By Jennifer Celeste, William Paterson University

Leadership can be characterized as guiding others in a specific direction, enacting a series of regulations or expectations to maintain the general order, and pushing forward a specific cause. When we think of leadership, we point to some of the greatest leaders of all time: Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama, even Walt Disney.

Leadership is as risky as it is rewarding, and it is easy to find ourselves in a place where we hold too much control—so much control, in fact, that it has the potential to hurt others. A good leader is one who allows their people to grow independently and find their own way. In the classroom, this is no different.

I argue that true leadership in a classroom takes place when teachers or facilitators decide to loosen the grip they have on their classes and shift the focus from teacher-centered instruction to a student-centered approach. This approach aims to develop autonomy and independence in learning by putting responsibility for the learning in the hands of the students.

When students are responsible for their own learning, they are able to take personal responsibility for their learning and are able to learn in new, exciting and creative ways. More importantly, this practice encourages lifelong learning and independent problem-solving, and it shows students that they have a voice in a classroom, that their opinions are being taken into consideration, and that they have the ability to positively affect the overall classroom climate.

Thought-provoking discussions

One simple way to achieve a more student-centered approach in the classroom is by facilitating a thought-provoking discussion. While there are other useful ways to conduct a student-centered lesson—such as literature circles, group work, or think-pair-shares—beginning a deep discussion is one of the best ways to enable students to learn from each other. This is a great example of true leadership: guiding students in the right direction rather than giving them the answers shows true mastery in the classroom.

However, to effectively ignite a class discussion, educators need to ask the right questions. This comes with knowing your students, tailoring your teaching style to their needs and assessing them on what they have been taught. This is a great way to lead students into higher-order thinking.

I achieved this during my student-teaching experience during a lesson on transcendentalism. Although many educators get caught up in the details when it comes to more thought-provoking, philosophical topics such as transcendentalism, which eventually leads students to either hate the topic or forget it altogether, I was able to lead students into a more meaningful discussion by connecting the elements of the philosophy with their previous knowledge and personal opinions. I asked them, “are people born good or evil?” and proceeded to ask them to explain their reasoning.

As you can imagine, I got a wide range of responses. Some students initially stated that they believe some people are born good, others evil. I played the “devil’s advocate” role by asking deeper questions based on their answers. This caused them to stop and think and forge new opinions based on the information that was presented. With the help of my cooperating teacher, I was able to guide students into a thought-provoking conversation that caused them to evaluate and accommodate their ideas to new information.

Overall, a great leader is one that both guides others, and knows when to be guided.

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