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Classroom Leadership Styles

By Dyan Hershman

As teachers we need to strive for positive relationships with our students--one that has clear expectations, but is based on mutual respect, communication, and kindness. Yes, kindness! Just because we are in control and expect appropriate behavior, does not mean that teachers need to be cold or distant. Being friendly and having a good rapport with students can go a long way towards creating a positive classroom environment. Students cannot read our minds; we must effectively communicate our desires and expectations. However, this can be done in a friendly and respectful manner.

All new teachers enter the classroom with some idea of how they want to manage their class. We are much more than just baby-sitters. Our role as a leader has much more importance that we sometimes realize in the overall classroom climate. As a leader, we must guide, shape, teach, motivate, correct, direct, and encourage our students! The following are some leadership styles that are often used in the classroom. We recommend the last style as the best one to maintain a positive classroom environment.

The Dictator Leadership Style

This teacher is often afraid of losing control, so he/she resorts to maintaining a very distant and stringent relationship with students. This results in a relationship with students that is businesslike, firm, and authoritarian. There is no room for group discussions or banter of any sort. Routines are strictly adhered to and all tasks are performed in a quiet and efficient manner. Students are not encouraged to be individuals and active participants, but rather are expected to conform to the teacher's way of learning. Creative thinking is not encouraged, while memorization of rote facts and "skill and drill" are the main learning styles of the classroom.

Although routine can be a positive classroom feature, this type of leadership is often boring and squelches creativity. It promotes a dull and resentful environment instead of one filled with active learning and excitement. Students are more likely to rebel, complain, and misbehave because they are not intrinsically motivated.

The Free Spirit Leadership Style

This teacher wants to be buddies with the students rather than an authority figure. Students are allowed to create the rules and make most classroom decisions without guidance. Lesson plans are loosely sketched and student digressions dictate the course of a lesson rather than the teaching objective. Students are given maximum freedom to work and move about the classroom. The teacher gives students the responsibility to make decisions for themselves and to "be their own boss."

This leadership style would be fabulous in a world where all students had the same set of values--honesty, integrity, responsibility, and determination. We would love for every classroom to be totally student centered, where students were always intrinsically motivated. However, this is unrealistic. It is the nature of most children to push the limits as far as they can.

An ingredient in this recipe is a teacher who is more than likely unorganized and unprepared which results in a choppy and incomplete presentation. Students are kept waiting while the teacher mentally decides what to do next and looks for materials. Students get confused and distracted easily which results in disruption after disruption. This in turn results in more "breaks" as the teacher must stop to deal with unruly behavior.

When students are not actively engaged in learning, or are off task, this teacher is often quick to anger because he/she feels that the students are taking advantage and abusing the freedoms given.

The Balanced Leadership Style

This leadership style blends both of the other styles to achieve the greatest results. As they say, "Everything in Moderation!" A teacher using this balanced approach to classroom management will set limits and communicate expectations clearly, as well as follow routines and procedures to create an orderly classroom environment. Organization is very important to maintain a productive classroom. Discipline is a key component to this relationship. The teacher expects rules to be followed and consequences are consistent when behavior is inappropriate.

This leadership style is student-centered, but recognizes that students need guidelines to feel comfortable. Our students require boundaries to feel at ease. Teachers who use a balanced approach encourage students to be responsible for their own actions and hold them accountable. Although maintaining order and productivity is vital, allowing students to be actively involved in the learning process is also a must! Students need some freedom and voice in the classroom in order to feel valued and motivated. Personal choice and group discussions are daily occurrences in a classroom which thrives on student involvement.

Communication is another key in this balanced forum. Clear expectations must be explained and reinforced if a teacher desires students to be able to discuss, move, and work about the classroom freely. The more specific directions and expectations are, the better students will understand and follow them!

It is our feeling that a balanced leadership style is one that will best help our students to learn. It provides both the teacher and the students with freedoms and clear boundaries that will help them work together in a positive manner. For more ideas on how to create this "balanced" classroom environment, check out the Classroom Management and Discipline Tips on our Tips Page.

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