More Leadership – Bita

Bita Rezaei

From Manager to Leader 
Bita Rezaei


Ask anyone and they will tell you there is a difference between being a manager and a leader but where the difference lies doesn’t seem to get beyond the quote “managers drive, leaders lead.”  History is filled with wisdom and case studies on the qualities of good leaders and effective leadership. Over the past few years there have been so many books, articles and blog posts published around the “how to’s” of becoming a good leader,  but as tempting as it may seem to call yourself one, it is not that easy.


It is said that management is career whereas leadership is a choice – a calling. Leaders get their power and authority not from their positions but from the trust people put in them. While at times you can tell a manager from miles away by a fair judgment of the dress code, way of speaking and mannerism, being a leader calls for another set of characteristics. To me, it’s about having that intangible charismatic component that some people have and some just don’t.


In ELT, often times more experienced teachers find themselves in management positions only because it seems like the next logical step in their career. As we take up the new role, we are full of ideas and plans for achieving what we always dreamed could be achieved. We hope for a break-through superstar performance but there is a limit to how far our organizational powers can take us. The classic command and control management model – which, contrary to popular belief still applies even in our most progressive 21st century companies – will not encourage your team to go the extra mile. You may be respected, obeyed but not whole-heartedly followed.


To move into a leadership role, you need your team members to see you as someone they know is working for the greater good – for them and for the organization. You need to earn their trust, spread your vision, and inspire them.  But where do we start?


It’s not that difficult to find a leadership brand and stick to it – without considering how to improve and expand your skills. But the way I see it, striving for excellence as the one in charge calls for recognizing strengths and accepting limitations—in yourself and others. It involves recognizing and empowering great performances both in yourself and in a wide variety of team members.


Whether you’re leading a huge team on a challenging project or just trying to climb the career ladder, you need to be aware of where you are standing as a leader. So before starting your assessment of others, think about your own values, beliefs and ethics. It often helps a lot to put down what you believe in and then see how those beliefs are playing out in the organization you are working in.


Remember that it’s not about them. It’s about you. Ask yourself:

  • Am I a good role model for my team? Do I practice what I preach?
  • Do I trust my team as much as I want them to trust me?
  • Am I providing my team with enough support?
  • Do my actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more?
  • How often do I take listening tours around the office? And when I do, am I listening to understand or to reply?
  • Am I bold in the face of uncertainty? Am I willing to take the untravelled path?
  • Do I hold myself responsible for a higher standard than anybody expects of me, or do I often excuse myself from the standards expected of everyone else.?
  • Do I make heroes out of others by giving them credit for their achievements?


Leadership is about magnifying morality. Realistically, we need to ask ourselves the questions above (and several more) from time to time. I am only sharing what I think should matter to the ones who are willing to take leadership roles but how exactly to reach that level of excellence is beyond this post. It seems to be the time someone tells us how to “do the right things” instead of “doing things right”.


Maybe a book called “From manager to leader” could help!


Connect with Bita and other iTDi Associates, Mentors, and Faculty by joining iTDi Community. Sign Up For A Free iTDi Account to create your profile and get immediate access to our social forums and trial lessons from our English For Teachers and Teacher Development courses.

Like what we do? Become an iTDi Patron.
Your support makes a difference.

More Leadership – Alexandra

Alexandra Chistyakova

Towards A New Generation of Leaders 
Alexandra Chistyakova


As we go through life, we state and re-state our beliefs; we question the notions that once seemed clear-cut and obvious; we reconsider and redefine our concepts. This reconsideration and revision of ideas is the guarantee of our development towards better understanding of society and our role in it.  It’s no secret that social phenomena are sometimes the most elusive and difficult to define. So is the concept of leadership. Who is a leader? What qualities does a leader have? Are we born or made leaders? What is the relationship between a leader and other people? Is it a benefit or a burden to be a leader? All these and other questions went through my mind as I sat down to write this post.


In the post below I would like to share with you my ideas on and understanding of what a leader is and what leadership means. It might happen that some time later I will look through these views of mine, find them insufficient and alter them in accordance with my new worldview. But for now, this post is a sort of a snapshot of the beliefs I have now.  You are most kindly invited to reflect on the above questions and see if you agree or disagree with my observations.


When you hear the word leader, what image comes to your mind? Do you picture in your mind’s eye a political or religious leader? Or do you see a boss or a successful businessman? Perhaps, you recall a person you know and who you have always looked up to? Or maybe an image of a ringleader or a cheerleader pops up in your mind just out  of the blue? From a quick glance at this incomplete list of possible kinds of leaders, it becomes clear that various aspects of life or life situations require various sets of qualities from a leader. But is there a quality that all leaders have in common? I believe there is. More so, this quality is the very core of leadership, and this is the fact that a leader is someone who is at the forefront and ready to go further. Sometimes it seems that a leader has an inexhaustible inner source of energy, a burning idea or a wish – something that drives them forward and makes them take action. Very often, this inner impetus, the invincible urge, stays inexplicable to leaders themselves – so natural it is for them to be willing to act.


For me, the willingness to take action is the key characteristic of a leader. This quality sets leaders apart from the rest. However, leaders should not necessarily be prominent public figures but common people like you and me. They are the leaders we can come across in our everyday life or the leaders we can become ourselves.


So, are we born or made leaders? I think that on the one hand, we are born with some innate character traits, some of which can or some of which cannot make us potential leaders. However, on the other hand, we all have the ability to voluntary shape and mould our character, developing the skills and qualities we would like to possess. I hold the view that nothing is impossible. So, technically speaking, we can make ourselves leaders.


But do we need to? Why would one want to be a leader? And what would our society be like if everyone was a leader? I have no doubts that this would be a much healthier society. And here is why.


Taking action is a serious deed. It often concerns other people, involves some risks, provokes criticism and leads to certain consequences. That’s why real leaders are those who have good people skills, are mindful of others and, very importantly, are not afraid of people. They are alert and aware of the surrounding environment and situation. Leaders are not afraid to express their views and to stand up and be counted. Leaders are ready to face criticism and disapproval. They are not afraid to step beyond their comfort zone and push themselves to limits. Leaders are creative, resourceful and full of initiative because they often have to deal with complex situations and find solutions. So, stepping into the role of a leader, taking action and being in charge of other people, foreseeing possible consequences, creating opportunities and leading people to a certain goal teaches people to become responsible, confident, courageous and respectful of others. However, don’t let me put you into an illusion that leaders are stubborn authoritative people who want to have things done their and only their way. Real leaders are flexible and prepared to reach compromises. To paraphrase from Russian Tsar Nicolas I, leaders are those who have first learnt how to follow and obey others.  All these aspects considered, I’m positive that nurturing and developing leadership qualities would result in a more harmonious society.


Here rises a question whether our schools and universities, our educational system in general, helps students to develop leadership skills and teachers them to learn to socialize and negotiate? From my 9-year work experience as a university teacher, I can say: there are very few opportunities for that if at all. The Russian educational system, for example, is mainly targeted at transferring knowledge from teachers to students but provides little opportunities for social skills development.


The educational process in Russia is chiefly teacher-dominated and centered. Teaching is commonly done in the form of big university lectures with seminars strongly resembling mini-lectures as well. Students are rarely challenged to do their own independent and creative research, neither are they taught how to work collaboratively with their peers and reach joint goals. A lot of Russian students feel embarrassed and awkward when they are asked to step to the front and deal with the audience, big or small. In Russian schools and universities, students are not encouraged to show initiative, think critically and form their own informed opinions. In many ways, Russian educational system teachers students facts but doesn’t prepare learners for real life.


However, I wouldn’t like to create an image of total gloom and doom. I always try to look at the bright side, and I’m sure the situation isn’t all that hopeless and cheerless. First of all, we should be realistic and understand that any educational system is huge and has its inertia: it can’t be changed overnight. But this no way means that we, teachers, can’t do anything to improve the existing situation. We can. Gradually but steadily, we can teach our students social and leadership skills by giving them more autonomy in their learning, by involving them in various individual and joint projects, by welcoming initiative and creativity and by creating friendly and welcoming atmosphere in class to help learners build confidence. We really can do this. All we need to be leaders ourselves. This way we will raise a new generation of leaders.


Connect with Alexandra and other iTDi Associates, Mentors, and Faculty by joining iTDi Community. Sign Up For A Free iTDi Account to create your profile and get immediate access to our social forums and trial lessons from our English For Teachers and Teacher Development courses.

Like what we do? Become an iTDi Patron.
Your support makes a difference.

More Leadership – Chuck

Chuck Sandy

The Miracles of Community Leadership
Chuck Sandy


“Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralysed.” – Rumi

Each and every day I am a witness to teachers working miracles of community leadership. I watch as they encourage the discouraged, empower the powerless, and welcome the stranger into their midst. I see them conquer fears, rise up out of depressions, take on new challenges, and grow in ways they not long ago considered impossible. When one does not have the skills needed to do the work that needs to be done, I watch as others step forward to offer their assistance.  When one falls back in need of rest and renewal, I watch as others step forward with open hand to say yes.  When one suffers the sort of loss that leads to clenched fists and a closed-up heart, I watch as others step in to lift that one back up. This is how leadership works in communities. We take turns doing what we can for each other, and we do it because we’re teachers and this is what we do. We build, we connect, we comfort, and we love. We hold each other. We don’t break faith. This is how we keep the lights lit, how we hold the sea back from engulfing us all.

“All right Chuck,” I can almost hear you saying, “but what does this have to do with me?” and I have an answer for you: everything.  If you’re a teacher, you’re working in a community of other teachers, and you’re a leader. If you haven’t recognized this fact yet, now is the time to raise your hand and say yes.  You’ve been called.  And yet, there are many ways to answer this call.

Please take a good long look at this photo that Luke Meddings introduced me to awhile back. While it may look like a stand of trees, it’s not. It’s a community of teachers. Keep this idea in mind as you answer the following questions for yourself:

1. Where in the community of teachers are you at this moment in your life? Are you one of the teachers on the left leading the way, one of the teachers hidden almost anonymously in the middle, or one of the fallen down teachers on the right. Are you happy where you are? If so, great. How could you help others be happier? If not, then what change could you make and who could you reach out to for help?

2. How many places in this community have you occupied at different times in your teaching career? Which place has been most and least comfortable for you? How could you help others in the community see that where they are now is not where they have to be? How could you help those who feel stuck where they are see the options they have? How could you help the lost get back on track?

3. Where in the community of teachers would you like to be in the future? Who in the community could help you reach this place? In what ways could you reach out to them for help? What could you offer in return? Who could you collaborate with and on what? Who’s doing a project that you’d like to be involved in? What would it cost you to reach out and take the one step you need to take to get one step closer to where you want to be?  What’s stopping you from doing this?

4. Who do you know who’s fallen down, gotten lost in the middle, or is out there on the left over-exposed, over-their-head, and in need of assistance? How could you help these people? What skills could you offer them? How could you lend a hand or shine a light? What comfort could you bring?

The ways I’ve seen the teachers I work with in the communities I am a part of answer these questions are the miracles I’ve witnessed, worked, and received. They are the miracles of community that happen when we embrace our connectedness, accept each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and work together in the all the ways we’ve been called to work together.  We’re all capable of working these miracles.  We’re also all worthy of being the recipient of them.  It’s not just about helping others. It’s also about allowing others to help us. This give and take is what keeps us all from becoming paralyzed in place like a stand of trees.

This is how leadership works in communities. It is what we are called to do and be. We are teachers working in community. We are leaders called to serve. This is why we must raise our hand and say yes. Everything depends on this. As James Baldwin writes “one must say ‘yes’ …for nothing is fixed, forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have. The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.


Connect with Chuck and other iTDi Associates, Mentors, and Faculty by joining iTDi Community. Sign Up For A Free iTDi Account to create your profile and get immediate access to our social forums and trial lessons from our English For Teachers and Teacher Development courses.

Like what we do? Become an iTDi Patron.
Your support makes a difference.

More Leadership

What do we mean when we talk about leadership in education and elsewhere?
In this issue Chuck Sandy, Bita Rezaei, and Alexandra Chistyakova continue the conversation
with three very personal perspectives, a lot of good advice, and a call to action.


Bita Rezaei
Bita Rezaei
Alexandra Chistyakova
Alexandra Chistyakova
Chuck Sandy
Chuck Sandy


Connect with Bita, Alexandra, Chuck and other iTDi Associates, Mentors, and Faculty by joining iTDi Community. Sign Up For A Free iTDi Account to create your profile and get immediate access to our social forums and trial lessons from our English For Teachers and Teacher Development courses.

Like what we do? Become an iTDi Patron.
Your support makes a difference.

The Leadership Issue – Juan

Juan Alberto Lopez Uribe

Affective and Effective Leading Practices & Postures – Juan Alberto Lopez Uribe


“Management is doing things right;

leadership is doing the right things.” 

–   Peter Drucker

 The theme of leadership has always fascinated me and as my school grew, I felt the need to get educated about it. I went back to school and took an MBA in order to tackle those situations I just did not have a clue of how to handle, not to say that I know now. As a curious school director and as the good student that I am, I read extensively, researched, and even visited places that are known for their high creativity, engagement, and morale.

I would like to share here practices that my sister Sosô and I have learned and that have been both affective and effective in our leading of the language school for children we direct in São Paulo, Brazil. Feel free to steal all the ones that you feel might work for you and your school!


Give people the rules of the game: make sure you know what the values of your school are and make them explicit in your words and actions. Explain what you understand by each one of them, as people have different interpretations. At school we chose respect, trust, commitment, transparency, and coherence as our organizational pillars. We base all of our decisions including hiring, promoting, investing, and firing on our values. Whenever in doubt, we ask ourselves if they fulfill them.


Selecting the right people: as it obvious it might seem, a very important rule in having a well-rounded organization is inviting the right people to join it. Once you know your values, you know what to look for in candidates. I personally believe that affective and effective teachers and staff show signs that they are curious, flexible, patient, humble, committed and compassionate. If possible, be with these people as much as you can to feel them before hiring them. Make your pre-service training course part of your selection process. Remember that more than an explicit content, people implicitly teach who they are.

Sharing our story:
 when new educators join school we present them how our school grew from our very first student to where we are now. We share how we have faced and overcome challenges, how we incurred and solved mistakes, and mainly how our collective committed work has created something truly unique and remarkable. This is not only a way of modeling and teaching our values and culture, but it is also how we welcome and make new teachers feel they belong. I also make sure to end this ritual by telling them that I expect them to leave their very own mark in the school’s history.


Have angels at your school: another leading practice we live is to assign angels, who are more experienced teachers, to help newcomers during the first month at school. Angels help and model how to select material, plan lessons, and teach classes. We guide angels also model teaching, observe classes, and give feedback in a very supportive and encouraging way in order to promote the success of new teachers. I can still remember how important it was for me to have an angel helping me back 20 years when I first started. Happy to still be in touch with her and to have visited her last month in Scotland!


Give educators time:  one courageous change we did at school was to hire teachers for fixed periods of time and in these allocate time for planning, classes, individual and group meetings, sharing, communication with students’ parents, and mainly reflection. Financially it wasn’t the best decision as profits declined, but the resulting quality and engagement has really paid off. Now we are better teachers and have more students.


Have individual and group goals: going after goals allows us to have different perspectives, get out of our comfort zone, and truly progress. Goals can range from being concerned about student talking time, how instructions are given, to getting better communication with parents. The important thing is to have clear goals and have indicators that will let everybody know that it has been achieved. Goal disconnect the automatic pilot, which is not only alienating, but also makes teacher lose their presence and pleasure in their being with learners.


Focus on results, not on schedule: our focus is on students’ learning and on the educator’s active and creative group participation. We certainly expect teachers to be on time for their classes and to come to their individual and group meetings, but besides that, we do not care if they actually prepare theira classes at their homes or if they use the time we allotted for planning to swim and they plan some other time later. We even have a nap room for staff to recharge their batteries after lunch or at any time during the day. I particularly love to model this last one.


Making decisions together: we have learned that listening, thinking, and deciding together brings sustainability to decisions, as people have been acknowledged and their opinions valued. Asking teachers if they would like to continue teaching certain groups, whether we should wear an uniform everyday, and how events should happen are some examples of collective decisions that have brought an enhanced sense of ownership. During our square talks, we bring an agenda with the issues we people would like to discuss, we assign a timekeeper, and a note taker. We certainly have experienced moments in which people disagreed and our collective thinking and creativity allowed us reach novel solutions we had never thought of!


Talk about the truth and apologize when you mess up: schools are the places where we learn about learning, teaching, and leading. And making mistakes always happens when one is learning, more than that, these mistakes are necessary for learning to happen. When mistakes happen at school, we openly talk about them, highlighting what our intentions were, how we felt, and how we perceive the results of our actions as leaders. We apologize when we mess up and make sure people’s opinions and feelings are acknowledged and taken into account. This open posture signals that it is acceptable and expected of teachers to disclose that sometimes do not know how to do something or that they did something they were not supposed to. The paradox is that when there is trust, people can show themselves vulnerable. As a result, the relationship gets stronger.


Share how you see individual and group development: I will always remember when a very dear teacher told me that the biggest present she had ever received from a school was a thorough evaluation of her work. When you generously evaluate, you show you care. More than that, you acknowledge the person’s unique initiatives, the challenges he/she has overcome, and the different paths that can be taken in the future. Writing a report of somebody’s work is also a big mirror of how one as a leader has supported and been involved in the work of a teacher. When it comes to the collective, giving group members the overall view of how the group has evolved is a powerful motivator, as it shows and values that every single individual effort was responsible for something much bigger.


Remember and celebrate: I dare to say that leading a school can be seen as climbing a mountain that never ends. Having both individual and collective  moments in which one can stop, have some tea, and admire the view of all that has been achieved and conquered is essential to make sense of the purpose and process of the shared journey. Make sure to remember the contributions, the hurdles, and feelings that were lived. Then think of fun and memorable ways to party this success!


I hope that these affective and effective leading postures and practices can help you in the search of your leadership style. Leading is an art, and there isn’t a tight way to do it. Find your unique style and share it with the world!

Feel free to write me, make comments and suggestions. I’d love to hear from you!




Connect with Juan and other iTDi Associates, Mentors, and Faculty by joining iTDi Community. Sign Up For A Free iTDi Account to create your profile and get immediate access to our social forums and trial lessons from our English For Teachers and Teacher Development courses.

Like what we do? Become an iTDi Patron.
Your support makes a difference.