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Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Place for Teacher Leaders

As a veteran teacher of 29-years, I want to remain a classroom teacher, but I also want to have some say over the work I do each day.

The United States Department of Education supports this movement towards empowering teachers as leaders. This is a movement that supports the notion that moving up does not mean moving out of the classroom. The effort, in part, has been created to keep highly qualified teachers in positions with direct service to children.

As I think about this role of teacher leadership, I recognize that it will play out in many ways dependent on teacher skill and passion as well as organization culture and need. Some "teacher leaders" will become coaches and mentors while others may spend more time with innovation and deep practice. Some will do both.

To develop teacher leadership in organizations there will need to be explicit efforts in that regard. Where I teach there are already many structures already in place that support teacher leadership including Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), support for professional learning within and outside the organization, and research/planning committee work.

I am thinking about the ways that we can deepen and develop this work to develop greater leadership and voice for all within the teaching/learning organization.

For starters, I think the following actions will help.

Develop Leadership Skills
Educators need to develop their own leadership skills through reading, reflection, study, and share. Where are your leadership skills strong, and where do you need to continue to develop those skills? When I think of leadership, I use a broad definition which encompasses the leadership responsibilities we all have in our positions as classroom teachers, assistants, coaches, parents, and more.

Support and Develop Effective Collaboration
Continue the evolution of collaboration efforts. PLCs have moved us forward in this regard since we have structured time and focus for student-centered collaboration. This is good. We can continue to deepen our work in this regard by including assistants and specialists in the efforts regularly. Greater efforts related to goal setting, assessment, research, development, and effective decision making processes will further our work in this regard.

Employ Effective, Consistent, Transparent Communication Patterns
Communication streams continue to be an area of change and development too. How are teachers' voices consistently integrated into teaching/learning decisions in your organization? How is information that affects teaching/learning decisions transparently and systematically shared with all members of the teaching/learning community? Optimal information share is critical to developing the good work possible in organizations.

Empower Educators
How are all educators empowered in your organization? In addition to communication, how are the goals and direction of the organization continually shared, and how are personnel coached forward in positive, proactive ways? Like any successful team, educators profit from direct, uplifting coaching and goals with regard to serving children well.

Explicit Role Definition
Sometimes negativity and conjecture arises when educators do not understand each others' roles. For example, today in the news I saw a colleague highlighted for very important education/community work. I never thought of that colleague's role as including that work. That shed a whole new light on the colleague's impact and efforts. It also made me realize why that colleague is not available for other work, work I actually had counted on the colleague for.

Similarly a friend of mine who is an expert at books told me a story the other day about an educator who is less of an expert at books. I reminded my friend that she's got fantastic experience in that area and should be recognized, utilized, and compensated for that knowledge. Not all educators have the time or inclination that she has when it comes to knowing children's books with depth and care.

The more we understand each others' roles and goals, the better we'll be able to synthesize our efforts to best meet the organizational goals related to teaching every child well.  None of us have the time or ability to be all things in an organization, and that's why good role definition and delineation plus collaboration help us all to teach children well.

Observation and Respect
As educators we can sometimes feel overwhelmed when the expectations are excessive and we don't have voice or structures for collaboration. However, when the demands become reasonable, voices welcome, and effective collaboration structures are put in place, we then have the time to look around, observe, and see how the organization's pieces fit together to teach children well. Though respect is always the most important quality, it's much easier to be respectful when the appropriate supports and expectations are in place.

As educators' jobs take on conditions for excellence, then more educators will be able to use their voices in ways that lead schools and organizations forward in ways that matter.

Teacher leadership follows the call for autonomy, purpose, and mastery highlighted in Pink's book, Drive. I would add to that list collaboration because it is the work we do together that matters most when it comes to serving children well.