One of my favourite speakers and teachers of all time is John Maxwell. I have heard him speak a number of times at a variety of conferences. He communicates with great clarity and sincerity. If you are not familiar with his work or his resources, it is well worth investigating. One of his most influential books is The 360 Degree Leader.
One of the most common questions I get asked by new teachers is:
“How can I make a difference in my school? I have only been there a year or so.”
This question is a great one, and is particularly relevant in environments where many decisions are made from the executives downwards. In my first few years of teaching I wondered the same thing. How can you actually make a difference in a school when you have very little authority and in some cases (hopefully not too often) you are not given the opportunity to make any significant decisions on policy, administration or pedagogy?
The best way to understand Maxwell’s principle of the 360 Degree Leader is to think of your position as a center point of a circle; you are surrounded by people above, to the sides and underneath you. Whatever position you reach in your career, you will always have people in these three positions. For examples, the principal is responsible for the running of the school and managing teachers (‘below’ them), they have the school executive, the P and C and other principals (surrounding them) and they will always have to answer to people such as the Regional Educational Directors and legislative and legal requirements (above them).
If we keep in mind the analogy of a the circle and the centre point, we can appreciate just how much influence, authority and impact you can actually have in your school.
So how can you ‘lead’ when your not a supervisor, or executive in a school?
Maxwell focuses on three ways to lead, and I would like to use these when talking about leading from anywhere in a school organisation. These are:
Lead up. Initiative is one of the most underrated personal and professional qualities that I know. It is not something that you can learn at University, it is something that is intuitive. By leading upwards you can help lighten your supervisor or principal’s work load. By leading up you show your supervisors that you are trustworthy, have integrity and that you are reliable.
Lead Across. Keeping the illustration of a circle in mind, in which you are the center of the organisation, we can look either side and see others who at the same ‘level’ as us. In any school organisation there will be plenty of teachers who you view as your peers and equal colleagues. You can lead across by taking an active interest in the needs and talents of those around you. You can be respectful and contribute to their professional and personal success at school
Lead Down. Despite how inadequate you may feel, you will always be further ahead in the teaching journey than someone. There will always be someone who you can take under your wing and help. It is also important to remember that, above all else, you lead your class. You teach them how to view, interpret and function in the world.
Wherever you are in your career, or your position in the school hierarchy you are a leader. You have the opportunity to influence the culture and outcomes of your school. As new teachers you can make a difference in your organisation and you can lead from anywhere in your profession.