Monday, April 20, 2015

Teacher Leadership & Blooming Where You Are Planted

The past few days I've had the opportunity to dialogue with members of my PLN in a few different places about the role of teacher leaders, the inherent value of teacher leaders, and some of the struggles that go along with teacher leadership. This post is a bit of synthesis of those conversations.

Defining teacher leadership...
One of the things that I feel is both a strength, and a weakness (for lack of a better word) of teacher leadership, are the unique and flexible roles that teacher leaders can play. In some cases there are formalized positions in a school or a district, including, but not limited to committee or department chairs, instructional coaches or teachers on special assignment. Then you have the much more informal roles that can evolve, and vary, depending largely on the interest and passion of the individual teacher, and the needs of their students. These more informal roles seem to develop more organically out of the day-to-day work, and interactions of classroom teachers. Having great diversity can make it difficult to adequately define teacher leadership, and yet the implications of both forms of teacher leadership on the larger system, seems pretty clear.

Formal Teacher Leaders...
Formal teacher leaders are accomplished and respected educators. They have content and instructional expertise. Formal teacher leaders play critical roles as instructional coaches, peer coaches, facilitators of professional learning, and curriculum coordinators. Their impact on teacher practice and student learning are quantifiable. These individuals often promote evidence-based instructional practices to increase teacher expertise, student achievement and advance education reform. At their core they support student learning and teacher practice.

Informal Teacher Leaders...
Informal leaders are also accomplished and respected educators. They engage in professional learning and share it with their colleagues. Informal teacher leaders are risk takers and innovators. They conduct action research and facilitate study groups. They lead from the classroom, but much like their formal counterparts, they are looking to improve instructional practices, and positively impact and support student learning.

We Need Formal and Informal Teacher Leaders...
A couple of days ago I was discussing this same topic in some detail with Ashley Hurley. She provided some great insight. Our conversation really impressed upon me the need for both formal and informal teacher leaders, and the conclusion that one is not any more, or less important than the other. It comes down to recognizing your true purpose or mission, and that regardless of your position that you "bloom where you are planted."  This resonated with me particularly strongly, because I often find myself trying to justify my desire to lead from the classroom, rather than making the jump to a more formal teacher leader role, or to administration. As a side note, Jeff Zoul, also blogged on this topic recently (you can read it here), and it really struck a chord. What I think it comes down to is this, one calling is no more noble than the other, but that we each have a unique role that we can play, and a unique impact on the educational system as a whole. We need to appreciate those who take on the formal roles and encourage and empower others to take on the informal roles. Leaders are all around us.

Share Your Experiences!
I would like to invite you to share your experiences and thinking in the comments below. I'm very curious about how teacher leaders perceive themselves, their roles, and their impact. I would also like to hear how district and school administrators have embraced and promoted teacher leadership in different ways. There is so much we can learn from one another!

Looking to Learn More About Teacher Leadership?
There have been numerous articles and blog posts written on teacher leadership, what it can look like and potential impact. Here are some links to a few that I have found to be particularly helpful and/or interesting, not an exhaustive list by any stretch, but a place to start if you're interested.

      The Teacher as Leaders issue of Educational Leadership magazine by ASCD
      What Does the Research Tell Us About Teacher Leadership
      Three Do's and Don'ts of Transformative Teacher Leadership
      Teach to Lead: Advancing Teacher Leadership
      Teacher Leader Model Standards


  1. I serve as my district's instructional coach (preK-12). My district created this role a little over a year ago. As we were striving to meet the needs of our students, it was clear that we needed a push toward differentiation. As a former gifted specialist (and our district not having pull-out gifted programming), it fell to me to work alongside our district teachers in creating tiered activities, higher-level thinking questions for tasks, and outside-the-box thinking in our approach to the curriculum. I see myself as an "encourager"...not administering change, not pushing change, but supporting change. I also serve as my district's RE Year 2 mentor (I have 13 of them this year) and this provides opportunities to lead and support these teachers, sharing my 26 years of teaching experience (in 6 different districts) with them. It's different every day...someone needs something, wants to meet about something, is looking for ideas, etc. I love my job!

    1. Dawn, thank you for sharing your experience! Would love if you would give a listen to this episode on BackchannelEDU as it relates to the implementation and experiences of instructional coaches ( Do you have any tips for would be instructional coaches?

  2. Our schools teacher leadership has translated into turn keying during faculty meetings. For example teachers who attended a teachers college workshop presented their copious notes and learning to the staff. Teachers who attended a universal design learning conference also presented domain specific strategies to the staff. Turn keying is a start in the direction of teacher leadership, IMO, though it really could be much more than that alone.

    1. Dina, I appreciate you sharing your experiences. I agree with you - I think that having educators sharing their professional learning is a starting point. We have to get creative about how we go about doing this.

  3. Hi Christina-

    As a school administrator, the first and most challenging hurdle to promoting teacher leadership is the old fashioned "us vs. them" mentality that some adults have in our schools. Teachers that work closely with administration and/or support or are supported by administration sometimes can become black listed as "moles". I think what all teachers want is more autonomy in the classroom and trust in their professional decision making. Deep down we are all teacher leaders and in my opinion, if we as administrators put more trust in our teachers to do what they are trained and passionate about doing, then teachers will demonstrate their own leadership skills by nature. Of course, I only have theory to base this thought on as I have not yet been able to attempt to put my theory to use ;-)

    1. Peter, I appreciate you taking the time to reflect and comment! I love what you say about "teachers demonstrating their own leadership skills by nature," and I agree. I think that it tends to happen organically when the conditions exist for it to do so. So how can we encourage those conditions from our current positions (me as teacher, and you as an assistant principal)? Is there a way for us to put your theory into practice?