Classroom leadership can take one of many forms. Here we will look at several different leadership styles. The purpose is not to determine which is best but rather to suggest when it might be better to use one over another. Looking at these leadership styles may help teachers see what their preferred or natural leadership style is.
Tannenbaum and Schimdt
In the 1950s, researchers by the name of Tannenbaum and Schmidt created what they called a continuum of leadership styles. For them, leadership was a combination of one of the three below.
- autocratic-Leader centered dictatorial style
- participative-Workers are involved and consulted about decision-making
- free-rein-Work is assigned, and the workers determine how to complete it
The three examples above are a part of a continuum that means that a leader can be somewhere between these categories in what could be considered a gray area.
In the classroom, depending on the context, any of these styles of leadership may be appropriate. Younger students may need more of an autocratic leadership style, while it may be appropriate to have more of a participative style of leadership for students such as high school. A free rein may also be right at times, such as with advanced or highly mature students.
Theory X and Y
Another older model of leadership is Theory X and Theory Y by Mcgregor. According to this theory, a theory X leader thinks that the average worker, or in our case, student, dislikes work and does not have the self-control to get things done. Therefore, the leader must maintain a high degree of control. Theory Y leaders believe the opposite that people motivate and desire self-control. Thus, theory Y leaders allow more participation and autonomy for their workers.
The context should dictate the leadership style. However, most leaders and perhaps teachers often support Theory X when dealing with students. Self-motivation and discipline are rare traits to find in many students today. Another concern is that participative leadership is a slow process, as anyone who has lived in a democracy may be familiar with. There are specific time constraints in teaching that make it difficult to allow for the democratic process to play out in the classroom, even with willing and cooperative students.
Directive/Permissive Leadership Style
The final model in this post is the Directive/Permissive Leadership style. This style involves four types of leadership, as explained below.
- Directive Autocrat-High control in decision making and directing people. Applicable when there is little time for discussion, such as during a crisis or emergency. Also useful when the expertise of the followers is low.
- Permissive autocrat-High control of decision-making but low power in directing the people. The leader makes the decision, but the workers decide how to get it done. Similar to the free rein style.
- Directive democrat-Decision making involves participation, but the leader highly controls the execution. Useful when the followers have valuable expertise or opinions to strengthen decision making, but strong leadership is needed to make it happen.
- Permissive democrat-Decision making involves participation, and followers are allowed the freedom to determine how to implement the decisions.
Moving to the classroom again, each of the styles has a place as determined by the context. The maturity of the students plays a vital role in trying to decide which type to choose. As maturity increases, participation in decision-making and execution should be able to increase as well. As responsibility is placed on the students, it lessons the management of the teacher of the classroom. As such, looking for ways to switch to a more democratic leadership style empowers students and lowers the burden on the teacher. However, the students must be ready for the freedom unless chaos erupts, and this requires the teacher to switch styles as the students mature gradually.
There is no such thing as the “best” leadership style. A classroom leader must be able to adjust to whatever situation they are facing. At times, freedom is appropriate, but there is also a time when even a dictator is needed to maintain stability. In general, the less directing a teacher has to do, the less of a burden on them and also on the students who may have to suffer at times from a lack of autonomy that they may desire.