss, shows that you are organised and open to constructive criticism; both of which are key traits of effective leaders.

SMART goals

Reflective Questions:

  • What is a specific outcome you want?
  • How will you check how progress has been made?
  • Do you have enough time, people and resources to implement it?
  • How will you deal with criticism?


Let’s imagine you offered to run a workshop for teachers to help them with phone use in class. A specific learning objective might be ‘to provide teachers with ideas of how to reduce phone use in class’.

To measure the success of the workshop, you may wish to gather feedback in the form of a survey completed by teachers. Further, it would be useful to create a timeline from creating the workshop through to the delivery stages (including research, designing materials and surveys).

Whether it is achievable is often revealed in the planning stages. For bigger projects you may consider using a Gantt chart.

4. Carry it out

Ideas can look great on paper but if there’s no action, they remain hidden and dormant. There will always be potential obstacles and roadblocks with any ideas, but it’s difficult to see them without putting a plan into action.

Perfection can be quite the roadblock here, but how often do people achieve it in what they do?

The only way of truly knowing if an idea is good is by doing it.

Reflective Questions:

  • What’s stopping you?
  • Is there any reason this can’t go ahead?
  • Is it a good enough reason to prevent action?
  • Do you learn more by doing or thinking?


Sometimes the only way of truly knowing if an idea is good is by doing it. We can learn so much from trialling things and making mistakes.

5. Celebrate and reflect on it

If you’ve reached this part, then congratulations are in order. Seeing projects through until the end can provide a great sense of accomplishment, which is fundamental to everyone’s wellbeing. However, it doesn’t need to stop there.

After all, project rollouts are rarely perfect, so there will always be room for improvement.

Celebrate goal accomplishment

Reflective Questions:

  • How could this have gone even better?
  • Can you anticipate problems for any stakeholders?
  • What have you not yet thought of?


Goal accomplishment is something that affects everyone’s wellbeing (See PERMA theory- Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment). Once complete, it is likely to trigger feelings of pride which does wonders for our self-esteem and confidence.

Don’t forget to express gratitude for those who supported you in the process; this is also beneficial for boosting our positive emotions.

By following the above steps, you’ll be able to take charge of your own leadership development and make a positive impact on your school community.

Effective leadership in education involves taking initiative, showing commitment to personal growth, and working to improve the school community. Regular self-reflection is key to ensuring that you are on the right track and making progress towards your goals.

Would you like to find out more about the Certificate in Leadership in ELT?

You could consider our 30-hour online Leadership in ELT course with Tutor support.

Want to learn more? Check out some other blog posts:

Meet the author

Download our Working around the world guide

Hey, wait!

Are you thinking of teaching English abroad?

Download our Working around the world guide and compare salaries, cost of living and entry requirements in 50 different countries.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.