Thursday, August 11, 2016

Leading vs Bossing

Leading vs Bossing:
Debunking Myths for Teacher Leaders
Sandy Cameli, EdD • Educational Specialist • Hawaii Dept. of Education

During a recent conversation with a phenomenal classroom teacher (PCT) - who was reluctant about pursuing a leadership path - the topic of “Leading vs. Bossing” came up.

Me:   Have you ever considered applying to our Teacher Leader Academy?
PCT: Well, no - I have no desire to be a boss.
Me: Leading does not mean bossing, rather it’s role modeling.

PCT: But...doesn’t being a leader mean you have the authority to tell others what to do? I’m not interested in boss...leading others.  Besides, I’m still learning this job, and the longer I do it (10+ years) the more I realize how much I don’t know….a leader can’t be clueless!

Me: Perhaps what you perceive as “clueless” may actually be the trait of a lifelong learner? An innovator seeking ideas? A reflective practitioner? Or simply humility - on overdrive? A teacher leader is all of those things and much more. They are also much less. Less intrusive, less rigid, less uniform, and less bossy. An effective leader learns in tandem with his/her colleagues while facilitating thought-provoking discussions on actionable items. An inspirational leader checks his/her ego at the door and follows a moral compass in all decisions, actions and behaviors.  And, an efficacious leader brings enthusiasm, commitment and drive to all situations, regardless how major or minor the task, in order to support students, staff and school - all powerful characteristics YOU already possess!

PCT: I hadn’t thought about it that way ... and, um - thank you (she replied sheepishly).

This certainly was not the first conversation of its kind, and is unlikely to be the last. Nor, was it the first myth about leadership or teacher leadership as viewed by many. Which brings to mind the question of why educators - and phenomenal ones at that - do not see the value in what they do as leadership qualities? Why has the term leader solely been associated with boss, supervisor, even dictator, but not aligned with teachers?  It’s hard enough to explain teacher leader to the general public, when even within the profession, educators still struggle with the concept, and worse - are hesitant to pursue opportunities which (they perceive) will identify them as boss-like!

Leadership is a journey and one that continues to morph as an individual pursues new goals. No one person can tell another if and when they are ready to embody a leadership role, but likewise an individual should not let misperceptions or myths discourage them from continuing to grow as an effective role model, and especially in the field of Education!  

Untangling the synonyms of leader and boss may not be simple, or even an overnight feat, but that does not mean educators can’t debunk myths when encountering those PCTs -phenomenal classroom teachers - who should be celebrated and recognized for their non-bossy leadership styles exhibited and shared on a daily basis!


  1. This reminds me of the article we read over the summer session how people are under the misconception that leadership in the schools is solely from the administration. We all can be leaders!

  2. I really liked the way you had explained the difference to the PCT. I, too, was under the impression that TLA would guide me to being a "boss" because it had asked on our application for TLA when we'd apply for CISL. After attending the summer session, though, I learned that it was more about leading through guidance on reaching a common goal and you didn't need to hold a "boss" position to do it. I hope the PCT you spoke to will consider TLA next year :)

  3. Leading vs. Bossing makes me think of the Summer TLA activity we did entitled: "What Do Teacher Leaders Do" when we illustrated the 6 boxes of: "What my Friends think I do", "What my Family thinks I do", "What Society thinks I do", "What my colleagues/Peers think I do", "What I think I do" "What I actually do". Everyone a LEADER, Everyone a LEARNER!!

  4. Here's to all the Phenomenal Classroom Teachers I know!!!! Great read! Mahalo for sharing! Teachers as leaders can be a reality without the bossy stigma, we just need to #educate!

  5. Great article on debunking the myths of leading vs. bossing. Many teachers, including myself have this precognition that if you are leading a specific program, meeting, etc., that you are usually the boss. It would be interesting to see how teacher leaders can help clear the misconceptions by discussing this issue of leading vs. bossing in their team, department, or even faculty meetings. This may eventually lead to others to stepping up and contributing to the success of the school and student achievement.

  6. I can see how people might have this misconception about “teacher leaders” and how it can deter them from wanting to pursue it because it will take them in an entirely new direction, but I see teacher leaders all around me. I see people who lead and help guide on grade level teams (Grade Level Chair or Department Head and others who are natural leaders) and they have no desire to be anyone's boss or principal. I also think people don't want to come out of their comfort zone! I can relate to this. I felt comfortable in my classroom and sure of my abilities of a teacher, and taking on a new position was scary. I don't think people realize though that you can lead in your current position without any job change.

  7. Great post!! I think this should be an ongoing discussion in our schools as we look to build teacher leaders. Since returning back to school I have been more aware of teacher who can take on more teacher leader roles, but for whatever reason do not feel confident in doing so. My principal and I have had a few discussions already about who should and can be teacher leaders and I've learned that sometimes people just need to be asked.

  8. Great post!! I feel like this is the norm at my school and since returning from TLA this summer I have had numerous conversations with my principal about who should and can be a teacher leader at Waimea High School. We have already had conversations with a few of the teachers and asked them to take leadership roles in different areas. My principal is also going to take some of our up and coming young teachers to a SOTF leadership conference in April. What I am realizing is that many times teachers just need to be asked.

  9. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog post. I believe a lot of what teachers feel is similar to the notion of "internalized oppression." For so long, the teacher profession has not been valued as much as other professions. I think this has, in turn, caused teachers to internalize that devaluing which would lead teachers to not see themselves as leaders. As we start to put more value into what we do beyond societal views, we will start to see more and more teacher leaders rise.

  10. This is such an awesome post. The paragraph about "Leadership as a journey..." really spoke to my heart. Recently, in a conversation with my former administrator, I mentioned that I was going to apply for CISL. To my surprise she was not supportive of the idea and in fact, she spent at least 15 minutes discouraging me from pursuing the next step. I was so hurt that she obviously didn't believe in my potential and didn't even try to fake her lack of support. As an administrator, and an educator at heart, I would have hoped that she would not let her own misperceptions of me discourage me from continuing to grow as an effective role model, and especially in the field of Education! Thank you, Sandy, for always being so positive and encouraging! You are the kind of educator that that truly make a difference in the lives of others! You are my #phenomenalleader who always #leadsbyexample!