Teacher Leadership Doesn’t “Just Happen”
Feb 23, 2014
Often in education one of the hot topics is the importance of teacher leadership. As the Principal in an extremely rural PreK-12 school, I am the only administrator on campus, and the only one within at least a 30-minute drive of my schools. Is teacher leadership important on my campus? I would say ‘important’ would be an understatement; CRUCIAL is what teacher leadership is to the success of our school. So if teacher leadership is important, how do you make it happen? This is not something that ‘just happens’ overnight or if you ‘will it’ too. Building teacher leaders and cultivating a culture of teacher leadership takes work.
Here are some of my core beliefs about building teacher leadership:
1) Not ALL Teachers are Leaders & That’s OK!
This is very important to understand. Sometimes we want to mold people (including our students) into things they aren’t. The opportunity to lead should be genuinely presented to our teachers, however, not all of them will be up for the task. Some of our really good teachers aren’t leaders, that doesn’t make them less amazing as a classroom teacher, that just means they aren’t a ‘teacher-leader.’ It’s important to know the difference between teachers who may be “reluctant leaders” and teachers who are content following teacher leaders. Knowing and appreciating the importance of having both is an important trait of a good administrator.
2) Ask A Lot…But Give A Lot in Return
I ask my teachers to do A LOT of leading. For example, last week, we had a teacher professional development day and my teachers, alone, executed it flawlessly. They shared best practices and did hands on activities. We even went to the Chemistry lab, suited up in lab coats and safety glasses and did a science experiment. How did this happen? All I had to do was ask. Roughly 1/3 of my staff led some type of activity throughout the day. I participated in the training with the staff, and guess what, I LEARNED A LOT! I feel like all of us did!
Things like this are now part of the culture of our school…. three years into my tenor at my school. (I will not sugarcoat it and say it’s been like this from the beginning; it hasn’t.) Another part of our culture involves me ‘giving’ to my teachers. The greatest gift I can give teachers is time. I work extremely hard to give my teachers extra planning times, limit interruptions to instructional time, let teachers leave early on days when they need to, and covering teachers’ duties virtually anytime they ask. Honestly, I center a huge portion of my leadership on trusting teachers’ professionalism.
3) Reluctant Leaders may be your Best
“Most People See Leadership as a Position and therefore don’t see themselves as leaders.” –Stephen R. Covey
I often hear teachers say taking a leadership role in school is a way of ‘bragging’ or somehow saying you are better than the other staff members. This reminds me of what we deal with in our schools everyday. (Jealousy/Ridiculousness!) As an administrator I have to be persistent in reminding teachers that they have a ‘genius’ that needs to be shared with the staff and ultimately they are doing what’s best for our students by being a leader in our school. Sometimes I have found by asking a teacher to show me something one on one or in a small group, they become more confident, thus more willing to share in a whole group setting. I have yet to have a teacher take a leadership role where I supported them and helped them grow into this position when they didn’t excel.
4) Commit to Building Leaders
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams
Let’s face it; sometimes it’s not easy getting people to lead. Teachers are no different when it comes to this. There have been times in the past I have gotten anxious and thought, “I’ll just do this myself, it’d be faster, easier, and I know I’ll do a good job.” If you get that feeling, the question you have to ask yourself is this, “Would it be as effective if I did it myself?” I always go back to this; leading in isolation is not effective; even for the best leaders. At the very least great teacher leaders will be the ones who get through to the teachers you can’t. (We all have those.) As my High School Geometry teacher always told me, “The sum is equal to the whole of its parts.” I’m just ‘one part of the whole’ at our school. I rely on my teacher leaders bring all of our parts together to equal our sum.
Don’t get discouraged; don’t allow your need for control to keep you from building other leaders in your buildings.
There are many other ways to build teacher leadership in our schools; these are just some of the things that have been successful for us. I am proud to say I am in a school where the culture is supportive of teacher leadership; if you don’t have this culture in your school, take the time and work with your staff to develop it. It has really improved our school and made me proud to be a leader who shares leadership responsibility.