Opinion
Education Teacher Leaders Network

The Heart of Teacher Leadership

By Jim Brooks — February 14, 2007 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

As part of a new partnership, teachermagazine.org is publishing this regular column by members of the Teacher Leaders Network, a professional community of accomplished educators dedicated to sharing ideas and expanding the influence of teachers.

"Reason and calm judgment, the qualities especially belonging to a leader." – Publius Cornelius Tacitus

One of the things most difficult about leadership is that we often must make decisions on the spot. Given enough time to weigh options and seek input, we might arrive at very different solutions than we do when circumstances demand immediate attention. Each decision we make informs the next situation in which we must take timely action. A clear vision coupled with a strong conviction for what we want to accomplish informs the leadership instinct we sometimes must rely upon.

I was reminded of one of those snap decisions I once made when I received an e-mail from a student I taught in Latin class years ago. While I had forgotten the situation she recalled, the letter reminded me how the decisions we make carry the potential for valuable lessons or costly harm.

Sometimes a teacher gets immediate validation that something was meaningful for his students. Other times these validations come in the rare thank you note, a passing kind remark, or an e-mail 15 years later:

Dear Mr. Brooks,

It’s been quite some time since I’ve written. Every school year when the yearbooks come out, or when particular student issues come up, I think about you and how thankful I am to have had you for a teacher. At the school where I teach, we had a cheating incident come up where some students programmed “illegal” formulas into their calculators before a chemistry test. The teacher caught them, they all received zeros, their parents were called, etc. Irate students who thought the punishment too lenient (they should be suspended, expelled, etc) came to talk to me about it. When they did, I told them a story about my own dishonesty, how you dealt with it, and how it changed me.

I don’t know if you remember this or not, but my junior year Sam and I were involved in a photocopying scandal with your teacher’s edition of the Latin textbook. Sam was making copies of translations during yearbook. You caught him with the translations. He said “I’m not the only one!” and then you proceeded to talk to every Latin II and III student and asked us if we were involved. I will never forget the look on your face when I told you I was the one with the translations. You were so disappointed. You gave us zeros and didn’t let us forget what we had to do earn your trust back. The cool thing was, though, that you really did give us a chance to re-earn your trust. You didn’t write me off. You kept me on the yearbook staff that year, and even let me keep my editorship for senior year.

The lesson you taught me about trust—what happens when students break it, what happens when teachers let students earn it back—is so valuable. Had you reacted differently and written me off entirely, I would probably be a very different person than I am today. Seriously, though, this is just ONE of the many ways your teaching impacted me then as a student and now as a teacher. I also realize that it’s the little things that we teach about who we are that students are most likely to remember, even more so than the actual content of what we teach.

It was humbling to read Shelly’s e-mail because it reminds me of the great power and responsibility we carry into the classroom each day. We must not wield this power capriciously. I feel lucky that my instincts were right that day. I could just have easily blundered the situation and unknowingly left an equally enduring negative lesson. I was, after all, a novice teacher.

Shelly said “it’s the little things” that students remember instead of “the actual content” of the courses we teach. Anne Michaels writes of that same kind of lesson in her book Fugitive Pieces, a moving novel about a young Holocaust survivor and the special relationship he forges with his teacher. “The best teacher lodges an intent not in the mind but in his heart.”

While I continue to hold my students responsible for mastering the content of the courses I teach, my larger intention will continue to be to make decisions that touch the heart. In this way I might even have a positive influence on the students of those teachers who were once students in my classroom.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Trauma-Informed Practices & the Construction of the Deep Reading Brain
Join Ryan Lee-James, Ph.D. CCC-SLP, director of the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy, with Renée Boynton-Jarrett, MD, ScD., Vital Village Community Engagement Network; Neena McConnico, Ph.D, LMHC, Child Witness to Violence Project; and Sondra
Content provided by Rollins Center

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Hundreds of Conn. Bus Drivers Threaten to Walk Off the Job Over Vaccine Mandate
More than 200 school bus drivers could walk off the job in response to a vaccination mandate that goes into effect Monday.
1 min read
Rows of school buses are parked at their terminal, in Zelienople, Pa. Reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic means putting children on school buses, and districts are working on plans to limit the risk.
Rows of school buses are parked at their terminal, in Zelienople, Pa. Reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic means putting children on school buses, and districts are working on plans to limit the risk. <br/>
Keith Srakocic/AP Photo
Education Briefly Stated: September 22, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read
Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)