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How to develop teacher leadership in your school

By Team ISTE 7/20/2015

Emily Davis was a no-limits kind of middle school Spanish teacher. She held the title “teacher” — not “superintendent” or “principal” — but that didn’t stop her from affecting education policy at the nation’s highest levels.

Davis, who’s from St. Augustine, Florida, is just wrapping up a two-year fellowship as a teaching ambassador at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C. The focus of her job is developing teacher leaders, a trend that is sweeping across the country and fully embraced by President Barack Obama.                     

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, speaking enthusiastically about the national Teach to Lead program, says it well: “Change has to come from teachers who own it and lead it.” 

Great news! Except, how do we go about getting there? Where do we find these leaders? How do we train them?  

It’s a topic that’s covered in the current issue of entrsekt, ISTE’s quarterly magazine, where educators discuss the trending topic of teacher leadership. 

Questions for teachers and leaders

 Davis suggests that we start by asking these critical questions:  

  • What are the small and important victories of everyday teacher leadership?
  • What and how can we improve the teaching profession by creating and leveraging a network of teacher leaders?
  • What are the biggest needs or concerns you are seeing, hearing or experiencing within your local site?
  • What outcomes do you (realistically) expect from addressing these needs? 
  • What steps do you need to take? What information do you need?
  • Who are your allies locally? What resources can you draw upon? Have you developed an asset map for your site?
  • What are the victories and successes that aren’t widely acknowledged but that can be grown and further cultivated?

Once you’re clear on your direction, there are some more point to keep in mind:

Get in where you fit in. Leadership looks different for every teacher. There is no one single definition.

Be in the know. True leaders know all about their communities and what’s best for their kids.

Tell stories. Leading is about having a voice and sharing the great work teachers do in classrooms every day. When teachers share, they lift and strengthen the profession.

Tips for recruiting teacher leaders

Karen Richardson of Richmond, Virginia, is an education consultant who teaches education leadership courses. She advises universities to embed leadership skills into all teachers’ educations, so they never feel that their leadership is limited by their titles. She coaches the next generation of administrators to never forget to empower teachers when they reach those positions of leadership.   

Candice McQueen, Tennessee’s commissioner of education, began her career as a teacher. She said part of Tennessee’s big education gains have happened as a result of the recruitment of teacher leaders all over the state.

She has these tips for administrators recruiting teachers:

  • Reach out and encourage teachers to lead.
  • Look for people who are eager and willing to put in the time required.
  • Ask teachers to nominate themselves for leadership tasks.
  • Identify teachers with a passion for teaching. 
  • Watch for candidates who love to learn.
  • Select teachers with a collaborative, adaptive leadership style.
  • Choose people others will listen to.
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