For Educators

The Importance of Self-Awareness as an Academic Leader

August 30, 2019

How consciously do you navigate everyday life? Do you reflect on the impact your words and actions have, or do you fly through the day on autopilot?

As an educator, you’ve adopted a responsibility to act as a role model. This principle extends beyond your students and into every aspect of your career. Here’s why self-awareness matters and how you can cultivate it.

The Importance of Self-Awareness for Educators

Self-awareness allows you to improve your emotional intelligence by consciously monitoring the words you say and the unspoken messages you convey. Self-awareness involves constant evaluation of yourself and your behavior ⁠— you can’t master it in a one-hour seminar. Each time you interact with someone, your self-awareness determines how successfully you communicate your message.

As an educator, self-awareness matters because students respond more positively to an instructor who exudes a warm, approachable and caring demeanor. You might possess the physics acumen of Stephen Hawking — but if your students find you brusque, they’ll hesitate to approach you with questions, which may negatively impact their overall attitude toward school.

Self-awareness matters to those in a position of academic leadership, such as department chairs and administrators. Self-aware professionals reflect actively on why they’ve chosen to accept the responsibilities of such roles and what they hope to accomplish. With this information in mind, they can interact positively with other staff and motivate them to excel as well.

How to Develop Self-Awareness as an Educator

Now that you understand the importance of self-awareness, how can you cultivate this trait in yourself? Again, building your self-awareness is a continuous process, not a one-and-done proposition. Practice the following activities weekly:

Ask other people what impression you make and listen.

When was the last time you asked someone for their honest impression of you? If you’re like many people, the answer might be never. Asking how you come across gives you valuable insight into behaviors you’d do well to adjust. Choose someone you trust, and listen with an open mind.

Harness the power of journaling.

Whenever you make an important decision, such as whether to accept the role of department chair, write down your expectations. Revisit your entry several months later, and evaluate what happened versus what you expected. What went well? How could you do things more effectively in the future?

Practice controlling your emotions.

Before responding negatively in an interaction with a student or colleague, pause and take a few deep breaths. If you find your body language sends a negative message, practice holding your thumbs as a reminder to check your expressions. When another person speaks, nod encouragingly and make eye contact. Lean toward the speaker to indicate interest, and listen objectively. This will help you develop the patience and control you need in your role.

Handle volatile conversations privately.

Part of self-awareness involves following the golden rule. If you wouldn’t enjoy a public reprimand, pass on doing so with students and colleagues. Ask the person in question if you can speak with them privately. Instead of starting with an accusation, begin with a question, such as, “You seem to have trouble focusing today. Is there something going on you’d like to share?” Both students and colleagues might have off days for a variety of personal reasons — and being both empathetic and discreet will take you far personally and professionally.

Be a Better Leader: Be Self-Aware

Self-awareness helps you control the spoken and unspoken messages you convey with every interaction, improving student outcomes and smooth relationships between staff members. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to practice self-awareness — and build a positive, collaborative school environment for everyone.

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