Becoming a Teacher and a Leader In Today's Classroom

Teachers as leaders as teachers as leaders

By Howard Pitler

We know from research that a building administrator’s impact on student achievement is significant. A 2011 report from the Wallace Foundation found there was an empirical link between school leadership and improved student achievement. Yes, building leadership matters. A good building administrator sets the environment and the expectations for learning for all. When I started my career as a teacher last century, there was a clear division between the principal and the teacher. The principal made the rules and the teacher colored between the lines.

In today’s schools, every person involved in the education of our next generation is a leader, either intentionally or unintentionally. We lead by modeling the behavior we would like to see in the best of others. We lead by looking at a situation we find less than ideal and working to improve it. Leadership is not just a title. And yet, many teachers feel as though they are merely cogs in a machine over which they have no control.

Schools today are more complex than ever before. Expectations are higher and competition between schools – public and private – is ever increasing. The leadership and responsibility for student learning must be a collaborative effort between all educators. Just like everyone in the classroom is at times a learner and at times a teacher, every adult in a school is at times a leader and at times a follower.

What are some attributes of a teacher leader?

A teacher leader is a true expert in the classroom. You may not have all the answers, but you know more about your students, know their data better and understand them as individuals better than anyone else. Experts are always striving to improve ­– be it an Olympic athlete, a pro basketball player or a master teacher. A teacher leader is always looking to improve not only their personal pedagogy, but also the pedagogy of those they work with.

Teacher leaders are always positive and solutions oriented. While it might be tempting to sit in the teachers’ lounge and join in the conversation about how bad things have become, a leader doesn’t dwell on the negative but instead is looking for possible solutions. Blaming and complaining doesn’t move the conversation forward.

A teacher leader will rise above the fray. With every change in leadership, a new principal, new superintendent, or newly elected school board or governor, new initiatives are bound to appear. When new problems loom on the horizon a true leader looks for solutions rather than focus on negatives. The newly adopted teacher evaluation model is flawed becomes what are the positives of the model? The new adopted school calendar provides too few days for professional development becomes how can we use existing time more efficiently to make up for the loss of a PD day? A teacher leader works to keep everyone focused on what truly matter – the students.

How does someone become a teacher leader?

The Teacher Leadership Exploratory Consortium has identified seven domains of teacher leadership:

Domain I: Fostering a Collaborative Culture to Support Educator Development and Student Learning

Domain II: Accessing and Using Research to Improve Practice and Student Learning

Domain III: Promoting Professional Learning for Continuous Improvement

Domain IV: Facilitating Improvements in Instruction and Student Learning

Domain V: Promoting the Use of Assessments and Data for School and District Improvement

Domain VI: Improving Outreach and Collaboration with Families and Community

Domain VII: Advocating for Student Learning and the Profession

Teachers should look at their own practice and honestly reflect on the extent to which they are fulfilling the functions of each of the teacher leadership domains. For example, in Domain II, accessing and using research to improve practice and student learning, there are four functions:

A.) Assists colleagues in accessing and using research to select appropriate strategies to improve student learning

B.) Facilitates the analysis of student learning data, collaborative interpretation of results, and application of findings to improve teaching and learning

C.) Supports colleagues in collaborating with the higher education institutions and other organizations engaged in researching critical educational issues

D.) Teaches and supports colleagues to collect, analyze, and communicate data from their classrooms to improve teaching and learning.

water-reflectionStart your personal reflection by turning each of these functions into questions. For example, “How do I assist colleagues in accessing and using research. . .?” How can I be more impactful in this area?

Being a good teacher in the classroom is a necessary and important part of the job – necessary but not sufficient. In the increasingly complex and demanding job of education, every teacher should take an active role in improving and pushing the system to improve.

Teachers need to see themselves as teacher leaders rather than merely cogs in a machine in which they have little control. Leaders don’t create followers — they create more leaders. Be a leader!

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