Academic Challenge and intellectually Stimulating Teaching: 2. Leadership

Ros O’Leary & David Webster

The most powerful driver on student attitudes and behaviours is not what we tell them, bbnot how we structure our sessions, not the content, but how we model our engagement with the enterprise of learning and teaching. What are we like when we stand amongst our students? We may or may not bemoan the hierarchy of authority in our teaching space, and may even seek to ultimately subvert it, but it is a most powerful force in the room when we begin – and we would be fools to not seek to harness its power. Students may have learnt little else from the decade-plus of formal schooling before they enter University, but they have learnt a lot about tone, and how it is set.

Our sense of what it is to lead in an academic context, is based in the notion of modelling. This is a contributory factor to making it possible to engage with complex material, in ways where students can express where they are struggling – where we get to be amongst our students, in the business of trying to answer the questions of the discipline. This may begin with small, but important, resolutions. Not to interrupt students asking questions, for example, not cutting them off and finishing their sentences, and to be open with them about your gaps in knowledge, and the gaps in the subject’s own account of the world.

One thought on “Academic Challenge and intellectually Stimulating Teaching: 2. Leadership

  1. I find the parallels between teaching and leadership fascinating .

    The first reason is how this is the basic premise of Teach First’s approach – good leadership skills provide a great basis for a trainee teacher. If we consider leadership as an activity of influence, then this makes sense – , if you cannot influence your students, you cannot expect to take your students far. If you want your students to work in different, newer ways…or to pick up the big scary book or to try the harder question, you have to be able to influence them,

    Now is this all that a teacher needs to be? No. I hope no-one would ever consider such a reductionist approach. However, developing the general leadership capacity of how to influence is often, I feel, the missing link which allows for a teacher with highly developed pedagogic knowledge and solid practitioner skills to become a highly effective practitioner. The three elements work together, yes. Solid teaching skills can be influential in itself. However, relying on a solid set of teaching skills is not going in itself to lead to influencing others – the students have to be watching and listening (and crucially valuing) first so as the they can observe the teachers ‘mad’ skills in the classroom.

    So if our skillset alone is not enough to influence, what do we need to do? I have found the work of Rogers, Lyon and Tausch pertinent and important in how to craft influence in the classroom.
    Modelling, i agree is a great tool. But why? I feel part of the reason that modelling and being explicit can be such a great tool for influence is that it builds trust and thus a relationship where student are ready to be influenced.


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