Friday, January 1, 2016

The Magic of Teacher Leadership

At the end of 2014, I wrote five pledges for 2015 which I've already taken a moment to review, except for one. I reserved #3, teacher leadership, for this separate post. 

3. I will continue to push for teacher leadership models in our school structures.

Teacher leadership is a hot topic right now in the circles I inhabit, particularly those at the national level. At every conference I attend, in many twitter chats, and in blogs I read, teacher leadership is repeatedly invoked. "Teachers leading" is a catchy hashtag that inspires almost everyone. ASCD lists Ten Roles for Teacher Leaders, edublogger Jose Vilson has provided a list of  Do's and Don't's of Transformative Teacher Leadership, and the National Network of State Teachers of the Year has created an entire framework of standards for teacher leadership. This is not a passing fad.

Yet I'm going to dig in a little against formalized teacher leadership. I have experienced a form of teacher leadership in my role as literacy coach and have been afforded opportunities to lead both within and outside my district, and I have seen the pitfalls. Like a magic show, teacher leadership can be delightful and illuminating -- or it can be an awkward and embarrassing experience for everyone. Finding the right role and appropriate support is crucial to making the show fly.

Informal teacher leadership exists just like a group project in school: one or two people always do all the work. Certain teachers lead committees, initiatives, departments, union work, and even sunshine activities. Others do nothing. There's really no need to comment on that.

Formalized teacher leadership, however, is a little like the rainbow unicorn. It feels good. It sounds great. Teachers who feel confined to a box and wish to bust out of it, in particular, strive for a form of this magic. Teachers who want change but don't want to become an administrator look to teacher leadership roles as a way to diversify their careers.
Teacher leadership sounds like the answer to the problems of confinement and repression. Most everyone says they want to implement it, but it exists successfully only under very specific circumstances, which must include, at minimum, the following:
1) a specific structure which has been created in part by teachers in the district;

2) roles strictly defined and adhered to (no sneaking administrative work in);

3) administrative support for the role which is evident and unquestioned;

4) no additional pay or benefits, either real or perceived, unless specifically designed and sanctioned during the process of #1.

Should these conditions be ignored, teacher leaders may find themselves back in their classrooms, doors shut, and happy to get the target off their backs. There is a crabs-in-the-bucket mentality in some school cultures: one crab tries to climb out of the bucket and the rest pull him back down. The resentment and negativity engendered by many factors in a district can hinder attempts to create the positive, lift-everyone approach essential for teacher leadership to thrive.  

I am for teacher leadership. I agree with ASCD, NNSTOY, and Jose Vilson, especially in this blog post which makes mention of what I've covered above. I believe that teachers should be able to carve openings out of the boxes we live in, so that we may make the best use of all our  expertise and interests. Given the right planning, administration, and school culture, teacher leadership can be fruitful and satisfying for everyone: not just a magic show, but real transformation.


  1. Good topic snd an important one

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. The third comment was just a repeat of the second comment...deleted it, now it looks like something scandalous...and now this is happening.