Teacher as a breakthrough leader

Kalandar Bux Memon

This inquiry paper encompasses rationale and purpose of selecting the topic, tool and process of collecting data, analysis of data with literature support and conclusion.

Before joining the M.Ed programme at AKU-IED[1], I taught in public secondary school in village area, where we were working in isolation due to lack of monitoring system. I used lecture method. I did not paid attention on needs of individual students. I led them as whole class. The session on breakthrough leadership in our “Leadership in Education” course, made me realize that I used just “Jug and Mug” theory in which we pour water in bottles without consideration of its capacity. However, I wanted to explore further, whether it was happening only in our rural areas or it is happening in big cities like Karachi also?

Kalandar Bux Memon
Kalandar Bux Memon

For that purpose, I developed a semi-structured observation tool and semi-structured interview guide with the lens of “Teacher as a breakthrough leader”. I was interested to get answers of four questions. (1) Why teacher leadership is needed? (2) What should be the role or contribution of teachers in school improvement process? (3) How can a teacher become breakthrough leader to lead students towards their destination?  (4) Schools for what and teachers for whom?

Getting answers of those questions, I visited Roshan Nagar (pseudonym) Girls Secondary School Karachi with my colleagues. During entry negotiations with head teacher, I shared my purpose of school visit and got permission from head teacher and one English teacher. Then, I observed teaching practice of that English teacher. I found that she had enough content knowledge and confident. However, she had little pedagogical skills. For example, she wrote some sentences of active voice on board and asked students to change it in passive voice. She was frequently giving orders like, hurry up; do fast; have you forgotten? I had taught a lot about it; and so on. At last, she said, ‘stop writing and look at the board’.

Then, she changed one sentence out of them in passive voice and asked students, “look at your written answers on your copies and match it with my answer. Is it right? If it is right, then give one mark to yourself and give zero mark to yourself, if it is wrong”. In this way, she did all sentences and finally, she asked, ‘whose more number of sentences is correct? And who’s less number of sentences is correct’? She used harsh words to less achiever in spite of giving positive feedback to encourage them. She never encouraged any weak student and never appreciated any good performer student during the whole period. Usually, she said students “Are you made? Why do you not understanding? Where is your intellect”? She treated all students equally as they all were well performer, good listener, with same backgrounds and they had same mental level and learning ability (Lieberman & Miller, 2004). I could not observe any student, who had held her head high and felt joy during class. Even, one girl answered the posed question by closing her eyes, as if; she was scared of the teacher. When I discussed with students; they said, “We have become bore by same teaching practices of teachers. We want interactive, collaborative, group tasks and supportive feedback”.

Reflecting on that situation one can ask, “Were schools like that for those students?  Were teachers like her for those students? What should be the role of a teacher”?  I thought that it was happened due to lack of professional development of the teachers (Cooper & McIntyre, 1996) because she was untrained. Therefore, she has no idea to teach effectively, providing timely positive and constructive feedback with inspiring way of talking to improve students’ outcomes (Hilty, 2011). When I reflect on my own teaching practices, I remembered that I also did somehow the same practices in our rural context. This leadership in Education course made me realizes that it was my grey area that should be improved. Teacher’s role should be as breakthrough leader who firstly break the tie, means find out the strengths and weaknesses of the students and then, move forward to lead them towards their destiny (Fullan; Hill & Crevola, 2006).

However, looking at that situation in the classroom, I could not understand whether it was her routine teaching style or just it happened in that period? Just after the class, I got answer of that question through informal discussion with her. She shared many issues and problems related to their professional development. She knew and realized that she was a teacher and what should be her role? But she did not know properly how to teach. For that Fullan; Hill and Crevola (2006) said that quality of any teacher is not just a set of characteristics but these are the teaching practices that need to be refined and extended every day. For unlocking the students’ potential teachers should be breakthrough leaders who always remain as learner teachers. Teachers should realize that every instruction or strategy cannot work for all students because they (students) belong to different contexts, mindsets, family backgrounds and sociocultural (Lieberman & Miller, 2004). Moreover, every learner has a different learning style. They need effective instruction, love, care, interaction, motivational attitude, pace and space for learning.  If the teacher did late to provide timely and effective feedback to them, these lower achiever students will fall further behind in their school work and performances. This negative experience can diminish their self-esteem and self-confidence (Fullan; Hill & Crevola, 2006).

Furthermore, a great number of teachers is still not ready to devote a significant proportion of time, attention and energy to investigate the students’ needs, issues and hindrances in their learning. They do not ponder over: Why some students behave differently? What are their modes of thinking? What are their habits of seeking information? Do they need special care, attitude and extra time? Still, many teachers are not ready to take risk, getting ideas, sharing leadership with students and using resources effectively.

Usually, many of our teachers are not willing to be challenged and changed (Fullan, 1997). They are not interested to think, reflect, and refine the ways they teach students in daily classrooms. Perhaps, they do not have strong and balanced mind, therefore, they fail to touch the hearts of students.  These teachers do not realize moral purpose (Fullan; Hill & Crevola, 2006).

Teacher leaders should remain connected with followers (students) like Geese who never leave alone any member of their flock; either he/she die or recover. They should be specific, measurable, reasonable, and attentive and time provider. Teachers are the breakthrough leaders who do cognitive and intellectual development of students by providing opportunities of learning. They should identify immediately the students who are weak? Who need extra attention, care, assistance and help?

There is a need of developing effective learning systems/ communities with in the schools by creating peer coaching and mentoring activities, capacity building, mobilizing the knowledge, providing resources and reducing the gap between teachers and students (Hargreaves, 1997). Teachers should have moral purpose, positive and motivating attitude to fulfill the needs of individual learners in the classrooms. In this way, teachers can become breakthroughleaders. They should be engaged in changing the context as a whole (Fullan, 2005).

As breakthrough leaders, we should identify those classrooms where pace of instruction is falling behind or proceeding too fast, where students are slow or passive learners. We need intrinsic motivation, inspiration, personalization, and attitude of taking risk and challenges. We should move ahead from jug and mug practices to student-centered classrooms. In short, humility, creativity, innovation, interventions and ongoing professional developments are some of the characteristics of teachers as breakthrough leaders and that leadership is all about the continuous school improvement and raising any school system as a whole.

The contributor is studying at AKU-IED, Karachi. 

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