This post is a part of the ASCD Forum conversation “how to cultivate and support teacher leaders?” To learn more about the ASCD Forum, go to http://edge.ascd.org/page/ascd-forum.html
How many educators have “fallen” into a teacher-leadership role without intention? As a high school social studies instructor, I continually strived to refine my skills both the art and science of teaching. In my ninth year, I was encouraged to apply for a grant-funded position that would take me not only out of my classroom, but also out of my comfort zone. However, I also knew that I would regret passing up this opportunity for personal and professional growth.
During my five years as a Curriculum and Instructional Technology Coach, my growth was exponential. My most pivotal insights involved learning how to best move the district towards achieving its mission and vision through ongoing, job-embedded, collaborative, and supported professional development.
It is my hope that what I have learned can serve not only as a guide for other teacher-leaders, but for all educational stakeholders interested in building a climate and culture dedicated to staff development and student achievement.
1. Be a life-long learner: Model continuous learning alongside peers.
- Learning can be engaging, enthusiastically contagious, and invigorating. Experiencing that “AHA!” moment-of-realization continues to be remarkable, even in adulthood. Teacher-leaders share the joy of this adventure with peers, engage curiosity, and spark momentum for knowledge-seeking. Similarly, they also recognize that everyone has valuable contributions that add to the collective learning of a group, and thus, encourage the facilitation of learning over the “sage on the stage” mentality.
2. Be a contributor: Build a Personalized Learning Network.
- Connecting with other dedicated educators opens doors for the permeation of new concepts, astute advice, and best practices. Teacher-leaders exchange ideas with their network, then share these perspectives with peers in the district to help direct next course of action. Better yet, teacher-leaders invite interested peers to join their online network (see #5 below). These additional viewpoints can help direct the movement of initiatives forward or provide guidance when the path needs to be altered.
3. Be a canvasser: Seek input and multiple perspectives when introducing, modifying, or deepening initiatives.
- Valuing the opinions of others, even those who disagree, builds character, collegiality, and a positive climate in which learning and growth can flourish. Teacher-leaders suspend judgment, actively listening to and incorporating the ideas, concerns, and solutions of others.
4. Be an advocate: Create a communication bridge between administrators and teachers.
- Uniting stakeholders helps reinforce our common goal to provide a valuable, meaningful educational experience for our students. Oftentimes, our own vision is limited by the constraints of our daily schedule, the pressures of external forces, and the determined focus on accomplishing our own tasks. Teacher-leaders weave connections between administrators and teachers to address the “whats, hows, and whys” to create a deeper understanding between both groups.
5. Be a capacity-builder: Stand next to colleagues as they integrate their new learning into practice – and reflect with them afterward.
- Offering to co-teach with teachers integrating a new practice can alleviate feelings of uncertainty, promote confidence, and lead to fun, engaging collaboration. Teacher-leaders spend time with colleagues reflecting on the effectiveness of lessons in relation to student learning, focusing what went well, and addressing what could be improved. In addition to building capacity among staff, this interaction shows students that teachers work collectively to provide the most effective instruction in order to meet their varied needs.
“Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.” ― W.B. Yeats