I haven’t thought of myself as a “teacher leader” over the years. Although reflecting back now, I guess I was by today’s definition. In the schools where I’ve taught, everyone had a role and responsibility. Committees with representatives from each grade level met on a regular basis. The team leader was also a representative. Although, he/she was ultimately accountable for getting things done, it was the team that collaboratively made plans and decisions. The responsibility of being the team leader has always been rotated around to different team members. There’s been no fanfare, no clout, no extra recognition. All of the current talk about “teacher leaders” is a little foreign to me. I think it’s just my old mindset that in order to be a leader, you need a title. Read this enlightening post by Eric Scheninger "A Title Doesn't Make You A Leader" if you too have thought that leadership is synonymous with a title.
When I started teaching, I volunteered a lot. If there was a need for something, especially if my principal asked, I volunteered. To me, it wasn’t about leadership, it was about doing something to make our school better and to help out the kids. If I saw something that our school was missing, I volunteered to do it, start it, be in charge of it, or help with it. For example, being a lover of the Arts, I recognized that our kids didn’t have many opportunities. I started a drama club and worked with another teacher to produce a school musical. I also saw a need for a student council and the need for more opportunities for our gifted kids. Another teacher took leadership of the student council as a whole, and I supervised the kids in charge of school communications. I also created an extra enrichment class that focused on learning debating skills and creativity. In each school, I did the same types of things. I saw a need and did something about it. Honestly, people thought that I was crazy to volunteer so many hours. What they didn’t understand was that it was my “play time”! I LOVED it! I would never expect other teachers to do the same especially with how full our plates are now. I don't even do those same things anymore.
My point in telling the story is that teachers don’t have to be the most politically active, outgoing, charismatic people to be school leaders. I’m certainly not. I’ve been in the spotlight because of the musical programs and other things that I’ve done. But those that know me best know that I’m not a person comfortable in the spotlight. I’m all about helping and providing opportunities for kids. Sometimes that’s meant teaching kids, sometimes that’s meant supporting parents, and sometimes it’s meant helping my colleagues.
Being a teacher leader to me is about building relationships with your colleagues, sharing resources, being helpful, and offering a listening ear. It could be a special title or position but not necessarily. I’ve mentored more teachers informally than I have formally. I’ve taught a lot of professional development, but mostly in the form of helping a small group of teachers. I’ve worked with my principal many times, but more often it’s been about just providing information. I still volunteer (or volunteer my kiddos) to help whenever we can. It teaches the kids service at the same time as making our school a better place.
Mostly people look to me as a teacher leader because of my example. (I try to be a good one.) I’m learning! I read books, articles, and blogs. I do what I can when I can and share my learning. I realize that not everyone is in a situation where they can do all of the reading that I’m doing. I try new things! I share my mistakes, my tweaks, and sometimes really great success stories. It doesn’t take more time and effort. It’s really about doing whatever you can to make the learning for students better.
Do you volunteer? Do you help colleagues? Are you learning? Do you share ideas and resources? Do you take the time to listen and build relationships with students, parents, teachers, and support staff members? Is your school a better place because of your efforts? If you do ANY of those things, I hate to break it to you, but you are a teacher leader in my book! It's really a matter of mindset. And with being a teacher LEADER comes a little more responsibility.
There can be challenges when you lead out and try new things. There might be times when others will accuse you of "trying to make other teachers look bad". But, if you remain positive and think of what's best for the kids, you will be able to make a difference. Making a difference- that's what leaders do. You are a teacher leader. What difference will you make in your school? How can you use your talents, gifts, and abilities to improve the learning for kids? Have an idea? Talk to your principal and lead up!