Sunday, November 2, 2014

Effective Teacher Leadership

I am enrolled as a participant in the CNY Leadership Development Program (CNYLDP) which is a joint effort of Le Moyne College, OCM BOCES and participating school districts. The aim of the program is to develop effective teacher leaders. Throughout the program we reflect on what it means to lead, and how we lead. We engage in action research in our districts, and we share our experiences with our colleagues from neighboring districts. Undoubtedly these experiences have improved my professional practice. Yet, I continue to wrestle with what it means to be an effective teacher leader. I wonder if our systems are set up for effective teacher leadership, and whether or not the requisite culture is in fact in place in our schools, and districts to take advantage of teacher leaders.

I've read a ton on the topic of teacher leadership. I've poured over the Teacher Leader Model Standards, had discussions with teachers and administrators and those outside education, I've read countless articles, and what I've learned is that there is a lot to overcome if we are indeed to make the most of teacher leaders, and their various roles.

1) Formal v.s. Informal Teacher Leaders
You have the formal or designated ones, the department chairs, and the instructional coaches for example. Then you have the informal, organic teacher leaders, the ones that just develop naturally in schools and districts. The folks who are often looking to innovate their practice, that are willing to share their journey as they improve their instruction, and facilitate student engagement. These are not mutually exclusive of course, indeed many of the informal teacher leaders often go on to have more formal roles in the future. Whether formal, or informal, the value of teacher leaders lies in their ability to work alongside their colleagues. From what I have observed, the moment a teacher leader is perceived as being "above their colleagues," their overall effectiveness decreases. Teacher leaders must be in the trenches. They are able to lead their colleagues effectively because they bring their own challenges and experiences to the table, they champion learning, and they engage others in very real and authentic ways.

2) Professional Communities  & Culture
For teacher leadership to be truly effective, our organizations need to work to create a professional community, and move away from more hierarchal models. This is no easy task, as it requires active participation and interdependence, genuine concern for all parties, authentic and meaningful relationships and breaking down walls. We need to create an environment in which the expertise of many is honored, celebrated, shared. Leadership must be distributed amongst the faculty.  We all benefit from empowering and encouraging others to acknowledge opportunities to lead.

3) Time
There are many obstacles to effective teacher leadership, but perhaps the one that we hear time and again, is just that - time. There just never seems to be enough of it. We feel pulled in many different directions, important work vying for our attention. It is a constant juggling act. If we are going to improve our overall effectiveness we must address the issue of time. Looking at other high performing countries can shed some light on this issue. See "How High Achieving Countries Develop Great Teachers."

Please share your take on teacher leadership, how we can capitalize on it, and improve it.

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