Developing Teachers as Classroom Leaders

A teacher’s role is to facilitate their students’ learning in coordination with their school’s best practices for education. In a foreign environment, with a language barrier, and without adequate support, this can be a real challenge that sinks many expats into a state of unhappiness. More often than not, this results in lacklustre classroom performance, a high turnover amongst teachers, and a jaded experience for those who remain. In this series, we will explore what can be done to reverse this current trend and elevate the level of the learning culture within education, specifically within the TEFL industry. 


At first glance, many would consider the teacher as the head of the classroom. Indeed, there is a “student body”, however in TEFL there is also often an overworked and overlooked TA or Teaching Assistant. During my time spent in the classroom, I worked with several local TAs. I found that the chemistry established with them at the start of the year would determine how the rest of the year was going to go. 


Regardless of experience, age or gender, I found that the best relationships were built on mutual trust and understanding that whatever came up throughout the year, we would face together. This partnership meant sharing the credit, the workload, and the balance between “good cop/ bad cop” in our classroom discipline. It required constant open and honest communication, a willingness to give and receive feedback, and faith that we both had the best intentions. 

On the opposite end of the scale, I can reflect that those relationships that did not have the same chemistry from Day One led to ongoing problems both in and out of the classroom. By not being on the same page as my TA, our partnership was not as effective and our classes were never really in sync. This affected my personal life too. I would often go home at the end of the day carrying heavy emotion, reflecting that I could have performed better in my own role. As a teacher, I wished that I had been introduced to the idea of becoming a Classroom Leader, rather than a Classroom Manager before I had burned out of the industry. 

 

Within the context of education, we could say that a Classroom Manager would be responsible for managing student’s attention, assigning individual or group activities during class time, and checking homework. These actions fall under the “correct” components of a successful traditional lesson. However, they also operate under a strict regime that could quickly become boring. This leads to uninterested students who are easily distracted. These students go on to cause their own entertainment through whatever behavioural delights they are partial to employing. In contrast, a Classroom Leader provides just enough information to pique their student’s curiosity and then leaves them the clues to facilitate their own learning. This throws the door wide open to possibility, student autonomy and collaborative learning. 

 

The teacher who is a Classroom Leader surrenders much of the responsibility for their student’s learning, which was never actually in their control. This is something that many teachers struggle with. However, by partnering with TAs and students, this teacher is focused on inspiring rather than directing. This then creates freedom to provide additional learning support to those students who really need it, to establish a growth mindset amongst their classes, and to create better partnerships within their team and their school. 


One such technique that could be used to lead rather than manage a classroom, is the use of coaching. There are many aspects of coaching that can be used, but the simplest place to start is the definition. Coaching is about establishing partnerships that unlock a client’s potential; it is a learning intervention that aims to facilitate client growth, awareness and learning. This differs from the traditional view of teaching which focuses on the teacher having more knowledge, experience and wisdom than their student by putting both players at an equal starting point and asking, “how can we move forward with your understanding of a concept so that you can confidently achieve your goal?”. 


There are many strategies that can be used to explore how to develop the role of Coaching in Education, and we will uncover these over the course of this series.

For now, Dear Reader, I would be curious to know; where do you stand along the scale from Classroom Manager to Classroom Leader? 

Pam