The information age is one of several developments that have radically altered the view of a teacher or instructor in an educational setting. Once upon a time, teachers were experts in a given subject matter and their role was to impart what they knew into the minds of waiting learners. Along the way, most teachers also acquired skills in how best to achieve that transfer of learning to their students.
Be it creating more effective lectures and questioning techniques, or incorporating technological enhancements like audio-visual aids into their work, good teachers had the skills needed to present what they knew in effective ways.
Today the information explosion in some fields of study makes the textbooks on which teachers rely out-of-date in many areas, before they open the books for the first time. The technology of the Internet makes new information readily available to both teachers and students. Incorporating new technologies into existing educational environments is challenging at best.
Another recent development that challenges the traditional role of teacher as expert is research on brain-based learning. Although still subject to some debate and controversy, the evidence supports the long-held belief that learners need to be actively involved in the learning process. This idea now appears to have some basis in fact.
One might compare the traditional role of teacher with that of a technician. With extensive knowledge of a given area and the skills needed to put that knowledge to use, they attack the problem of learning in the classroom.
In some circles, what we now know about how the brain learns has led to seeing a teacher as more of a manager of a learning process. Although teachers still have ultimate authority, they now recognize that like managers in the business world, they must get things done through other people.
However, when it comes to teachers as leaders, an Internet search quickly reveals that idea appears to be restricted to the teachers’ role outside the classroom, not within the classroom. The rapid and revolutionary changes in educational systems all over the world are accompanied by calls for teachers to have greater leadership roles in influencing school administrations and school boards and even the community at large.
While it makes sense that those on the front lines of education should have a greater role in shaping curriculum decisions and other aspects of improving contemporary education, what about their role in the classroom itself. Given what we know today, should we be thinking of teachers as leaders?
If you searched for great leaders throughout history, you will not find many teachers on the list. What you find are military and political leaders, business leaders, and religious and social leaders. Where are the teachers?
The answer lies partly within the traditional confusion over differentiating leaders from managers. Managers have hierarchical authority over groups of people and by virtue of that fact; many have considered them to be leaders. In reality, there is a huge difference.
While both influence groups of people, the nature of the influence a leader has is unique. In short, people do what managers tell them to do because they have to. People follow leaders when they ask them to do things not because they have to, but because they want to.
The question then becomes, do your students learn because they have to or because they want to?