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Ask Not What Leadership Can Do for You, but What Your Leadership Can Do for Your Students


Leadership Can Do for Your Students
Southwest Minnesota State University


Leadership is scarce among teachers and students, often due to a complete misunderstanding of what leadership is.  This paper explores the definition in leadership, what it means to be a leader for both teachers and students, and how leadership is often stifled by the authorities that are meant to inspire it.  Topics that this paper will discuss are Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory (Barton, R.  P., 2014), “nobody” indoctrination (Starratt, R.  J., 1995), and teaching leadership itself.  This paper also explores how school authorities mistake management for leadership, and how that same mistake is made by students in Gross’s (2014) Huff Post Parents article on table leaders.  In short, the moral lesson of the paper is how to use leadership to teach leadership in students.

Ask Not What Leadership Can Do for You, but What Your Leadership Can Do for Your Students

Children are not objects.  While this may seem obvious aloud, American society often treats kids like they are nuisances that must sit down and be quiet.  This is most prevalent in schools; while a child usually gets serious, interpersonal interaction with their family at home, they are inevitably stunted once they enter a school setting. These treatments are all factors in Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory, explained by Barton (2014), which describes how satisfactions and dissatisfactions can affect a work environment.

What Is Leadership?

How can leadership be defined? The primary difference between a leader and a manager is who they benefit.  Managers benefit only themselves; their underlings are simply a tool to get tasks done.  These underlings often do not see how these tasks affect them. Necessary jobs become work dissatisfactions, or hygiene factors, creating a less fulfilling learning experience (Barton, 2014).  A leader, on the other hand, works to make sure their underlings benefit the most.  Their job is to serve the people they lead, and create an enriching experience for everybody involved.  They do not use people as tools, but offer themselves as tools instead.  This creates work satisfactions, or motivators, that are fulfilling for students and teachers alike (Barton 2014).

Leadership in Teachers

According to Stein (2014) in his article, Leadership: the Teacher's Imperative, a successful teacher can be defined by the respect of their students and the performance of their classroom.  Respect is a hallmark of a healthy, achieving environment for students; when students feel like they are cared for and respected, they tend to respect their teachers in return.  That is, leadership cannot be demanded by the teacher, but must be given freely by the students.  Anything less is just authority.

On that same note, evaluators use performance the most to judge a classroom.  Are the students engaged in their classroom? Do they show enthusiasm for class projects and events? Teachers who are not respected by their students often end up with bored, unenthusiastic children (Stein, 2014), and this is not emotionally fulfilling for anybody.  However, when a teacher is a leader and has the respect of their classroom, their students have a far more enriching experience. 

Leadership in Students

The Leader in Me (n.d.), a leadership activity book sponsored by FranklinCovey Education Solutions, describes four characteristics of a student leader: they make good choices, they plan ahead, they get along with others, and they solve problems alongside their peers. 

Dr.  Gross, author of the Huff Post Parents article, also emphasizes the importance of confidence in children.  Confidence gives children the courage to set their own boundaries and trust their own capabilities.

Leadership in students walks hand-in-hand with teacher leadership.  A student who shows the traits of a leader has enthusiasm and respect for their classroom, and acts with dignity when in the classroom (Stein, 2014).  However, a teacher must be a leader first to accomplish this.

Teaching Leadership

Teaching leadership can be difficult, especially when leadership is mistaken for management.  Officials often try to inspire leadership in teachers by giving them more authority (Stein, 2014), while teachers often avoid inspiring leadership altogether by teaching kids “nobody” indoctrination (Starratt, 1995); that is, teachers mold students into followers, not leaders.  Teachers often exhibit a lack of involvement in their students’ lives as well (Gross, 2014), treating each student the same in every class and not allowing any of their individuality to grow (Starratt, 1995).

Teaching Leadership to Teachers

Just like children, teachers benefit from involvement with their peers and authorities.  Differing from authority, allowing teachers to have a say in decision-making in their school environment inspires participation and leadership in instructors as they work together to solve problems and make compromises (Stein, 2014).  While this may seem like juvenile, it is the best route to take for teachers who most likely grew up under “nobody” indoctrination (Starratt, 1995).

Also, reiterating an earlier statement, an enthusiastic and respectful classroom environment is the hallmark of a teacher leader.  Teachers should ask themselves, “Do my students take pride in their classroom, and do I take pride in it as well?

Teaching Leadership to Students

The prerequisite for student leaders is teacher leaders.  Teachers have a profound effect on their classroom, and have the power to shape a student’s identity for the rest of their lives.  While many social skills are learned at home, teachers should make some time for lessons on leadership.

Table Leaders.  In the Fox (2012) article Teaching Leadership to Kids, Fox, an experienced teacher, describes the table leader program she uses in her elementary-grade classroom.  The gist of the program is as follows: the instructor divides their students into different tables and allows them to elect one group leader for the month.  This leader is in charge of passing out papers and making sure their area was clean after activities.  Every week, the table leaders have lunch at their teacher’s table and discuss their comments and concerns about their other table mates; through this, teachers interact with students through a leadership-building context and support the table leaders in their decision-making processes. 

Problems that Student Leaders Face

Just like with teachers, students are often given authority instead of leadership skills.  This teaches domination, not leadership (Gross, 2014).  Conversely, Fox’s (2012) children’s table mates often mistake their table leaders for table servants, allocating all their cleaning tasks to the leader instead of among themselves.  This is where problem-solving skills come in handy; Fox (2012) allows her students to come up with a solution on their own, then supports their final decision. Fox (2012) shows respect for her students by doing this, which gives her students the backbone they need to become effective leaders.

Final Thoughts

As one can see, a teacher's leadership is invaluable to students.  Students are who teacher leadership is for, after all! While leadership can be fulfilling for a teacher, however, their ultimate job is to foster that same leadership in their students.  Leadership ultimately comes from agency, found only in people who can solve problems and gain respect from their peers.  Giving teachers the skills necessary to facilitate leadership in their students facilitates leadership in themselves, awarded by the students whose lives are enriched by a good instructor.

Works Cited

Barton, R. P. (2014). Herzberg's motivation-hygiene theory. NetMBA Business Knowledge Center. Retrieved from

Fox, A. (2012). Teaching leadership skills to kids. Love What You Teach. Retrieved from

Gross, Dr. G. (2014). Teach your child to lead. Huff Post Parents. Retrieved from

Starratt, R. J. (1995). Leaders with vision: The quest for school renewal. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press.

Stein, L. (2014). Leadership: the teacher’s imperative. Journal of Leadership Education. doi:10.12806/V13/I2/A3

The Leader in Me. (n.d.) The leader in me — level 3 activity guide. FranklinCovey Education Solutions. Retrieved from