May 27, 2004
John Holt on who the real leaders are in education

Busy doing other stuff today, so a steal from John Holt, from chapter 16 of his book Teach Your Own:

JohnHolt.jpg While teaching fifth grade, I thought often about educational leadership. For a long time, I had no idea what it was. Slowly I began to see that the atmosphere and spirit of my classes were largely determined by the students themselves, above all by two or three who, whatever might be their schoolwork or behaviour, were in fact the real leaders. Of the five fifth grade classes I taught, all of which I liked, the last was much the best – the most interesting and active, the most fun for me, the most valuable for the children. But by all usual standards it should have been one of the worst; only three of the children were really good students, and more than half the class had serious academic and/or emotional problems. What made that class the best was the two children who (without knowing or trying) led it.

One, a black boy, was by far the most brilliant student I have ever taught, and not just school-smart but life-smart, smart in everything. The other, a girl, just as much a leader, was a very poor student, but exceptionally imaginative and artistic, and also smart in the real world. What made these children such a joy to be with, and such a powerful influence on the other children, was not just their obvious alertness, imagination, curiosity, good humour, high spirits, and interest in many things, but their energy, vitality, self-respect, courage and above all, their true independence. They did not need to be bossed, told what to do. Nor were they interested in playing with me, or against me, the old school game of "You Can't Make Me Do It." No doubt they were helped by the fact that I, unlike so many adults, obviously enjoyed and valued those qualities in them that they most valued in themselves. But I did not create these qualities, they brought them to the class. What without these children might have been a miserable year turned out to be the most interesting and exciting year I ever spent in a schoolroom.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:09 PM
Category: The reality of teaching