Leadership for the EFL Teacher?

Leadership: What Is It?
Teachers’ association officers, school principals, educational institution administrators, and government agency officials…. These are the types of people we most readily associate with leadership roles in the field of EFL (English as a Foreign Language). Important? Yes, they are. But this article suggests that arguably the most important leadership roles in EFL lie with the classroom teacher.
Great leaders believe that they can attain great results. Great leaders set goals and strive to attain them. Great leaders make sure that the goals set become the day-to-day priorities of those in their charge. Great leaders plan carefully and purposefully to make sure that they achieve their objectives. And great teaching requires great leadership.

It is not uncommon to be sitting in a teachers’ lounge, listening to a teacher complain about a class of students he has: “They don’t do their homework; they’re late for class; they don’t pay attention…” And then there’s this other teacher who teaches the same class of students saying that she doesn’t have any of those problems with them in her course. What’s the difference? It can’t be the students; the students are the same. It could be the courses; they are different. But what most likely makes the difference is the teacher and the leadership qualities they exude.

Young people are great copycats: they are masterful at replicating behavior that they are exposed to. If the teacher strolls into class late, doesn’t appear to have done much preparation for class, goes through the motions of teaching the lesson, and doesn’t seem to care much about how much the students learn, their students will quite likely exhibit similar behavior. But if a teacher is on time, comes prepared, and cares about what they teach, how they teach, and what the results may be, they can expect to see a similar response in their students. That teachers’ lounge teacher complaining about his students should more rightfully be complaining about himself, about his lack of leadership.

What I see as a misconception by many well-intentioned teachers, native speakers especially, is the idea that they can best relate to their students by trying to be a “friend.” The fallacy here is that a “friend” does not bring out the very best in students. What students are more interested in, I submit, is a role-model, a parent-figure, and an authority-figure all rolled into one – someone for them to emulate, someone who counsels with empathy, but someone who still gives them that needed “push” to excel. The teacher who tries to be a “friend,” to the Korean student, in particular, is often viewed as too old to be a friend and too lenient to be taken seriously. Students are looking for direction, for guidance, for leadership.

Teaching Principles
Every teacher should have a set of teaching principles that they espouse – a set of propositions upon which one’s teaching is based – and leadership should be incorporated in this set. But it is not enough to just have a set of teaching principles; the teacher must truly believe in these principles, follow them on a daily basis, and follow them sincerely. The teacher who believes in their set of principles can achieve great things and can receive great results, as a teacher and as a leader.

Student Awareness
If a teacher sincerely believes in their own teaching principles, the student will certainly pick up on this. The student will recognize the teacher’s commitment to not just “teaching,” but to learners actually learning what is being taught. It is one thing to set principles such as “instruction should be challenging” and “learning should involve student inquiry,” but it is quite another to ensure that every activity challenges the students and that each task involves student discovery. When the teacher is committed to student learning, the student is instilled with a commitment to learning – another way in which the teacher demonstrates leadership.

Setting Goals
High achievement results from setting goals…period. And this applies to the EFL student as well as to the EFL teacher. The teacher takes the lead in setting goals for the class, but true leadership is exhibited when the students in the class espouse these goals as their own and mindfully set out to achieve them. Teacher commitment to the goals results in student commitment to those same goals. As with any goals set, there should be long-term goals supplemented with mid-term and short-term goals. Work backwards on setting goals. For example, if the long-term goal is writing a five-paragraph essay, one mid-term goal may be to write an introductory paragraph, and some short-term goals may be to write a thesis statement and an attention-grabber. Little steps before bigger ones. But all guided by leadership.

Plan Purposefully
A good teacher knows one’s students – their needs, their wants, their strong points, their weaknesses. And the good teacher plans carefully and purposefully. In addition to setting achievable goals for their students, the teacher must arm the students with efficient strategies to attain those goals. Set your sights big, but start small. If the long-term goal is to summarize a 2,000-word article in 200 words, have the students begin by summarizing a 300-word passage in 30 words, and work up.

Remember that just as learning a new language is hard work, being a teacher and leading your students on the path to learning that language is hard work. The qualities of a good teacher include content knowledge, pedagogical skills, understanding, respect, authority, and even a dash of humor, but most importantly, Leadership.

A great teacher is a great leader.

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