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Two Critical Leadership Roles: Parents & Teachers

Learning to recognize the cues...that matter

By Ann McMullan

As we move from the election season to the inauguration of a new administration, one topic that remains constant is the importance of effective leadership in multiple arenas. Though we often think of leaders as select individuals functioning in their adult professional roles, the reality is that anyone of us may have an opportunity to serve as a leader at multiple points in our lives.

Two adult roles which perhaps are not traditionally thought of in the context of leadership are that of parent and teacher. Yet both have a tremendous impact, even after the course of being a parent or teacher is completed.

Effective parenting is one of the most critical leadership functions in any society. Parents impact the life-long actions of not only their own children, but also multiple generations that follow. Children learn values, principles and ideals from their parents and can eventually pass those on to their own children.

Additionally, no one ever doubts the impact that great teachers have on their students. When teachers are successful in honoring the individuality of each of their students and instilling in them a love of learning and mutual respect, everyone benefits. One teacher may touch the lives of hundreds and possibly even thousands of students over the course of a teaching career. That impact is boundless. In both critical roles – parenting and teaching – effective leadership skills are essential.

In a book I recently co-authored with Michael Barrett, Life Lessons in Leadership: The Way of the Wallaby, we define five effective leadership skills through teachable lessons written in prose and illustrative stories written in enchanting verse. Both are combined with colorful illustrations. The goal is to give readers a simple guide to effective leadership regardless of age or specific leadership function.

Listening and Learning – Essential Leadership Skills for All Leaders, Including Parents and Teachers

The first two leadership skills defined in the book are listening and learning. True leaders cannot function without doing both as a regular daily habit of practice. The following is a quote from the book on the significance of listening as an essential leadership skill:

“The ability to truly listen – not simply to hear – is a leader’s most important skill. It is through active, engaged listening that a leader begins to understand the reality of what is truly going on with both the people and processes she is leading. Listening has to be followed by appropriate action in order for the leader to maintain legitimacy with others. The combined efforts of effective listening and appropriate follow-up action will serve everyone well by contributing to an atmosphere of trust in which everyone can flourish.”

From the time a child is in the womb, listening to that child is the way parents first get to know that child. The very first time that parents-to-be hear the heartbeat of their expectant baby, life is never the same. Once the newborn is home, parents often install listening devices in the baby’s room so that they can listen round the clock. It is through listening that parents know when to feed the baby, change the baby or play with the baby.

As the child grows and develops parents continue to listen to know how to guide and lead their child’s maturation process. Sometimes the listening task may be difficult and even frustrating, but every parent knows that he or she cannot ever stop listening to their children. It is the one of the most effective ways they – like leaders in many other capacities – can know what is needed and what to do next.

In the classroom setting there is a traditional perception that the role of the student is to listen and the role of the teacher is to talk. Today, wise educators know and understand that listening is a two-way process in effective teaching and learning. The relationship between teachers and their students is critical to any student’s success. By giving their students the opportunity to share what they know and comprehend through dialogue as well as other means, teachers come to understand the pathways to knowledge they must create in order the lead the learning environment inside their classrooms.

Effective parenting is one of the most critical leadership functions in any society.

There is a strong connection between listening and learning. The issues that most leaders must confront are often quite complex. For that reason, the ability to recognize and acknowledge that as a leader you may need to learn more about a given situation is an essential skill. In the speech that he was scheduled to deliver in Dallas in November 1963 President John F. Kennedy wrote, “…leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”

When one serves as a parent, the necessity to always be learning is typically quite clear. No one goes into parenting knowing everything there is to know about raising children. Plus, what works well for one child may not be the best process for another. Parents – like all leaders – must continually be in a learning mode. Life circumstances can change and when that occurs, new learning is key. As children grow, parents must learn how to deal with each new phase in their children’s lives. Admitting to their children that they may need to learn from others regarding some of the challenges and opportunities that come with being a parent is a great lesson for children to see and learn from their parents.

Though teachers are sometimes viewed as “experts”, the reality of teaching today is that all teachers – like all other leaders – must be lifelong learners. Teachers today must not only be experts in their content knowledge but also in multiple pedagogies and instructional strategies. Technology tools for learning – an ever changing and evolving frontier in K-12 education – is just one example of ongoing professional learning that every teacher must embrace. Data-driven instruction, personalized learning, and blended learning are examples of strategies that were not even in the conversation as recently as ten years ago. Being a lifelong learner is one of the best ways teachers can model the importance of learning for their students, no matter what their ages or grade levels.

In Life Lessons in Leadership: The Way of the Wallaby, we offer this perspective on the importance of learning as an essential skill for all leaders:

“…Modeling ongoing professional learning and being willing to change course when new knowledge is gained is something all followers need to see in their leaders. In the past under a more stringent top down leadership model, subordinates may have thought – or been forced to assume – that the boss knew all the answers, or else he would not have been given the position of boss. Today we know that collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creative problem solving are skills sets that all workers must possess, and leaders most of all.”

Beyond listening and learning three other essential leadership skills are defined and illustrated in the book. You are welcome to learn more and see excerpts from the book at www.lifelessonsinleaderhship.com


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