How School Leaders Can Empower Every Teacher to Be a Leader on Campus
Imagine a school in which every classroom you enter, you’ll find curious, joyful students engaged in meaningful learning, and teachers who are responsive to the needs of all learners. All teachers are instructional and cultural leaders of their own classrooms, and students are safe and cared for in their classrooms. Sounds pretty great, right? Now imagine the same school, with the same high levels of rigor, engagement, and psychological safety, with the added element of teacher leadership that extends beyond the walls of individual classrooms. While this may seem like a subtle change, the potential impact is tremendous. In order to provide an excellent education for all students, we must develop excellent schools, not just strong individual classrooms. And in order to achieve this ambitious and important goal, school leaders must view and support all teachers to serve as true leaders within their school communities.
In addition to the overarching goal of an excellent education for all students, there are many reasons why a focus on teacher leadership is an extremely beneficial endeavor for school leaders to embark upon. In this blog post, we will explore some of the many benefits from committing to developing teachers as leaders, and concrete strategies for doing so.
Benefits to developing all teachers as leaders:
Improved teacher retention. In his blog post, Recruit and Retain the Best Teachers by Tapping into Teacher Agency, my colleague Chris Summers writes, “Teacher agency is about building the capacity of teachers to purposefully and constructively act in a way that allows them to grow professionally while also contributing to the growth and improvement of colleagues and the district as a whole.” Knowing the challenge posed by retaining good teachers in schools across the country and seizing solutions that can positively impact teachers’ decisions to stay is something all leaders can agree is time well spent.
Everyone is a problem-solver. When teachers have the knowledge, mindset, and skills to tackle tough problems head-on, many challenges with students, parents, or colleagues that often are handed off to administrators will be more likely to be solved effectively by those directly involved with the actual problems.
Building bench depth. We are often looking for solutions to keep our best teachers in the classroom, however sometimes shifts from classroom teachers to formal leadership positions make sense. A focus on key leadership skills for teachers throughout their career supports the creation of a talent pipeline at your school, with more teachers ready to make those role changes if/when the right time arises.
Increased trust and transparency. When people know that they are viewed as leaders, they act like leaders. Bringing teachers into conversations and teaching skills that are often reserved for those in official administrative roles increases genuine collaboration and builds trust between those in the classroom full-time and those who are managing them.
Deeper Dive: Check out our Innovative Leadership Development Guide to learn more about the traits of innovative Teacher Leaders and other leadership roles.
Strategies for developing all teachers as leaders:
Conduct a school leader mindset check-in. Ask yourself and your leadership team, “Do we believe our teachers are leaders? How do we provide teachers opportunities to lead? How can we expand their impact as leaders on our campus? What does it mean to be a leader on our campus?” Holding this genuine belief that all teachers can and should be leaders within your school is essential to an earnest effort for making this a focus.
Get input from teachers. Provide opportunities for teachers to give insight into whether or not they feel valued or known as leaders, and hear their ideas for how to make this response a resounding “Yes.” Utilize surveys, focus groups, or set up one-on-one check-ins to give all teachers an opportunity to be heard.
Find out every teacher’s superpower. Identify the various strengths of all teachers, and find opportunities for others to learn from them. This might include peer observations for a particular teaching skill, highlighting teachers’ strengths or reflections captured via video or shared live in staff or team meetings, writing about a feature teacher and their strengths in a staff newsletter, and providing time for teachers to choose a topic of their own expertise to share with colleagues.
Explicit learning time focused on teacher leadership competencies. Include time in ongoing development opportunities for teachers to build knowledge, practice, and reflect on their own proficiency with the Innovative Teacher Leader Competencies. Consider adding articles, videos, case studies, scenarios, and discussion topics pertaining to these competencies to an upcoming meeting, PD, PLC, or other learning opportunity.
Train the trainers. Start with a smaller group of teachers who hold more formal leadership roles such as grade level or department leads, and intentionally develop their Innovative Teacher Leader Competencies. Provide them the time and support to turn around their own learning experiences to create similar learning opportunities for the team of teachers they guide.
Foster a shared staff mindset that all of our kids are all of our kids. Clearly identify common team norms, goals, and values, as well as expectations for living these. Utilize team building, key messaging, and consistent connections to a shared purpose to invest all staff in these ideals. If you expect members of your leadership team to have tough conversations when team norms are broken, expect teachers do the same with one another, and provide them the tools to do so. If you expect all leaders to redirect off-task students in the hallway or support a struggling colleague with a tough group of kids, expect all teachers to do the same.
A shared purpose and a true belief that all teachers have a responsibility as leaders within the school must be exuded by administrators and internalized by teachers in order to create the excellent schools – not just great classrooms – that our students need and deserve. Start developing all teachers as leaders today!
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About Maggie Hodge
Maggie Hodge is a Senior Design Principal on the Design and Implementation Team. After working as a student teacher in college, she began her career in education as a Pre-K and Kindergarten teacher in New Orleans public schools. In addition to her role as a teacher, Maggie has served as an RTI chair, grade level leader, school leader, and district level leader in traditional public schools and charter schools in San Francisco, New Orleans, and Austin. Maggie holds an M.Ed in Administration and Supervision, and pursues educational equity by focusing on school leader development, instructional coaching best practices, new teacher development, and innovative classroom design. In her spare time Maggie can be found in the yoga or spin studio, paddle boarding, or spending time with loved ones and her dog, Gizmo.