I’ve been thinking recently about the role of the teacher leader. With recent cutbacks in educational funding, some districts are seeking out leadership among the teachers in their schools and districts. As a proponent of creating school cultures that tap into the knowledge, skills, and passion of our educators, I think, “Hooray.” But at the same time I have concerns about how to productively tap into teacher leaders. Here’s what I’ve been thinking:
- If we choose to foster teacher leadership, we have to be careful to view all teachers as leaders. If we fail to do so, we may damage the school culture by creating an inner and outer circle within the staff.
- It’s not always about serving on a committee. Finding where teachers’ knowledge, skills, and passions lie, is best accomplished by building relationships and through conversation. Simply asking the question may provide insight into possible areas for teacher leadership.
- Budgeting for teacher leaders to engage as leaders is something that can give teacher leadership wings. Simply setting aside money for books, release time, and materials make learning among teachers far easier.
- We have to be sensitive to the fact that many young teachers have young families and may be willing to engage as a leader for a short period of time, rather than on a consistent basis.
- Teacher leadership thrives when it is fostered by the school leader. By thinking of the staff as a resource in its own right, changes the tone of a school and opens up possibilities that may not have been considered in the past. That said, the school leader also must channel teacher leadership in a positive direction so that it doesn’t become a vehicle for teachers to take the school off course.
Here are some ideas for creating teacher leaders:
- When tackling challenges related to instruction, ask teachers to share ways they are going about resolving their issues. An example of this is a teacher I know who is struggling with teaching spelling. Rather than looking for resources in isolation, she has reached out to other teachers who are having this problem (which there are many) to see what they are doing and share strategies. This is teacher leadership.
- Encourage teachers to open up their classrooms to one another for informal observations. By taking this step, teachers can move beyond their four walls (or even their grade level) to broaden their view about teaching and learning. All teachers can be encouraged to participate, as all teachers have something to offer their colleagues. This is teacher leadership.
- Ask teachers to share books or favorite quotes from their professional reading during staff meetings or collaboration times. This sets a tone of scholarly inquiry and allows teachers to inspire one another. This is teacher leadership.
- Teachers aren’t always comfortable facilitating adult learning. But with a few strategies and protocols, they can take the lead on small group learning sessions. This is teacher leadership.
Roland Barth has argued that we should create school communities that regularly share craft knowledge. He writes, “Once the exchange of craft knowledge becomes institutionally sanctioned, educators no longer feel pretentious or in violation of a taboo by sharing their insights. A new taboo—against withholding what we know—replaces the old. Repeated practice soon embeds generous disclosure of craft knowledge into the culture of a school or school system.
This is teacher leadership
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