Jaime Patterson | September 2015

Building Leadership in the Classroom

Building leadership in the classroom

This is an amazing way to place responsibility, ownership, and accountability into the hands of the students.  However, it is essential that all procedures are well established before proceeding to building leadership.  If you need help with establishing procedures check out my last three articles:
Back to School
Practicing Procedures Part I
Practicing Procedures Part II

A mentor once told me “don’t do for the students, that which they can do for themselves.”  If we keep that in mind, we can begin creating and building leadership within the classroom.  If we do it right, the hardest part of our job should be planning because the classroom should run itself.

The Simple Stuff

Everything from writing on the board to clicking the powerpoint can be jobs the students can do.  You can assign specific roles “paper passer,” “paper collector,” “bathroom monitor,” “tardy control.”  Or, you can simply hand over tasks as they arise.  Either way, if you can answer “yes” to the question can a student be doing this, then a student should be doing it.

The Not-So-Simple Stuff

There are larger responsibilities that can be handed over to the students. Personally, I like to have two class leaders for each class, and these leaders are in charge of the class as a whole.  In dance, my leaders are responsible for starting class, leading a warm up, staying after to make sure the studio was clean. Teaching information to absent students, running class if there was a substitute teacher, tutoring incoming dancers, and standing in as assistant directors for the concerts.

In my English classes, the leaders were responsible for similar tasks, getting class started, checking off certain work, leading discussion groups, teaching pertinent information to students who were absent, running class if there was a substitute teacher.  Other than presenting a new concept, just about every detail of a class can be handed to the students.

The Necessary Stuff

We all have those favorite students, you know, the ones who can’t sit still, love to talk out of turn, or say something funny so everyone laughs… our class clowns.  These are our natural leaders.  Their behavior is telling us “give me something to do!”  So don’t fight it, invite it! Give these students specific responsibilities that hone in on their natural talents.  These students are begging for purpose, and they can either help our class run smoothly or be the obstacle in instruction.

Create specific roles for these students based on their needs.  For example, for a student who always comes late give them the responsibility of attendance.  Their job is to get to class before anyone else and stand at the door with you to check off attendance as students enter so that you can conduct mini conversations with everyone.   Obviously, you will want to double check the attendance, but this student now has a specific purpose for being in class on time.

For your student who can’t sit still…don’t make them.  This student is perfect for passing out or collecting paperwork, writing on the board, gathering materials, or checking off assignments.  If they can’t sit still, then keep them out of their seats with tasks that will help the class run smoothly.  In our tech dependent world, many of us teach from a powerpoint or some sort of computer presentation.  Elect a “tech expert.”  A student who gets to class on time and helps by setting up any technical elements for the class.  This way you can hand over some of these necessary tasks and concentrate on setting the tone for your classroom by greeting the students at the door.

Don’t fight the students natural talents, use them to your advantage.

I challenge you to look at your classes this week. Note all of the work that you do that can easily be completed by a student.  Then, make a list of all the possible jobs in your classroom.  Sometimes it’s difficult to relinquish control, but once you’ve determined the areas where you are comfortable trusting a student, hold an election or appoint students as you see fit.  You’ll find the students value the job, appreciate the sense of purpose, and even fight for their role if you or someone else tries to complete their task.

Our hardest job should be the planning, once in the classroom we should be able to step back and facilitate creativity and inspire curiosity, and student building leadership is a step in that direction.

Piquès & Pirouettès

Next Week: Top 5 Strategies for a Smooth Structure
After a month in my new position, I have had the opportunity to observe many classrooms each with varying teacher personalities and even more student dynamics.  I have compiled the top 5 strategies, for new and veteran teachers, to building a smooth structure in the classroom.

About the Author

Dr. Typhani Harris, author of Putting the Performance in Performance Task and Stop Teaching, brings over 2 decades of educational experience to The Institute. Originally a high school English Language Arts teacher, Dr. Harris transitioned into a dance educator who cultivated an award-winning collegiate style dance education program at a public school in California. Prior to joining the Institute, she was an educational leader and instructional coach specializing in preparing new teachers in secondary urban schools.  As the Executive Director of Academic Affairs, Dr. Harris maintains courses, conferences, and the accredited certification program at The Institute.