We need to work out a practical approach to providing formal leadership in an educational context – how we manage taking up formal leadership opportunities while undergoing formal education and balancing the different responsibilities that arise from both.
Formal leadership in our educational context is about putting ourselves in positions where we can take up formal leadership positions within our school or other institution. It is a process of bringing what we learn about leadership back to the learning environment we engage in every day. Our service and role as a leader in the classroom is to create a collaborative learning environment that supports the work of our peers, our teachers, and ourselves. We start by leading by example in the classroom through being active, collaborative, and engaged students that create opportunities for others to feel welcome to contribute and engage in continuous learning and unlearning. We should all play an active role in the classroom. Asking and answering questions, being a good listener to others, and producing work that is of a high quality are some of the basic ways that we can do this.
All of us will be asked to take up formal leadership in project groups within our courses. In addition to our project management and relationship building skills, which are covered elsewhere, we need to think about our academic leadership. This requires us to be selfless with our knowledge and our learning processes. We should view contributing our insights and unique perspectives as an opportunity to help others, as well as a necessary tool to prompt others to think deeply and critically about what they know, do, believe, and learn. This, in turn, enables them to push and challenge us in return. This back and forth exchange is part of a culture of collaboration that is encouraged by a willingness to share what we know without the expectation of compensation or credit. We should help people when they don’t understand things. We need to encourage people to share their thoughts when they have them. We must offer to support them in their pursuit of excellence.
"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader."
John Quincy Adams
Formal leadership in an educational context will also involve seeking out other tangible experiences in which we might learn about what it means to lead in the context of learning. These practical opportunities come from actively seeking out placements, courses, and positions that will imbue us with responsibility for people, projects, and educational environments. Seeking out leadership positions of this nature may mean applying to be a captain at our secondary school, seeking election to the executive of our faculty at university, or asking for further opportunities to play a leadership role in special projects. These can broaden our perspective on how best to work with people, how best to motivate growth, and how best to learn together.
We may also be called on to provide formal leadership in an educational context as the elected representative for a group of students. Such responsibilities may intersect with shared academic endeavour but they will also typically ask us to take on care for the social, financial, or wellness interests of our fellow students. This will call on a whole new range of competencies.
Formal leadership during our education allows us to rehearse for leadership subsequently. Learning to lead begins with taking up the responsibilities of service. We learn as we go and we learn through specific study that prepares us to lead. We must step into our positions in the knowledge that we are making a start. We can always improve. There will be many mistakes and failures along the way. Slowly, through consolidating our understanding of leadership through trial and error, through practice and repetition, our leadership within an educational context will become more comprehensive and habitual. There is always more to learn, more to practice, and more to do.
We can contemplate our understanding of our Formal Leadership in an Educational Context by considering the following questions: