According to organizational leadership expert Ira Chalieff, the best way to view the leadership relationship is through the lens of influencer/follower. This makes sense in the workplace, but could it also work in an education setting? Could teachers be influencers and students followers?
Schools condition students to obey. Expulsion for nonconformity is a very real threat. According to Chalieff “the conditioning begins at an age when children are still utterly dependent on their parents for survival and experience considerable anxiety about the consequences of not obeying. Our institutions play on this anxiety and, wittingly or not, reinforce it until followers often do become the timid creatures we emotionally reject identifying with.” Children need to be taught to attend but do we want children who pay attention because they are curious and excited to learn or do we want children who see the end goal as sitting still and quiet and behaving well?
Much of our early conditioning about leaders takes place in a school setting. Students experience a class where they are held responsible for their behaviour but teachers, administrators, and other adults are not seen being held responsible for theirs. The power of this early sets students up to believe contradicting or questioning a leader is not even an option. How can educators use their leadership to model being a good follower too?
What do Educators Need to Model?
- Self-Awareness in a teacher means both the ability to see yourself accurately as well as to know how your students see you. It also means not assuming you know what it’s like to be a student today.
- Clear and Effective Communication Finding the sweet spot between lecturing and listening allows students to feel as though participants in and not recipients of education.
- Open-Minded Thinking kids today love to think outside the box and the future will need flexible thinkers. Allow students to explore alternate solutions, let them learn from mistakes. Teach them to connect the dots, not just to collect the dots as Seth Godin says in his podcast.
- Lead by Example There is no room for “do what I say, not what I do.” If you want respect, show respect. If you want grit and resilience, show children how you bounce back from failure.
Teaching Pupils to be Courageous Followers
A courageous follower has a clear internal vision while being attracted to a leader who embodies a manifestation of their goals- translation, kids want a teacher who models achieving the things they see as important. It may not be your role as Humanities teacher, but rather your awesome sense of style or the boxing work out you love that is you best way to connect. Note: APA citation or rote memorization are rarely on this list. You are being compared to YouTube millionaires who are 23 years old. You don’t have to have a YouTube Channel or 20,000 Instagram followers but you should learn the language these influencers use- it works for a reason!
When a student steps into the role of courageous follower, they have a small level of autonomy while remaining fully accountable for their actions. They concede certain authority to a leader (like schedule and curriculum) but they feel like partners in learning rather than the subordinate in a dominant/subordinate relationship.
Courageous followership by definition means performing two polar opposite roles somewhat simultaneously: implementer and challenger of the leader’s ideas. Schools have yet to find consistent ways to encourage students to push the boundaries respectfully.
There is also a massive challenge to teens- they want to be part of the “in group” and yet the individuation required to challenge the beliefs of the group and its leadership is what makes for success.
This is where social media influencers connect with students in a way you might want to learn.
- Teens love swag. Give them a little something, it goes a LONG WAY in relationship development.
- Teens hate to be told what they “should” or “should not” do or think. Instead ask them to comment, like or share just like a social media campaign.
- Relate it to their life. My son asked his math teacher why what they were learning in 10th grade was important. The math teacher answered, “It will all come together in 11th grade”. Epic fail, Not only did the teacher not answer my son’s question, he failed to connect math to real life when a kid actually cared.
An influencer is more powerful than and educator. Think back to when you were in school. Most of us can identify 1 or 2 teachers who had a powerful impact on our lives. More often than not, this impact is not at all related to curriculum or content but how that teacher made us feel or what they inspired us to think. They might have illuminated a bias or encouraged perspective-taking. Maybe they listened or dared us to think bigger. Those teachers are the real influencers. In closing, teachers might want to take this lesson from influencer marketing:
“Engagement is the new impressions. It matters as much, if not more, than someone’s reach.”
Engage your students in a way that makes them want to keep showing up. I’d love you to share examples of how you and your school are doing this in the comment section.