Three Leadership Lessons We Can Learn from America’s Best Teachers

July 21, 2014

Originally posted on The Ross Blog

While debates over education reform pick up steam across the country, Ross professors Robert Quinn and Gretchen Spreitzer hope to add a little analytical rigor to the discussions with their new book, The Best Teacher in You, out this month from Berrett-Koehler in partnership with Battelle For Kids.

Best_Teacher_in_You_bookIn the book, Quinn and Spreitzer (along with co-authors Mike Thomas and Katherine Heynoski of BFK) explore interviews, workshops, and studies with more than 350 highly effective teachers from across the country and reveal some interesting details.

So, are there common links between these teachers? Do these links offer any insight on how you can be an effective leader? Would we have written this post if the answer was no?

Here are just a few examples of what we can learn about leadership from America’s best teachers:

1. They inspire a love of learning

Take the story of Kelli as an example [PDF]. She’s a veteran teacher with 24 years of experience. Loved by students and revered by colleagues, Kelli is always listed near the top of value-added scores for her district. Her secret: a desire to reach every student. So when interviewers positioned her laudable professional goals as unrealistic, she pushed back.

“Why do you have such a negative outlook?” She asked. “You have lowered your expectations. You have given up hope in those kids. What did you think your job was in the first place? It’s not about teaching math. It is about getting them to want to learn.”

Leadership lesson: Inspire a love of the job. Research suggests that leaders who encourage employees to craft portions of their own job duties have employees who find their work more meaningful, and thus, will be more productive. Read more in a paper from Ross’ Jane Dutton.

2. They empower and co-create

The best teachers, as explored in the new book from Spreitzer and Quinn, improvise and encourage creativity, creating a classroom where students engage in activities they find relevant and challenging. This way, “as the students feel empowered, the conversation becomes more authentic, more engaging, and more reflective. The teacher relaxes overt control and the students take ownership of their learning.”

Leadership lesson: Transparency in leadership produces extraordinary results. When employees feel connected to the process of running an organization, they take control of their own fates and they accomplish great things. Read about the results of Open Book Finance from Ross professor Wayne Baker as an example.

3. They seek partnerships with colleagues

A lesson most highly effective teachers learn early in their careers, according to the new book, is the value of relationships with their colleagues. Kelli recounts her second year as a teacher as the “year from hell,” and one she wouldn’t have survived had she not sought out advice and coaching from her coworkers.

“Do not be afraid to engage in new learning,” she says. “Seek a partnership with colleagues who will give you encouragement and guidance.”

Leadership lesson: Facilitate the building of high-quality connections. The quality of the connections you and your colleagues build impacts how well your organization will function. Read more about the power of high-quality connections.

You can read more about The Best Teacher In You and order a copy via the publisher’s website, and be sure to check out the upcoming Ross Executive Education programs Spreitzer and Quinn will be teaching.