Language and Literacy Teachers as Leaders

March 18, 2010

Language and literacy teachers and tutors are instructional leaders. Every day they act as role models for the students that they teach. They are a source of inspiration, motivation and encouragement. For the most part, they also lead by example. When a literacy tutor teaches a learner to read, write and learn the alphabet, it is because they have also learned it themselves and they are sharing what they themselves have learned. Many foreign language teachers have lived and taught abroad. They understand the difficulties in grasping a foreign grammar and new vocabulary, as well as culture shock and learning how to “be” in a new place.

Here are 5 tips for celebrating your role as a Language Leader:

1. Share stories with your learners.

Humans connect through stories and shared experiences. Tell your students about your own experience as a learner, or a story about someone you know. Think of a student you have who is struggling. Then go back into your memory banks and find an anecdotal story about you or someone else that may help your learner in some way – to provide relief, inspiration or hope. I advise changing the names of characters in your stories, to protect the innocent, of course. But it OK to share stories about former students who have overcome similar difficulties and succeeded. Connecting through stories is a powerful way to lead.

2. Share your own tips for success.

Students sometimes struggle to find strategies that will help them succeed. One way they figure out what will work for them is to get tips from those who have already done the same. As a teacher, you act as a leader when you share your tips that will help others succeed. For example, I had trouble learning to roll my “rr” when I was learning Spanish. I had previously studied French and my “r”s were too far back in my throat for Spanish. I struggled with the new sound of the trilled Spanish “rr”. My teacher gave me the tip of practicing it in the shower. (Seriously!) I practiced every day in the shower until I could do it.

As a teacher I passed that same tip on to my own students, telling that that practicing every day for just a few minutes is important. The method of doing it while doing something else that is pretty routine and does not require much “deep thinking”, also helps to decrease anxiety. It worked for me and my students tell me that it works for them too. They appreciated the tip! Every teacher has good learning tips. What are some of your personal success tips that you can share with your learners?

3. Show your humanity.

Adults have this thing about failure. Children are less self-conscious about it until they learn that it’s bad to make mistakes. Adult learners may have feelings of shame or stigma about what they don’t know. As a Language Leader you want to show your learners that it is not only OK to make mistakes and not know things, it is inevitable! What we don’t know creates a space for us to learn in. No one knows everything and we all have the capacity to learn. When you’re working with your learners find ways to take yourself down off whatever pedestal your learners may want to put you on and show them that you are just as human as you are.

4. Laugh with your learners.

Along with showing your humanity comes laughter. I tell my students about the time when I was giving a presentation as a young college-age student who was studying Spanish. I concluded my presentation, which was an anecdote about my experience studying abroad in Madrid with the line, “Y al final me quedé bien embarazada.” A few people in the class broke out into laugher and my teacher stifled her laughter. What I said was “I finished up good and pregnant”. What I meant to say was, “At the end of it all, I was really embarrassed.” Oops! Needless to say, there was no pregnancy involved, but there was embarrassment – both during the initial incident and during my class presentation. And I learned to say it properly in Spanish – “Me dio mucha vergüenza.”

I share that story with my students so they can see my humanity. We have a good laugh over it and hopefully, they learn from my mistake!

5. Encourage learners with a “can do” attitude.

Every now and again we all become discouraged. When this happens, it’s easy to say, “I can’t do it”. As a Language Leader, your job is to say, “Oh yes you can!” I tell my students that I am actually a very slow learner, which is true. I tell them about times I wanted to give up and didn’t. I tell them that by tapping into their own personal determination and perseverance, they will learn to read and write the way they want to. They will learn their verb conjugations. More importantly, they will empower themselves to gain new skills and experience the world in new ways – that their effort will be worth it.


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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