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