- You can find teacher leaders in every school.
- A teacher leader is allocentric, focused on others.
- Reflection is a key practice of teacher leaders.
- Leaders encourage others and create new leaders.
Teacher leaders exist in every school around the world. Curriculum design teams, school improvement teams, department chairs, committee members, and thought leaders are the engines that drive continuous improvement. Curtis (2013) wrote, “Teacher leadership recognizes the talents of the most effective teachers and deploys them in service of student learning, adult learning and collaboration, and school and system improvement” (p. 4). As schools continue to experience complexity and uncertainty, the importance of teacher leaders will continue to increase. If you have witnessed a successful school, there is no doubt that teacher leaders were leading and developing a culture that embraced continuous learning.When you see a teacher leader, they are investing in other staff members. They see the success of others as a way to contribute to the overall success of learners. Click To Tweet
All teachers are focused on students. A teacher leader is focused on students, families, and co-workers. A teacher leader may celebrate student growth in a colleague’s class as much as growth in his or her own classroom. While some educators may say, “the system is broken,” a teacher leader identifies gaps in the system and makes recommendations for improvement. A teacher leader may serve on a district committee to create a curriculum for all students. Outward-Focused Leadership involves serving, listening, planning, reflecting, and leading. When the focus is on supporting other teachers and staff, a teacher leader is outward-focused.
The art of reflection is a skill that most teachers possess. Reflecting on a lesson or on student performance is a daily practice. “A culture of reflective practice is an organization that embraces reflective growth as the primary driving force behind continuous, lasting improvement (Hall and Simeral, 2015). A principal can only take a school so far. The success of a school is dependent on reflection related to teaching and learning, effective practices, student growth, and systems. Reflective teaching “entails a more systematic approach of assembling and tracking our thoughts and observations as we go. We must also enlist others in this process such as students and colleagues” (Knight, 2018).
Recently, the term “Lead Learner” or “Instructional Leader” has been reserved for principals. This is a common misunderstanding and could be harmful to the profession. While the principal needs to be a leader, a school cannot function with one instructional leader. Teachers must analyze common student misconceptions, student data, instructional strategies, the quality of resources, and the ability for students to transfer key skills and knowledge. The job of instructional leaders “is not to hope that optimal learning will occur, based on our curriculum and initial teaching. The job is to ensure that learning occurs, and when it doesn’t, to intervene in altering the syllabus and instruction decisively, quickly, and often” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2007, p. 55).
As I entered my first year of teaching, I was able to work with two 30-year veterans. My co-workers had already forgotten more about teaching than I could bring to the table. Rather than mocking me or ignoring me, they helped me grow. When you see a teacher leader, they are investing in other staff members. They see the success of others as a way to contribute to the overall success of learners. “Multipliers create collective, viral intelligence in organizations. Other leaders act as Diminishers and deplete the organization of crucial intelligence and capability” (Wiseman & McKeown, 2010). Does your school have more multipliers or diminishers?
Create a Positive Culture
When morale is low and teachers are frustrated, some school staff point to the principal. Comments are shared such as, “If the principal would focus more on culture, things would improve.” The building principal should promote a positive culture and should create a system where all students and staff can thrive. Peterson (2002) wrote, “school culture is the set of norms, values and beliefs, rituals and ceremonies, symbols and stories that make up the ‘persona’ of the school.” In other words, teacher leaders create a positive culture through their norms and the way they interact with one another. A teacher leader is the person in the 4th-grade hallway who says, “that’s the way we do things around here.” When a principal has multiple teacher leaders in the building, it has a positive impact on school culture.[scroll down to keep reading]
Every teacher brings their own strengths and unique skills to a school. As we navigate these difficult times, teacher leaders will continue to influence the success of schools. The impact of one teacher leader is significant, but the impact of several teacher leaders is seismic. Transforming schools has rarely occurred, if ever, due solely to a strong principal. Principals understand that teacher leaders lead change, implement programs, reflect on current practice, multiply leaders, and create a positive culture.
Curtis, R. (2013). Finding a new way: Leveraging teacher leadership to meet unprecedented demands. The Aspen Institute.
Hall, P., and Simeral, A.A. (2015). Teach, reflect, learn: Building your capacity for success in the classroom. ASCD.
Knight, S. (2018). Three reflective practices for effectiveness. ASCD. https://www.ascd.org/blogs/three-reflective-practices-for-effectiveness
Peterson, K. (2002). Positive or negative. National Staff Development Council, 23(3) 10-15. https://www.nesacenter.org/uploaded/conferences/FLC/2014/handouts/Kent_Peterson/KP_JSD_Pos_Neg_Cult_copy.pdf
Wiggins, G., and McTighe, J. (2007). Schooling by design: Mission, Action, and Achievement. ASCD.
Wiseman, L. & McKeown, G. (2010). Multipliers: How leaders make everyone smarter. HarperCollins Publishers.
About Steven Weber
Dr. Steven Weber is the Associate Superintendent for Teaching and Learning with Fayetteville Public Schools (AR). His areas of research include curriculum design, formative assessment, professional learning, and school leadership.