Why Teacher Leaders Matter

“Developing the leadership potential of teachers empowers them to better support student learning, encourages them to stay in the profession, and makes it possible for principals to be more effective.”-Judy Seltz, ASCD Executive Director

How many principals and superintendents have you had in your present position?  I’ve been teaching in the elementary setting for twenty-two years. During this time I’ve had numerous superintendents and principals.   I’ve been in my current district for fourteen years where we’ve had, I believe, four superintendents and about to go to number five. We’ve also had four principals, and we’re going to number five next year.  You can’t blame someone leaving for career opportunities, but that kind of turnover is what prompted this post.

When I think of a teacher leader I’m not envisioning someone who has the ultimate goal of being an administrator or leaving the classroom for an education job outside of the classroom. Rather, I’m envisioning the teacher who is innovative, current with best practices, a risk taker, and one that provides stability when administrators leave. What’s better than a teacher leader?  Simple, a whole school of teacher leaders.

So how do we go about cultivating teacher leaders?  That’s where the real challenge lies. How can you be a leader with a full plate of teaching responsibilities and a busy home life?   I think the key is to not look at it as one more responsibility, but rather an extension of what were already doing. Here are a few quotes I’ve found that will help us think about how to get teachers thinking of themselves as leaders.

“You don’t have to be a district superintendent or building administrator to be a leader within your school community.”-Justin Zatt in ASCD

This is a great quote, but so hard for many of us to believe.  A tittle doesn’t make the leader. It’s what we do and how we treat others that makes us leaders. 

“Teacher leaders take risks within their classroom and aren’t afraid that they don’t know something.”-Anne Cunningham-Morris, ASCD’s Director of Professional Learning

This is so true about many of the teachers I work with, and what I wish more teachers would embrace.  Fear of failure or not always knowing the outcome, or the answer prevents many teachers from realizing their potential.  We must emulate what we want our own students to do.  It’s hard to say you don’t know, but isn’t that where the real learning begins?  This is what moves a building forward, especially when there is a change in administrative leadership.

“If more educators felt supported in thinking, stepping and even jumping outside of the box, real change would begin”-Carol Hunter, ASCD blogger

This piece is key.  Teacher leaders must feel valued, and that when we do venture out and take a risk, we won’t be reprimanded or ridiculed for taking that risk. It must go beyond an email of support. We need to know that our administrator will truly be present as we experience successes and setbacks. Come into our classrooms not to only evaluate, but to see what it is we’re trying to do. Don’t just stop in one day during a unit, but consider a course of days to really see how it unfolds. Then, either leave feedback or arrange a time to discuss what you observed. True teacher leaders value your feedback and won’t mind you popping into their classroom. We see you as a partner. 

Each teacher has the potential to be a leader. But just like our students, this potential must be cultivated and supported. By growing a building of teacher leaders, change in administration won’t cause a disruption in building morale, building growth, and most importantly, student learning. 

For more about being a leader, view the video, Teacher Leaders. Then think about your answer to the following question. Are you ready to be a teacher leader and support others in becoming one as well?

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