Follow the leader (and become a supreme leader!)

30 Dec

Kim Jong UnLeader, leadership, be a leader, become a leader, leaders in the classroom, better leaders, leader leader leader.

You know when you say a word so many times that it ceases to have all meaning?  For me this has been happening a lot recently, to the point I feel like I’m hanging out at a North Korean pep rally.  At conferences, talking to teachers, at workshops, online, here in Dubai everyone seems to want to be a leader, whatever that means.  But what really set me off on this ridiculous rant was the following teacher training and education discussion thread:

Leader discussion2


Apart from the fact that the second question presumes an answer to the first one, what are they on about?  Why can’t teachers be seen as teachers?

If you want to argue that by ‘leader’ everyone is actually talking about being a guide and helping learners along the path, then I can reluctantly get on board with this metaphor.  But it seems to me that when people bandy about the word ‘leader’, the most common connotations have to do with power, strength, and taking control.  Just take a look at the most common collocates for either the British or American corpora and you can see that all of the top collocations have to do with politics and power.

I would never relegate the role of the teacher to that of just a passive bystander and firmly believe in the need to get involved, demand-high, and really push learners to stretch themselves.  But striving for the ideal goal of supreme leadership seems to run counter to responsive teaching, promoting learner autonomy and negotiated learning.

Wouldn’t all this energy be better spent focusing on ways to help learners and improve teaching?

To be fair, I never noticed this trend while teaching in other countries, so maybe it’s a local mania.  Anyone else have any experience dealing with this?

P.S. If you are ever interested in giving a conference talk in Dubai and really want to be popular, just call your talk iPad leadership


5 Responses to “Follow the leader (and become a supreme leader!)”

  1. Nick December 30, 2013 at 8:45 pm #

    When I hear ‘leader’ in the area of education, I think of the way it has replaced ‘head’ in the UK education system. When I was at school, and then a teacher at a nearby school, ‘Head Teacher’ meant the person who told other teachers what to do and was a teacher, and if you had them as your teacher it was great because they were also a good teacher, hence being the head teacher.

    I’m not an expert, but the shift in terminology may be linked to a shift in the movement of ‘Head’ teachers into management roles in schools, and management roles only – education being a business. Clearly, an ideal manager of a school would have a teaching background, but that isn’t the same as teachers being leaders, and doesn’t necessarily mean they do, or are good.

    That said, as I work for a private, fee-paying school, the conflicts are obvious.

    In the classroom, teachers are most certainly not leaders in the managerial sense, but it suits the managerial world we live in to cast them as such.

    This is an interesting article:

    • Ben Naismith December 30, 2013 at 9:06 pm #

      Well said Nick. Headteacher has a nice ring to it – I wonder why it never made the leap to private language institutes (although there are a lot of senior teachers)?

      Interesting idea for an article, but my favourite part was the comments (as is often the case for me on the guardian)

  2. Daniel January 3, 2014 at 5:01 pm #

    Interesting! Here in Spain, nobody seems to be overly concerned with leadership. Not even the government, actually! Sounds like more meaningless business-speak. Like “innovation” or “synergy” or other ambiguities.

    • Ben Naismith January 3, 2014 at 7:52 pm #

      Jaja, sounds like Latin America too. Oh well, glad to hear this obsession isn’t everywhere.


  1. ‘Follow the leader (and become a supreme leader!)’ by Ben Naismith | Rakesh Patel - December 31, 2013

    […] Follow the leader (and become a supreme leader!) […]

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