‘Your actions inspire others’: Know effective Leadership from the experience of a School Teacher
If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.
There are leaders and there is leadership.
Growing up years in life or profession are the most crucial in forming your personality and professional attitude. The quote, “If life gives you lemons, successful are those who make lemonade,” is true in any constructive environment.
The premise of constructivism is based on the same principle, that learning is unavoidable whatever be the circumstances, challenges or environment.
Leaders may be born or made, but leadership is an art. There are scientific explanations to styles of leadership. Critical analysis of each portrays its influence and achievements.
One fact that cannot be negated in these theories is the honesty of intention and heart.
There is an obvious difference between politics and leadership.
Sadly, often it is understood as synonymous.
Very frequently I have found myself caught up in some honest debates with colleagues and friends who claim that one cannot bring change from outside the system and the only way to survive in the system is politics.
Chanakya’s ‘SAM, DAM, DAND, BHED’, is often quoted by many leaders who believe in succeeding by motivating, offering money, punish or divide and rule.
I have never had any objections to surviving till serving is the underlined intention. When survival of the chair and power becomes the aim, leadership becomes a type and theory happens to be retain ship. (The views are personal with no offence to anyone.)
As mentioned earlier, in my growing up years when I started as a young professional, I nurtured a very strong dream of becoming the best possible teacher. All my efforts were quite directed towards bringing my mission to life.
Sadly there were no agencies in small towns that would declare this commendation. My only reward was my students, and their parents who would accolade me with numerous compliments and success.
I know this and knew then also that I was far from perfection but there was constant striving to improve. I was competing with myself. The mental notepad that I constantly maintained had bullet points giving my own terminology to the leaders I worked with, in this professional journey till now.
My first job, excited I was and would take extra effort to dress up well. As I would enter the Principal’s office to sign attendance, Sister (it was a convent school) would call to ask, Charlie or Chanel?
With a confused expression I would answer, but it won’t be wrong to call it a meddler leader.
Not limited only to smell, comments on my saree, hairstyle and looks were becoming embarrassing so at the first opportunity I got myself another job. I was holding on to my dream stronger now. My students came from quite a mix economic backgrounds. House help to guards and officer’s children all sat together and I was their role model. I requested the principal to create my own curriculum to be able to design an experience for all that my learners could relate to. My subjects needed a contextual subject. I was heard and was sanctioned the freedom to experiment.
Now I know his permission was not impulsive. The silent observation from outside classroom, feedback from parents and students must have given the confidence to this custodian leader.
I loved what I was doing. Year after year till leadership changed and I found myself with another experienced name. I was given a very senior class to teach. I was accused of enticing by my colleagues, that made me lose a few staff room friends. Inexperienced I was. My class was observed. I was mentored and given teacher empowerment lessons and books. I succeeded. The results were great. I owed my triumph to this insightful leader.
By virtue of fate and design this time, I had to move. We changed city. No, my dream stayed. This time surer than ever. My student’s love and leader’s confidence were fodder enough for this prosperity that I was envisioning with my eyes open.
New city brought in queerer challenges. I needed to prove myself through a demo lesson after the interview to the HOD (metropolitan city brought in more professional terminology). Many years had lapsed. Education was evolving. Excited I was to be tested for my skills. This success would guarantee my progress. Lo! I was asked to wait outside the Principal's office, who was also the owner of the very impressive school. With a strange stiff look on the school owner, leader’s face, I was offered the job.
I was asked to fill in the form and complete the formalities at the reception. As I came out the excited of the Principal’s office, observer HOD patted me and said I was very good. Children loved me. The silent thought that flashed was, Oh! but the school head did not say a word.
I was called again and asked to deposit my original certificates with the school, for which I wouldn’t even get a receipt. In a perplexed state I refused to do so and left the office. My racing mind was sad but said what an insecure leader.
Two days later I joined another big name (in a metro there is all in a name and fame, intentional pun). My first day and I was welcomed by a smiling open armed school principal at the gate who was receiving students from the bus. I was asked how my drive was, if I had I found someone to carpool, and also was introduced to the mentor and my students.
I was quite ‘at home’ soon. Coming to work was looked forward to. Teachers were free to use the pantry for tea /coffee as and when needed. No one questioned our strategies. It was a happy workplace. All decisions big and bigger were known to us. For most, our view counted.
Respect was so commanded. I felt fortunate to be working with such an Authentic and a True leader.
Three years passed and it was time to move again (by now you must have guessed the transferable job of my better half). It was a new city not a metro but an educational hub.
I was required to prove myself again. I joined as a senior secondary teacher. Complacency had not still settled in, which I saw in some and feared. But yes! Thanks to Indian board pattern, I knew the syllabus well. I did not need to look into the text books. My students liked this change.
The tradition of the school Principal meeting all teachers in the staffroom during short break for tea was a change I saw. I was told that, not teaching from the book was a sign of overconfidence which may not be appreciated. I also witnessed the principal becoming over friendly and exchanging conversation in whispering tones in that ritualistic gathering.
I stood my ground in terms of pedagogy, and the results were excellent. The over friendly school leader gave me a good experience certificate. I only wished I had heard him more during school hours. Permissive leader said my mental dictionary.
And we were back into the metropolitan city. This time I had to prove myself in an even bigger name. I realised schools had brand names and were displayed with pride.
Anyways, I was also a proud teacher of a big branded school. Without my consent and comfort, I was allotted classes. Extra duties were told. The young energetic principal dressed well, spoke much and was always on round. Orders came. No one dared ever to suggest, nor question.
I began to make mistakes. First time ever in my professional journey. I wasn’t happy. My hours in school became work.
I was being ticked on my pedagogical skills. My intentions were questioned. My determination came from the purity of my intention, of making my learners succeed. And yes, they did so did I. The hurt and humiliation I carried in my heart made me quit teaching to foster another dream of becoming a conscious leader in the field. And never to be one like this whom my intellect termed an Imposing leader.
My professional journey lasted for ten more years post this experience. The lessons assisted me to create a to do, to be, not to be and not to do list as a school leader. (Recalling Hamlet) Yes and no, this was well researched and analysed theory. Which saw great success when I took over a school in another metropolitan city in India.
The nomenclature for leadership styles, I created may not be the same as taught in management schools, but if one reads warily can find connexion in the thought and names.
I leave this task to the readers to explore and comment.
For me, there is no parallel to leadership style that strikes a balance between heart, head and hands. (Yes! True hands that know how to rock the cradle can also rule the world)
Oh dear! No sexist I am, it is the new age, even fathers get paternity leave.
About the author:
Renuka Chhabra has over 25 years’ experience in Education, Program Management, Content Writing, NGO Management, Corporate Training in addition to teaching. She has worked with over 15 schools across the country as a Teacher which laid the foundation for her passion and expertise in the Education Industry. She has used these experiences through the development and delivery of high-quality Teacher Training Programs. Most recently, she worked as the principal of a leading school in Mumbai.
She brings forth a combination of passion for Education, extensive experience in Teaching / Training, Leadership skills, Hands-on execution as well Strong Learning abilities. Renuka lives in Delhi with her husband and a friendly beagle.