Head in the sand or stick your neck out? Those are often the choices that we, as teachers, face when offered leadership opportunities. Teacher Leadership is an integral part of leading and learning in our schools and classrooms. We often underestimate the power of influence that we possess as individuals, schools and larger groups when dealing with students, families, communities, school systems and educational policy. So, if you are ready to stick your neck out, what next steps should you consider?
- Determine an area of need. What is an area of improvement that needs to be addressed? It is essential when choosing to take on a challenge that you understand it and the implications fully.
- Assess yourself. Do you have the time and energy to devote to making these changes? There is nothing more detrimental to your perception as a teacher leader than unfinished business. It is okay to say “No, I’m not ready to tackle this right now.” It does not mean that you are any less passionate about your ideas or concerns; it is simply a way to confirm that you appreciate the seriousness of the issue enough to realize that it deserves your dedication and attention.
- Gather information and resources. We are trained to collect and analyze data to inform instructional decisions and planning in our classrooms. Tackling issues within our schools and communities is no different. If you are concerned about staff morale, have survey data that clearly states these issues. If you are looking at trying to implement new instructional strategies in reading, gather research about your school’s current programs and the programs that interest you. Know the in’s and out’s of your areas of concern, as well as the data and research to support your solutions.
- Make a plan. If you attempt to address an area of concern without a solution in mind, you are just complaining. You will not be viewed as a teacher leader; instead, you will be seen as a pot-stirrer. The majority of building, district, and state level administrators are much more receptive to “agents of change” who have a well-developed idea of how to create this change. Know your data, construct a plan specific to your needs, and organize it.
- Stick your neck out. This is the hard part. Choose to be heard. Make an appointment with your principal, curriculum supervisor, or district superintendent. Know the channels for addressing issues and respectfully follow them. Most importantly, do not give up. Yet remember, while it is necessary to express your concerns, research, and ideas, it is equally essential to listen. The change you want to see will need scaffolded buy-in, and forming positive, cooperative relationships that stay focused on the ultimate goal will go a long way in fostering this.
If you are questioning your own role as a teacher leader, I would ask a single question back to you. Do you want to be? The most effective leaders emerge at times when leadership is needed. Be that leader and don’t stick your head in the sand.For more resources on teacher leadership, check out…
- Awakening the Sleeping Giant by Marilyn Katzenmeyer and Gayle Moller*
- Connecting Teacher Leadership and School Improvement by Dr. Joseph Murphy
- VCU’s Center for Teacher Leadership
- Leadership for Learning (the Cambridge Network)
* I was blessed to spend the weekend with the North Carolina Teacher Academy talking teacher leadership with Gayle Moller. She is inspiring! Thank you for your time, energy and enthusiasm! Awakening a Sleeping Giant is going to be in hand for many weeks to come.