Sara Milne Rowe, Leadership Coach

What my students taught me about great leadership

Sara Milne Rowe learned three important things from her students when working as a teacher in London, that she now uses as a Leadership Coach. 

I have always considered the 12 years I spent as a teacher working in challenging comprehensives in London my unofficial MBA in leadership. Most of it spent working out how to lead myself and then honing that so I could better motivate my students to learn and achieve more than they thought possible. Along the way I learnt many things but one enquiry that has remained with me for decades and sits at the heart of the work I now do with leaders is what I learnt from students in detention.

Detention was meant to be a period of silence, but I decided to use it instead as a time for discussion about something that was increasingly intriguing me.

Regularly a handful of students from my tutor group would be on report. Students were usually placed ‘on report’ when their behaviour was considered to be inconsistent and a cause for concern and each teacher would write a comment on how they had behaved in their lesson. Part of my job as their tutor was to look at my students’ report cards at the end of the day – to see how they’d done.

What I found intriguing was how the same student in the same day could bring the worst of themselves to one lesson and yet the best of themselves to the very next lesson. Also, the same few teachers seemed to be getting the best out of them. What were those teachers doing? How were they leading the class to get such different results?

This question became e focus of my ‘discursive detentions’: ‘What do these teachers do to make you want to turn up and learn? Over the course of a year of ‘detentions’ – 3 key ingredients stood out. 3 ingredients that still appear to stand out when I witness examples of motivating leadership or hear them described by others in their organisation. They are as relevant in the classroom as they are in the Boardroom.

The three things these young people told me about the teachers they chose to work for were as follows:

  1. They had a contagious passion for their subject, which inspired the students to want to learn.
  2. Their lessons were energizing, dynamic, enticingly unpredictable and most importantly relevant.
  3. Students felt seen. Understood. Teachers connected to them. They made them feel significant, safe enough to learn and were consistent in their approach.

Through the leadership of these teachers, students, who could be hugely disruptive, were able to choose a different mood, commit to learning & achieve a very different level of performance.

So, thank you to the many disruptive students I met during my time in education – I am forever grateful for your honesty and insights, as are many of my clients!

Sara Milne Rowe

Sara Milne Rowe

Sara Milne Rowe is one of the UK’s leading Performance Coaches, working with CEOs, senior leaders and teams, often in high challenge situations so they can stay strong, keep learning and deliver their best.

She nudges her clients to deliberately choose, use and adapt high-performance practices so they can maximise their own performance and be better for others.

Sara founded her award-winning company, Coaching Impact, in 2008 and works with a variety of organisations Including Creative & Media, Financial, Pharmaceutical, Legal and Education. She supports female entrprepreneurs, fast track start-ups, not for profit organisations throughout the UK and across the world. Before that she was a leader in two challenging inner-city schools.

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