Have you ever wondered why there are so many phrases that use the word boss? Like a boss. You’re the boss. Who’s the boss? Boss man. Certainly, the monosyllabism is satisfying as it leaves one’s mouth, but why be a boss when you can be a leader?

There are countless articles and infographics out there that outline the differences between leaders and bosses. They unanimously illustrate that being a leader is the better choice. Here is a summary of some of the common comparisons made between leaders and bosses:

Leaders Bosses
Tells you what you’ll do together (we) Tells you what to do (I)
Asks Commands
Motivates with inspiration Motivates with fear
Earns respect Demands respect
Trusts employees to do perform their job well Micromanages
Has followers Has subordinates
Proactive Reactive

A few years ago, I signed up to participate in a leadership masterclass run by a member of SLT at my school. I was still in my NQT year, but I knew that I wanted to get involved in the life of the school in any way possible. Even if any teaching and learning responsibilities or leadership roles were a long way off for me, I wanted to start thinking about it early on. The masterclass gave me a lot to think about in terms of how to deal with difficult conversations, how to motivate and encourage others, and how to use data effectively. At the time, I thought of those lessons only in the context of middle management, SLT and TLR roles.

When I look back on that masterclass now, years later, I think of how we can apply those lessons as leaders in the classroom with students. I hadn’t realised during the masterclass, but all of those principles relating to good leadership can—and should—be applied regardless of if I have any extra roles or responsibilities. As teachers, we face a daily choice to be a boss or a leader in the classroom.

Many of us are guilty of being bosses at some point in our careers. We command and motivate with fear and negative consequences. Instead of earning it, we demand respect. Rather than have proactive, preventative systems in place, we end up being reactive. At the same time, most, if not all, of us have been in one way or another indelibly impacted by one our own past teacher’s tendency towards being a boss or a leader. Our choice to be one or the other has influence. The only sensible conclusion is that we must make a concerted effort to choose leadership.

Think of leadership in the context of the classroom. It means that we make more of an effort to listen. We are role models that earn respect and are respectful. Rather than covering up when we make mistakes or blaming them on other people, we admit them and set a good example of learning from our mistakes. Teacher and students are “we”, as opposed to “I/me” and “you”. Students’ brains are not empty vessels to be filled; they are learners and they need to be developed.

Whether you want to apply for middle management or SLT one day, whether you’re working with colleagues or students, these are all principles that you can apply at any time with anyone. You don’t have to be on the leadership team to be a leader.

My former head teacher liked to, every now and again, speak to us about geese. There are lot of things we can learn from these majestic birds. Her favourite lesson was from the way in which geese fly. Their distinctive v-formation creates what is known as “uplift”. It reduces air friction and ultimately allows the flock to fly 70% further than they would if they flew solo. It is also worth noting that when the goose in the lead becomes tired, it switches with another goose. It does not insist on being at the front all of the time; it trusts others. And so, when we have a good leader, share a common goal and work together, we all reach our goals faster and with less work.

What I’m about to propose may sound completely ridiculous, but I think if you try it a few times, it might catch on. Next time you’re in the classroom, think of this article and make the right choice. If you get to the end of the lesson and you feel that you’ve been successful in enacting the principles outlined herein, think or say to yourself, with conviction, “Like a leader.”

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