A call for a happy leader

Image credit: Takashi Hososhima

The happy teacher, that’s what it’s all about. Feel passionate about your job, discover your talents and know how to inspire others. What makes you proud? Show yourself!

Open the doors of your classroom and invite parents and colleagues. Show them who you are, what drives you and what you find important in your work. You reflected on your classroom practice, you are aware of your choices. But also try to be open to feedback. Don’t be afraid of critical questions, because they keep you focused. Welcome feedback that helps you in your professional development. Because your development is important. You want to see your students develop themselves, so set an example.

Do not only set an example, but also try to engage your students in your teaching practice. Work together to make education more personalised, stronger and more innovative. Give them a voice in the group process, in their own learning process, but also in your learning process. Give them space and time to learn, but moreover, allow yourself that space as well. Ask for feedback, so you know what steps to take the next day.

Follow your students, they often have the answer. Is there a moment of hesitation and you don’t know how to help your student along? Just ask! Students know so much, first of all about themselves, what drives them, what they need, their motivation, their learning styles. Is something wrong in your relation to the group? Tell your students how that makes you feel and let them know you really need them to be able to continue learning together. Be open and honest, be yourself and your students will help you.

Students are your mirror. Dare looking into it and you will grow. The learning teacher, the enjoying, happy teacher. You. That’s what it’s all about.

On the day that the jury of the Education Cooperative (Onderwijscoöperatie in Dutch) decided who should be Teacher of the Year 2014, the above was my statement. It is essentially about all educational leaders. Not only teachers, but also school leaders and school boards. When I think about my own leadership, leading my students, then this is the leader that I want to be:

the happy leader, who enjoys his profession;
the learning leader, who continues to develop himself;
the honest leader, who is open and himself;
the listening leader, who listens without a hidden agenda;
the observing leader, who looks without prejudice;
the supporting leader, who coaches and helps;
the encouraging leader, who supports and compliments;
the trusting leader, who provides the necessary space;
the steering leader, who helps to watch certain necessary boundaries.

If I want to grow as a teacher I need my school leader in a way a student needs his teacher.

I long to be seen. Just some attention in the hallway. Come and have a look in my classroom. Not because you feel it is your task to do so as a school leader, to observe me. No, just because you are curious about what I do with my students.

I also need to be heard. I want to tell you what’s on my mind, what worries me, but also let you know what drives me, what I am good at, what my powers and talents are, so you know this, and in order for me to have the opportunity to use these talents in our school.

And I would obviously like to be taken seriously. I would like to participate in school policy, deciding what makes our school ours. Because the school is of us all. We do it together, otherwise our mini-society is unstable.

I do realise that I am a teacher who feels an unlimited passion for her profession. That I am a teacher who is always looking to do better, how to develop professionally in such a way that I can really connect to my students and will be able to give them more space, to find their own powers and develop their talents. I realise that I am probably part of a certain minority. Those teachers who read a lot, talk and write about education, which makes them feel energetic. Those teachers who don’t even realise how many hours they work. Who continuously look for possibilities and new challenges, who actively and constructively participate in the discussion with their school leader to keep looking for a way to better education.

But I am convinced that we can reach more teachers. They, too, can be open to change and willing to go for it. But you have to give them the trust they need and the time and space they need for their passion, their powers and talents. And also give them time to develop professionally and be able to adjust to new situations. To cope with certain structures or demands; things that are sometimes inevitable in a school organisation. But then make sure – to end with one of the principles of my heroine Maria Montessori –that you provide freedom, freedom within those necessary structures and boundaries.

This was my story at the NIVOZ conference ‘Leadership in Education’, September 24th, 2014.