Great Teachers and Great Leaders

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Wardie Sanders taught history at Hartsville High School for years. Her class in traditional Thanksgiving dinner etiquette caught the eye of the New York Times. She was the kind of teacher that students remember decades later. People live life differently because of her. Teachers and leaders have a lot in common.

One of the great blessings of my life was that I was able to attend the Bronx High School of Science. “Science” is one of the world’s great high schools. Seven Science graduates have won the Nobel Prize. I was there during what I’m convinced was the Golden Age of New York City public education.

I had some incredible teachers at Science. Each one, like each leader, was unique. Here are three of them with the leadership lessons I draw from each.

Dr. Baden always had a twinkle in his eye. You always knew what he wanted. I can still recall his standards for recitation: “Precise, concise and eloquent.”

The Dr. Baden Rule: You will do better at teaching and leadership if you set clear and memorable expectations.

Mr. Karpf was a great teacher, in part because he was theatrical. Index cards were his tools. During class, they would appear from pockets and desk drawers, from a sock, and from behind curtains, always with a flourish. But content and learning were never sacrificed to theater.

The Mr. Karpf Rule: You will do better at teaching and leadership if you understand that a little bit of theater helps get the message across.

Mr. Hoffman did not sparkle, but he did love literature. In his first-year English class, we read and discussed a different book every week. The only exceptions were two weeks each for Moby Dick and David Copperfield.

The Mr. Hoffman Rule: You will do better at teaching and leadership if you challenge people to achieve the great things that you know they’re capable of.

Leadership lessons don’t just come from teachers or other leaders. Use what you learn from all kinds of people to do what you do better. Always be alert for ways to improve.

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