What does it mean “to lead”? Or to be “a leader”? Or to show “leadership”? These are words and phrases that we use often in students’ reports and that we include in CVs and cover letters. But what do they actually mean? To me, leadership has always been about initiative, collaboration, communication and action. But others may see things differently. Perhaps we think about people who have been famous leaders and use them as a symbol of our definition of leadership. But what makes them leaders? Is it who they are, what they do, how they go about it or why they do it (or a combination of all of these)?
Throughout the past four weeks, I have engaged with an online course titled ‘Leadership: Identity, Influence and Power.’ Presented by Randal Tame from the Macquarie Graduate School of Management, this is an introduction to leadership skills and strategies available free of cost through Open 2 Study (an initiative of Open Universities Australia).
There are four modules to the course, with a week allocated to the completion of each module and its assessment.
1. The Romance of Leadership
2. Leadership Theories
3. Leaders and Followers
4. The Practice of Leadership
For me there have been two main take-aways for this particular Professional Development which have helped start to refine my definition of leadership. Firstly, the four rules of leadership and secondly, the three skills of leadership.
The Four Rules of Leadership:
1. Be one of us – someone who is seen as an effective leader is seen to be “like” the group they are leading. Leadership theory states that the most influential person is an in-group prototype who is adaptable to changes in the group identity.
2. Do it for us – a leader must be the champion of the group’s interests. They do not treat themselves differently from any other member of the group and are perceived to be fair, respectful and creating a vision with the group
3. Craft a sense of us – a leader helps to form a sense of the group’s identity and to help members understand who “us” is. They are representative of the group. There are three aspects to this – the leader’s use of language, how they structure activities and actions, and how they harness the energies of the group.
4. Make us matter – a leader builds credibility within the group by making the group identity important and acting in a way that benefits the group.
The Three Skills of Leadership:
1. Reflecting – discovering what really matters to the diverse sub-groups within the group
2. Representing – Communication, collaborating and motivating. Working with each sub-group to attend to their visions and values and bring them together in a cohesive approach.
3. Realising – helping the groups to accumulate things that are of value to them, and working with them to create a social world within the organisation in which they want to live according to the collective values. This involves goal-setting and using relevant policies and practices to achieve the defined goals. It is important that these goals are S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-Bound) and that the strategies are R.I.T.E (Relevant, Implementable, Timely, Engaging).
As a young teacher who has had some leadership opportunities and whose role increasingly requires working with and leading staff in EAL strategies, I am interested in further developing my skills and practice and this course has provided a great theoretical starting point. At the beginning of the first module, Tame recognises that the course can only scratch the surface of leadership theories and practice, but it is certainly a useful foundation for further study.
I would really like to know precisely who determines which courses must be completed by pre-service teachers and what those courses should contain.
I ponder this for a reason. Too regularly throughout the first four years of my career have I questioned, “Why was I not taught this at uni?” Friends who are also teachers have expressed that they have felt the same way.
I experienced a wide range of teaching styles at uni, from some amazing lecturers and tutors to some who weren’t quite as up there. I learnt a lot about big ideas like teaching students from diverse cultural backgrounds, about the importance of relationships in education, about involving parents and families, about SACSA, SACE and even a couple of nods towards what would become the Australian Curriculum. I learnt to write elaborate lesson plans and unit plans that ticked all the boxes according to the relevant policies and frameworks.
But very rarely was I taught the HOW of teaching. Of course, we looked at educational theory both in terms of methodology and classroom management, but my university program did not prepare me for the nitty-gritty of what I teach and the medium through which I teach it: language.
Which brings me to the question: given that we were bombarded with the principle of “Literacy and numeracy are everybody’s responsibility”, why was I not adequately taught how to teach literacy and numeracy in my subject area?
Friends who attended other universities tell me that they had “Literacy” courses, but even those courses didn’t go quite far enough.
So how can we expect pre-service and graduate teachers of ANY subject area to teach literacy and numeracy effectively if they are not equipped with the skills to do so? How can we expect explicit teaching of language features in subjects other than English if teachers do not have the linguistic knowledge? (At this point, I would like to qualify my point by saying that I do not assert that teachers do not know their subject area. What I mean is, do they know how to explicitly teach the language and language features associated with that discipline?)
In the past few years I have immersed myself in Language and Literacy PD (and by Language, I am not referring to my role as a LOTE teacher, but as an English teacher) and it has made me a hundred times more effective in my role. Yet, I cannot shake the feeling that due to a lack of skills in teaching literacy in my first year of teaching, I let my students down. If I had known then a small fraction of what I know now, their learning and approach to the subject might have been different. I majored in English at uni – I can only imagine how non-English trained English teachers might feel when faced with meeting the Language Strand requirements of the Australian Curriculum. It would be like putting me in front of a Maths class!
The skills for teaching literacy and numeracy are something that I feel passionately about being more effectively integrated into pre-service teacher training and on-going graduate teacher professional development. I wonder, what else do pre-service and graduate teachers really need? According to the Australian Journal of Teacher Education, approximately 30% of teachers leave the profession within their first five years.
What can be done better at university and in the earliest years of their career to prevent this? What do those teachers require?
I would love to hear your thoughts!