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Be a leader before a teacher – 5 practical tips

Gabor Lucski completed his Leadership in ELT online course at Oxford TEFL in May 2015. Read on to hear his views on leadership as a teacher and his top 5 tips via this guest blog post.

As teachers, we often talk about classroom management. But when was the last time you had a discussion on ‘classroom leadership’ with a colleague? There is a huge difference between managing and leading a group of students, with the former being more about getting things done, and the latter being more about inspiring your learners.

I suggest 5 practical tips for EFL teachers below to help them lead their students towards learning English.

1. Lead by example

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world” – Gandhi

 Your students look at you as the source of knowledge, which also means they will want to have what you have. Language learning is a lot about copying and imitating, and this applies not just to language but also to behaviour in a classroom. By showing your students examples and being one yourself, even by losing your assumed ‘authority’ in the classroom, you can get them to do things they would otherwise be less comfortable doing or likely to do.

2. Encourage learner autonomy

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” – Lao Tzu

When a student enrols on a language course, their time is limited in the classroom. We have to make sure that when they leave, they have the skills necessary to continue learning English on their own. Apart from helping them to learn how to use the language, we must also teach them how to learn it, so that they can develop independently, on their own, without relying on anyone in particular. In an ideal world, this should happen before, during and after the course, in and outside the classroom. This will also be good for their self-esteem and might eventually help them to reach a level of self-actualisation.

3. Show passion and vision

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams

Think about why you are a teacher. If you are actually reading this blog entry and you have got to this point, you probably actually care about your students learning. If you SHOW this to them and provide them with the ‘promise’ of a future where they have improved their English, they are more likely to keep up the good work and it will boost their confidence, too. Whenever you show them this passion, make sure you link it to a next step they need to take to achieve their goals. It is important to note that when you try to convey your passion to your student, it is probably not just your words that make a difference but your tone as well.

4. Listen actively and empathically

“First seek to understand, then seek to be understood. – Covey”

Learning a language is not an easy job. Some students face a lot of difficulties and have a lot of inhibitions they need to overcome when it comes to trying to master a language. When they tell you about something they find challenging or when they seem to complain about the difficulties, they need to feel they are being listened to. Probably the worst reaction would be to take a defensive attitude and start explaining why they were wrong and why they shouldn’t complain. How we listen, therefore, does make a huge difference. If you make them feel that you have been listening, there is a better chance of finding the common denominator. One useful technique you can use is give a brief restatement of what the other party has just said, then respond. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to agree, though.

5. Take blame

A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of the credit. – Arnold H. Glasow

Students sometimes get frustrated when they don’t get the answers right or when they don’t see their progress. When things don’t go well, someone has to take the blame. If we blame them or if we let them blame themselves, we create even more frustrations in them and that might stop them from learning. I believe we do have to make students take responsibility for their own learning but in certain situations it might be best to take one for the team and, without them being aware of it, put our hands up and say: ‘It’s not your fault. It’s mine.’

Make sure you don’t always blame exclusively yourself for everything, though. Students need to take responsibility for their own learning and they need to know that they have to do most of the work. For example, when a student doesn’t do their homework, it might be because the task wasn’t interesting enough or because they just didn’t feel like doing it. As the quote suggests, you might want to take a bit more of the blame than due but certainly not always all of it.

Do you want to learn more about Leadership in ELT? Take a look at our course page here or get in touch to find out more.

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