There is no other way than to ‘Lead by Example’

The hallmark to lead our new generation of students in right direction is to strongly demonstrate what precisely we expect them to do. Students get energised and motivated to do more when they see teachers amply demonstrating qualities, in words and in action, which they really wanted students to develop. This is especially highly applicable when it comes to our ‘first generation learner’. After all students tend to do what they see!

In a quite unassuming experiment, my colleague decided to carry 2-3 books in his hand to the classroom. He would not talk about these books with the class, neither use them as a reference. The idea was just to make students notice that he is carrying books. Every time he would enter the class, he would be with the same books which he would keep on the table and start teaching. He kept on doing the same thing for a period of time till a day when a group of students approached him and asked what are these books he carries every time. This was the moment my colleague was waiting for. He got elated and explained about the books to students who approached him. Students got excited, enthused and took a look at the books, touched them and turned few pages. Look and behold, these students also reported to have got these books issued from library. After a month’s time, my colleague told me that these students read the book and came back to him to say that it was a great experience and they learnt a lot from these books. What a turnaround – from a non-reader and non-serious reader to a serious reader of books. Indeed, we are in people’s business and people do what they see!

Students do not read is a very common complaint of faculty all across. I started asking this question to faculty whenever I met them – so, what are you reading these days? To my utter surprise, the ratio of faculty who were able to answer it positively and with a firm example of what they are currently reading, were terribly low. Does it surprise us that the students are also not reading? Contagious as it is, if a teacher does not have a reading habit and can cross reference from several books, I wonder with what authority one can tell students that reading is important!

Same goes with teaching team-work, leadership, ethics and for that matter any competency that we as a teacher would like our students to develop. Teaching is a reflection of our soul. We teach who we are and not who we pretend to be. Any unethical conduct noticed by students in a teacher would deter them from being ‘open to learning’ from this teacher. Similarly, if teachers do not demonstrate high integrity and respect for colleague and work in team, one should also not expect that they will be able to pass on these traits to students.

Challenges faced by the ‘first generation learner’  

First generation learners are those whose parents did not reach up to college education. Most of them have not even completed school education. We do not have any accurate estimation available for first generation learner entering higher education. However, based on my own estimation and observation over a period of time, it looks like that roughly one-third of the new generation entering higher education is ‘first generation learner.’ The bar graph below presents an estimate of tier-wise distribution of students with a total sample of 4534 students over 5-years between 2016 and 2020. The sample belongs to students enrolled in post graduate program in management course. More than 90 percent of students seem to be coming from non-metro cities and roughly about 30-40 percent of them are ‘first generation learner’. About 30 percent students are coming from Tier 3 cities and semi-urban set up. It is really a heartening news for higher education especially for professional degree such as management.

These large chunk of wonderful youngsters do not have precedence to follow as far as learning practices are concerned. Learning habits, quite often than not, is imbibed from others. It is infectious. When parents and elders at home are seen with books in hands and devoting time to informed discussion, it scarcely can happen that the child would not tend to do the same. Unfortunately, the first generation learners did not have the opportunity of witnessing such examples at home. This poses constraints on some vital habits such as reading, debating, making comprehensive notes, reflecting, etc.

In a dissertation submitted at Azim Premji University (Garima and Varun 2015) it has been pointed out that the challenges faced by first generation learners can be attributed to their socio-cultural backgrounds. The study also pointed out that the two broad influencing factors with respect to students’ challenges have been parental support and teacher intervention. A better teacher intervention and exposure to several co-curricular activities help lessen the challenges faced by students. In yet another study (Longwell-Grice R, et. al 2016) it has been reported that the first generation learners’ biggest cultural transition lied in bringing in their graduate-student identity home. Their passion for learning and discussion about issues unwarrantedly distanced them from family members. This is really a very sad aspect as it was their family who encouraged them to go for higher education. In this scenario, institution and faculty have to act as a saviour of their identity and allow them space to talk and discuss as much as they would like to do.

Institution of higher learning as a second home to students

Learning institutions must provide a second home to them and yet another opportunity to witness examples to get inspired with. Teachers need to play a crucial role in this endeavour. They are the beacon light in the life of a student. They need to produce examples in all small and big respect for the students to see and follow.

A mere attitude for setting examples is not sufficient, it should get translated into real action and demonstration of efforts. The sequence of actions must tread the following path:

  1. I do it, you see me doing
  2. I do it, you do it with me
  3. You do it, I am with you
  4. You just do it of your own
  5. You do it, taken others with you

Learning is a verb, it is not a noun. Action is an integral ingredient of learning. It is only through hard and laboured involvement that we can pave way for demonstrating sufficient learning habits for our students to imbibe and built upon. Not all students are on the same level. We need to devise different keys to open different locks. Transformation is a journey and not a destination. One single approach is not going to work with all. However, what we practice and demonstrate as a teacher, is something which will for sure touch our students somewhere and ignite the necessary transformation. It is worth taking the pain, after all we are in the business of transforming life and career of our students!


Author: Dr Prabhat Pankaj

Dr. Prabhat Pankaj is a postgraduate in Economics and a Ph.D. in applied economics. He is a teacher by choice and started his career 30 years ago in 1991 from Arunachal University. He has been teaching Economics at postgraduate and undergraduate levels for about 30 years, in Universities and B-Schools in India and abroad, including 7 years in Bhutan. Dr. Pankaj has also obtained his Executive Education in "Management and Leadership in Higher Education" at Harvard University, Boston, USA. Furthermore, He has written for the Times of India and other popular publications. Currently, he is serving as the Director of Jaipuria Institute of Management, Jaipur.

6 thoughts

  1. “Leaders are readers. Readers are leaders.” It is a truism, a factoid and a roadmap for building leadership skills. Moreover, leaders should be mindful that their stakeholders watch, experience and evaluate them every moment. Leaders live in a glass house. It is a challenge and opportunity, both.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with the fact that we lead by example! As a parent, I have done a similar experiment with the kids and they are now the Readers! This is true and we need to demonstrate high integrity and respect for colleagues and work in a team. Wonderful knowledge shared. Thank you, Dr. Prabhat.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have been a strong votary of setting self example. All of us truly learn and get inspiration from such examples set by our elders, teachers, leaders and parents. A shloka from Bhagavad Gita is dedicated for this only-
    Yad yad acharati shreshtha, tad devetaro jana, sa yat pramanam kurute kurute, lokasta danuvartate.
    A teacher may not be able to demonstrate hands on skills of a profession, but it’s about how you are, how you behave and how face up to situations. This article aptly reminds teachers to be a leader, team member, learner, reader, risk taker, proactive etc if one wants these traits to be developed by students. When he appreciates, encourages, loves, be honest, students observe this, and when there turn comes, they will do it. Thanks for this article.

    Liked by 1 person

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