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This content first appeared on APUEdge.Com.

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenAssociate Dean (Interim), School of Arts, Humanities and Education 

Do you manage the classroom like a boss or leader? In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares the difference between being a boss and a leader. Learn how being a leader can help develop students, drive motivation and inspire students to success.

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Bethanie Hansen: This podcast is for educators, academics and parents, who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun! Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen. And I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.

Welcome to the podcast. This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen your host, and I’m very excited to meet with you today for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. We are on an episode today that will really help you connect to the business world a little bit, which is a stretch for those of us who see through the lens of higher education and education in general. We’re going to talk about what would happen if you handled classroom management in your online class as a boss, or a leader.

Using a “Boss” Approach to Managing the Classroom

These two terms come together quite a bit when we’re managing people in any business setting. The idea of managing your environment like a boss means that you drive your employees, you’re pushing them to achieve the goal. Some people consider that a boss uses employees as resources to meet the demand of whatever the situation requires. Also, a boss may be dictatorial or commanding.

This is kind of like seeing the leadership or the direction coming from the top. It’s a top-down approach. This person who’s the boss is going to tell you what needs to be done by when and it’s your job to step up and comply.

Often a boss depends on their authority for your listening. So, the fact that they have the title and they have the authority in that position means that they’re in charge and it’s just part of your job to listen to them. And then bosses sometimes are known for managing people at the micro level, we call that micromanagement. It means that there might be a lot of follow up and a lot of checking on your work, and really making sure that you get it done.

There is sometimes a sense that a boss might generate fear through this commanding presence. And this demand for results. I might be sounding a little negative here; what I’m saying to portray a boss versus a leader, but the boss is more the manager. In this role, we’re demanding respect. And sometimes people experience this and on the other end, they’re feeling a little bit inferior when they’re led by a boss versus a leader.

So, that image of a boss can sometimes be the way that teachers come across in a classroom. After all, the old model of the lecture up front, giving all of their knowledge to students and filling that vessel that needs to be filled, is sort of like the idea of being a boss.

If we think about our students more as people that come to us with existing information and knowledge that we want to connect to, then we may be less inclined to the boss model. And there’s a lot of ways to connect to what our students already know, who they already are. They’re certainly not completely empty vessels to be filled. That’s not really a helpful analogy for today’s student, or any student for that matter.

But the boss idea is really that we are in charge of that classroom, we’re going to tell students what to do, how to do it, when to turn things in, and how to get an A in this class, or a B or whatever. And we are going to be that ultimate authority. And we’re going to make sure students know it. And we’re going to reinforce that through our communication, through our approach to the deadlines and the grading, and we’re going to kind of use that approach throughout the entire class experience. If you’ve ever had an instructor that taught their class like a boss, then maybe some of this relates for you. Maybe it sounds familiar.

This kind of teaching approach can work for people. I had an elementary school teacher myself who was very much a boss. And in that class, students were assigned 15-minute increments of after-school detention for missing little infractions in their work. So, if you didn’t write your last name, your first and your last name, so if your last name was missing on the paper, you got 15 minutes of detention after school. If you did not finish one of the items on the paper, another 15 minutes, if you were talking when you should not be talking in class. So, each of these things was stacked up and I believe that this teacher hoped that by doing this, she would help us improve our self-discipline and eventually eliminate the problems we were having and be more conscientious and stop getting detention.

I didn’t find that a very healthy approach for me, because for some reason, I often got a lot of detention in that class, I missed a thing here or there. And it was overwhelming to have a teacher who approached that classroom like a boss. So, again, if you’ve had that experience, you can understand the approach. If you haven’t, I want you to just imagine a boss managing a classroom who’s very commanding, authoritative and direction oriented.

Using a Leadership Approach in the Classroom

Now, we’re going to slip to the other side and look at the leader view. Now, if we didn’t just approach it, like a boss or manager, but we took that business leader mindset into the online classroom, what would that look like?

Well, leaders are often described as inspiring and leading employees, or, in this case, students to manage themselves from within, instead of being driven or pushed from the outside, the person might be a little bit ahead of the student or the employee, and be encouraging them to come along. The leader brings others with them. One of the things that a leader loves doing, or tries to do all the time, is develop the employees, help them build their capabilities, increase their capacity, and believe in their own ability to do what is being asked.

So, developing employees and developing students means that the student might come into the classroom thinking, they’re not sure they can do this, they might be filled with a lot of self-doubt, and worry. And through their work with that teacher, as a leader, that teacher is going to help them develop the capacity to persevere, maybe a skill set to get through that subject matter. They might even get a little coaching, through the teaching approach that helps them to know how to prepare for the next test, how to manage their time a little better, and how to chunk things a little bit so they’re not so overwhelming. There’s a lot that a teacher as a leader can do to help those students just like a business leader helps employees to manage themselves and develop.

Another interesting thing a leader does is invite or ask others to do things where the boss might command or direct people, the leader asks and invites. I’ve seen some instructors who have taught their online classes in a very inviting way. They are encouraging, they treat their students like equals, and they just encourage them to try things. And when given that kind of approach, a lot of students respond very well.

They’re willing to take risks, they’re willing to try new things, and get outside their comfort zone, to risk, to learn something new. And we know that psychological safety in the online classroom requires a lot of risk. And we’re going to try discussing things, maybe terms we’re not familiar with. And we’re going to risk looking bad or looking ignorant, but we’ve got to get out there and we’ve got to start discussing it in the discussion, or turning in a paper that we’ve written about it. So, the more we ask and invite our students, from a leader perspective, the more we’re going to get a response.

And a lot of times students are going to begin driving themselves from within, instead of being driven like a boss from outside. Another thing that we have from the leader perspective, is that the leadership of the individual depends on a sense of goodwill with those people they’re working with, where the boss depends on the authority of their role.

I think there have been a few times where I’ve spoken with online students that are talking about other instructors. And the students have said they really loved a certain faculty member because they were inviting, they were kind, they were encouraging, and they treated their students with respect.

In contrary situations, I’ve occasionally heard a student complaint about a faculty member who was less than kind to their students, perhaps overly critical rather than helpful. And, at times, students perceive that as a lack of goodwill, it’s more authority-based and a little less helpful in the students’ viewpoint.

So, when you think about having goodwill between you and your students, that can be a leader trait and much more directional for the student. Another thing a leader would do instead of a boss is earning respect, instead of generating fear. Again, anything we can do within our students to invite them to move forward and be self-motivated is going to be helpful.

Earning their respect means that we are consistent. We treat them with respect. We are in the online classroom regularly when we say we will be, and we let our students know what to expect, like a timeline of when to get grading back, when their questions can be answered, and all sorts of other things. We earn their respect by the way we treat them and the way we behave. We also make people feel valued.

Where business leaders make their employees feel valued, educational leaders make their students feel valued. Perhaps they’ve shared something in a discussion, and we’re referring back to them by name to draw on that expertise that was shared. Or maybe we give a gentle nudge in the new direction, if a student needs correction, because they’re way off base. Whatever it is we’re doing, we’re making that human being feel important and valued, while we’re guiding the ideas. And, lastly, we trust that our students will perform their work well, we expect them to succeed, and we believe that they can.

So, when we give our students trust, and we assume the best intent, the positive intent from our students, just like a business leader, we’re going to get trust in return and our students are going to meet our expectations the best they possibly can.

When we approach it like a boss, instead, we might have a lot of doubt about our students, we might believe that they don’t have good intents or that they want to do the minimum amount or maybe even use unoriginal content in their writing.

Whatever we assume about students will come through in the way we treat them and the way we speak to them. So, if we are going to approach like a business leader, instead of like a boss, we want to trust that the students will perform their jobs well in the classroom, just like a business leader trusts their employees will perform well.

This comparison between a boss and a leader in the world of business, just like in education, is pretty striking. I think I can find more than just a handful of teachers I experienced who were true leaders. Many of them, I left their course and I thought I wanted to be just like them in the future.

Have you ever had that experience where you took a class from someone and you felt like they brought out the good in you, they inspired you, they motivated you? Or in some way, they led you to believe that you could be like them in the future? Or maybe you just wanted to? Some people that I’ve had as educators, I’ve even thought “I want to be connected with that human being the rest of my life.”

I had an elementary school band director named Joe Lynch. He was exactly like that. When he retired, and I was in eighth grade, I just started writing letters to him. And I continued writing letters to him through his entire life until he passed away from lung cancer just a few years ago. It was a very long relationship and it was because this man was a leader, not a boss.

He managed teaching and students like he loved every one of them. He earned our respect every single time he showed up. He invited us to do things. He challenged us to reach beyond our abilities and developed us into better musicians, better students, and better people.

What kind of educator would you like to be? Are there elements of the boss or the leader role that you would like to try out in your online classroom and think about? Maybe there’s something you’re already doing that’s working really well for you? How could you take that a little further and maybe add one of these additional ideas to it?

In the coming weeks, I encourage you to think about what you might try from either of these roles, how it could impact or help your students to gain confidence and to persevere in their learning, and how you might share it with others so they can learn from your experience and also become better educators.

If there’s something you have found useful today in our Online Teaching Lounge podcast, please share the podcast with someone you know. It’s always wonderful to share good resources with other educators, especially folks who are teaching online.

All the people that I know who teach online, welcome new ideas, and perhaps your colleagues will too. Thank you for being here for being an audience member of our online teaching lounge podcast and thank you for the great work you do day in and day out teaching your students online. I wish you all the very best in your online teaching this coming week.

This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best switches this coming week in your online teaching journey.

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