Blog originally written for the Teacher Motivation Working Group (November 2017)
Think back to one of your favorite jobs. How would you describe the environment in which you worked? How were the people you worked with or the supervisors you worked for? Leadership, just as in any profession, plays a critical role in teaching and teacher motivation. Head teachers or school principals have the power to instill motivation and commitment in their teachers and cultivate a culture of professionalism and development. In his book, Leading in a Culture of Change, Michael Fullan elaborates on the five aspects of an effective school leader.
First and foremost, leaders must feel that they have a moral purpose, a desire to contribute to something beyond themselves. They must feel internally motivated so that they can leverage this motivation externally and impact those they work with. Second, in order to fulfill this purpose and reach the goals that they have set out, leaders should also understand how the processes of change and development work. In order for teachers to change their approach to teaching, they must recognize their potential to improve outcomes in the classroom. People do not change by being told to do so. Only by acknowledging the positive impact that their personal growth may have, will teachers willingly accept the need to change. Third is relationships, relationships, relationships. Mutual respect and emotional intelligence is of utmost importance when working to build motivation.
The fourth characteristic is what Fullan refers to as “knowledge building.” Effective school leaders cultivate a school ethos that promotes collaboration and the co-creation of knowledge. Knowledge building is just as important as knowledge sharing. Time should be allotted for teachers to meet, converse, plan together, and discuss issues that they may be encountering with their students. In these professional learning communities educators are able to join together to build motivation and commitment in community.
Finally, an effective leader forges a cohesive environment. School leaders must recognize the complex dynamics of change and progress. Fullan describes change as something that occurs on “the edge of chaos.” Change is often rooted in disorder or disagreement. Therefore, part of an effective leader’s job is to allow for these disturbances to occur and simultaneously guide people through them.
Teaching requires both professional skills and emotional investment. Feeling as though you are part of something bigger—an important link in the chain—naturally causes you to invest in your work. Fullan calls it a shared sense of commitment, which is often characteristic of professional learning communities. A head teacher, or school principal, is in charge of setting the tone for that community, fostering a culture of progress and development, and of course, leading by example.
- Fullan, Michael. 2001. Leading in a Culture of Change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
For more on Professional Learning Communities see:
- Stoll, L., Bolam, R., McMahon, A., Wallace, M., & Thomas, S. (2006). “Professional learning communities: a review of the literature.” Journal of Educational Change, (7): 221–258.