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Teaching is another form of leadership. A good teacher impacts the students not only through knowledge and technical skills but through the ability to connect and communicate with students.

A good teacher makes an impact when a student goes saying “I love that course”, not “I like that course”. Because “like” means “I learned a lot of things” and it’s an ok-course but, “love” means “I learned a lot of things with inspiration”, and inspiration gives new meanings.

So what makes a teacher impact students? Knowledge of the subject is not good enough, practical skills can always be improved. There’s something else at play. Here is what I believe are the key elements, elements that are shared with the true meaning of leadership.

In this article, I’m actually doing reverse-engineering. I write down my thoughts as a teacher, not as a former student. My teaching field is digital art for media, a mix of creative and technical disciplines for the entertainment industry such as animation and games. In this field, you would say that every teacher teaches with joy and every student learns with engagement. Well, not quite exactly.

Being a university lecturer and studio instructor for several years, working in both the private and public higher education system, I’ve learned and discovered a few things by myself. I discovered the concept that a Good Teacher is, in fact, a true Leader. And you know what? Not all the teachers are in fact good teachers.

What does a teacher do?

We were all students, we were all part of a certain educational system, and the more years we spent studying, the more teachers we had in order to educate us. We dedicated our younger years studying a certain field, building the foundation for a future career. But that’s also the period when our personality and spirit are being formed. Right? So we are indeed influenced by the learning environment and by the people responsible for that environment.

How many of the teachers you had really impact you as a person? How many of your teachers inspired you or challenged you to push yourself? Can you name one or two teachers that you truly connect with? that really opened up your mind more than to a certain curriculum?

To simply put it, a teacher’s main concern is the students. Teachers have to teach and students have to learn something, it’s that simple!

Of course, there are curricula that need to be followed, lessons to be prepared according to the curricula, progressive assessments of student’s work are also super important. But that’s not quite the point of my article. My point is related to purely social skills that a teacher must have in order to reach out to the students.

A teacher must understand people

Regardless of the topic or the level that is being taught, if it’s an introductory class or an advanced-level subject, the teacher must be aware that the class environment is influencing all the individuals. That means the teacher is responsible for the environment, academically and socially! I believe that many teachers forget that, and they think they are responsible for the results.

The teacher is responsible for the students’ environment, and the students are responsible for their own results!

I believe it’s the teacher’s job to create an environment in which students can work and study in their natural best, trusting each other in sharing the good and the bad. It’s the teacher’s job to create an atmosphere where every student feels comfortable.

That’s why I’m a strong believer that the teacher must be able to understand people. It’s basically the cognitive capacity of being thoughtful, empathetic, and knowledgeable about others. Understanding comes from an open and honest attitude.

The teacher should be able to recognize social human behavior to a good extent. For example, how students feel and think in certain situations, their abilities of understanding and listening, if they manifest engagement and interest, how they perceive feedback, how they communicate their own results and struggles, and so on.

Only by understanding the students’ point of view, the teacher would then have the power of challenging all students to raise their highest potential even though, each student is different, even though each student has their own default level of energy, interest, curiosity.

A teacher must master his/her own ego

We all have an ego, regardless of the job we have or the social status, regardless if we are in a personal or professional situation. The Ego is simply a structure of identity in our brain, and even the most enlightened individuals have this identity-mode.

Is that negative voice that kicks in every time you feel like you must express that you’re better than someone else, that you’re smarter, that you deserve more attention, that you’re more skilled, that you are in charge, etc.

If the ego interferes with the class teaching, then it will be a big problem.

So-called “teaching” becomes a way of showing off! The teacher shows to younger people, with less experience, probably with zero knowledge over the topic … how smart he/she is in mastering a certain subject, the same subject that probably he/she taught throughout several years!

Teaching with ego means communicating with arrogance and stubbornness. Teaching with an ego does not inspire a group of students.

Class time is a collaborative effort

Class time is definitely not a one-way road, everybody should be a participant with a common effort by bringing their own input. Class time is like a sports team that works well together, while the coach is there to support, advise, and maintain clarity in achieving the goals.

But how to make this atmosphere work?

Once again, it’s the teachers’ job to bring the energy in class, to make it contagious.

How?

By simply leading through an example: making suggestions, bringing ideas, making a joke, creating new activities, engaging in challenges, making sure that everybody brings input and, always communicating. By generating a good and creative mood!

schematic in 6 points showing the key aspects on how a teacher can inspire a class environment

Then, if the student makes a mistake he/she must be explained that it’s normal, it’s just part of the process, let’s learn from it and move on! It’s extremely important that if a student feels stuck he/she must turn to the colleges and teacher for help, without any fear of being judged.

Once again this kind of environment should be created by the teacher. Just like being part of a good friendship relationship, meaning that we can rely on each other, we can trust each other. It’s just about human relationships.

Defining leadership

My main inspiration in writing this article is Simon Sinek and his view and approach to leadership. From my standpoint, everything Simon says about business leadership can be easily applied in the educational system as well.

Simon discovered a pattern in which all the great and inspiring leaders, whether is Apple or Martin Luther King, would all think, act and communicate the exact same way and it’s the complete opposite to everyone else!

It’s probably the world’s simplest idea as Simon says. He calls it the Golden Circle of Trust. It’s just about having a clear answer to the 3 basic questions:

diagram showing the 3 key aspects of leadership, the why, the how, and the what
  • What do you do? – every person, every organization knows what they do.
  • How do you do it? – some may know how they do what they do.
  • Why do you do it? – very few know why they do what they do.

The inspired leaders and organizations, regardless of the size and the industry think and act in the exact order. This is Simon’s discovery, the order of the action! The order is Why – How – What not, like the average which operates in reverse What – How – Why? This explains that people follow, or take action, or buy things … because of the “Why”, because of the purpose.

With that in mind, this is how I perceive that a good teacher is, in fact, a leader above everything else. And all teaching work is around the Why – How – What!

Defining a good teacher as a leader

So what makes a teacher a good teacher? Knowledge of the subject is not good enough and practical skills can always be learned and improved. A top and motivated student can easily compete with that.

There’s something else at play. So here is what I believe are the key elements borrowed from the true meaning of leadership.

1) A good teacher just as a leader, organizes the information effectively 

  • Regardless of the topic that is being taught or the difficulty level, the teacher must be able to structure and organize the information in a simple and clear manner.
  • Setting up micro and macro goals will allow every student to keep track of their own progress and to understand and experiment with the new information.

2) A good teacher just as a leader, communicates via listening

  • Every student has a different way of perceiving the same information, and students will always have some inputs based on their personal level of understanding or interest.
  • A good teacher listens to the different students’ perspectives and keeps an open mind to the suggestions or arguments.

3) A good teacher just as a leader, inspires action

  • A good teacher sets goals and takes action in turning them into achievements. The action is always accompanied by energy, and feelings of excitement, enthusiasm, and joy, which becomes contagious in class.
  • The teacher supports everyone to keep moving forward.

4) A good teacher just as a leader, makes the students feel safe

  • The student should feel safe to express his/her vulnerabilities, the mistakes, the concerns.
  • The student must not feel feedback as a correction and discipline. The feedback is passed as support to improve and grow. If a student improves and grows, he/she will help others to improve and grow.

5) A good teacher just as a leader, makes the students trust themselves

  • A good teacher is not making students trust in him/her, but rather the students makes them trust in themselves, in their own skills and abilities.
  • If a student is confident he/she is always open to experimentation and experimentation leads to creation.

6) A good teacher just as a leader, have the desire to help others

  • A good teacher is interested in the overall success and achievement not just for themselves, but for their students.
  • It’s just a matter of helping without expecting anything in return. It’s the natural ability of caring and giving.

Takeaway

Getting back to my initial question, What makes a teacher impact students?

It’s all about trust and cooperation. And it takes time and patience to build up a relationship and a connection. It is not one single teaching session or a certain time of when that happened, it’s about the consistency and all the little things that people are doing as humans to socially connect.

As I’ve said in my intro, a good teacher makes an impact when a student goes saying “I love that course”, not “I like that course”. Because “like” means “I learned a lot of things” and indeed is an ok-course but, “love” meansI learned a lot of things with joy and inspiration”, and inspiration gives new meanings like motivation and purpose.

That’s why I believe a good teacher is, in fact, a true leader. Because he/she has the ability to truly connect with students.

“There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it. – Simon Sinek (author, motivational speaker, leadership trainer)

Cristina Zoica Dumitru

Cristina Zoica Dumitru

I teach digital art courses online and on-location. My mission is to challenge students to reach their maximum potential for creativity and authenticity.

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