Three Ways to Shake it up: from a Teacher to a Leader

By
on

Three weeks ago, I was nominated to be head of a General Studies Department for the first time in my life. This is a very big challenge for me. Just before taking the job, I enrolled in the online Leadership in ELT course with Oxford TEFL. It was a great decision, which yielded a number of inspirational moments as I engaged in activities and tutorials with Duncan Foord, the course director. In this article, I will share three personal inspirational moments I had during this course that taught me something about leadership.

1. Leadership and management are two pieces of a single puzzle

I thought every manager was a leader and that the words were interchangeable. But management and leadership are very distinct. They both deal with people and achieving goals, but the approach to mission accomplishment is different. I found that managers tend to plan, build and direct a system to achieve goals, while leaders tend to focus on a potential change through motivating and inspiring people and establishing direction. This helped me to recognise why I responded differently to two different bosses I had worked with. I could say the first boss was a manager. Most of the time she used authority. For example, I remember she sent an email starting with a statement: “As it is required in your final evaluation form, it is important to attend a workshop you are interested in. I think Photoshop workshop could be useful for you”. She constantly reminded me that she was my boss. She did not motivate me to attend the workshop. Instead, she reminded me with the final evaluation form. The second boss was quite different, and I would say a great leader. She responsively listened to me and tried to create a comfortable space for engaged discussions. Whereas the manager focused on the task, the leader focused on the people engaged in the task. I cannot say which style to follow. However, having both sets of skills is best of all. I think leadership and management must go hand in hand, because one without the other limits success. You will have to be both a leader and a manager in your work; choosing when to switch roles is the trick.

2. Focus on the things you can control

I have sometimes found myself complaining about people’s behaviour and focusing on how they respond in different situations. “She could have … and she should have …” were statements that I used in both academic life and personal life. When I faced a problem at work, I thought of both my feelings (which I have control over) and the other person’s behaviour (which I do not have control over). During the course, I realized that I am the kind of person who sometimes thinks in terms of a “circle of concern” instead of a “circle of influence”. The leadership input in Module 2 really helped to differentiate between these two circles. The Circle of concern refers to the things that concern you, but which you can do nothing about. For example, you may find a teacher saying that their students are driving them crazy as they always talk during classes. The teacher in this situation does not think about ways to deal with the students. Instead, she kept complaining about their behaviour. In this example, the concerns are students’ behaviour in the class. The influence could be activities that get students engaged in the class. The type of activity depends on the class content and what students really like. She could create a survey to see what students like. Circle of influence refers to the things that concern you that you can do something about. Proactive people focus their energies on this circle. For example, my workload during final examination time is an “area of concern”, because there are different tasks to do as a head of a department. This includes (1) creating a final examination timetable, (2) preparing precise and lucid instructions regarding examination procedures for staff, and (3) creating an invigilating timetable. On the other hand, how I spend and manage my time is “an area of influence”. 

I have learnt that it requires deep thinking to focus on the right area and come up with options. It is a marvellous thing to do. During the final examination, I used diaries and I start with urgent activities followed by important ones. The leadership input and tutorials with Duncan helped me focus on my influence and spend less time judging and criticising and more time generating solutions.

3. The art of letting things go

I work in a university where an employee needs to be involved in different committees. I have worked in teams where I found myself trying to do other people’s work as well as my own. I felt like no one would do the work as well as I do. Sometimes, I am in charge of a committee where I need to create a team and get members involved. Instead, I do the work myself. I found delegation a particularly challenging task, always thinking that I can do better. I was driven by a need for control, a fear of not achieving goals or of having someone ask why I would not do the work myself. Through the course with Duncan, I have learned the value of delegating work to other people, both to take pressure off of oneself and to maximise the productivity of the team. This frees up space for the team leader to focus on other work plans and also this gives the team a feeling of trust as you as a leader trust them and give them responsibility. They will also feel engaged in the work, increasing the overall chance of success.

Doing the Leadership in ELT course helped me to think more about myself – my strengths and weaknesses, behaviour and feelings. It also made me base my thinking in the circle of influence, which puts everything in a more positive light. This course has been a great step in my life. Feeling these inspirational moments has made a difference and will continue to make a difference in my development going forward.

Are you a school manager or leader in an ELT context? Or are you looking for a way to move into a leadership role? Our Leadership in ELT course will not only improve your confidence to lead others but will also help you work on self-leadership to improve your time management and personal development. Find out more here or apply for the course here.

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