Putting a Team Together: Teacher Leaders Building Educational Capacity

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We kind of have a joke on the second floor of our school. Specifically, the east wing of the second floor where the two of us teach. If there is a teacher classroom in this area, give us some time and we will empower the teacher who occupies that space to become a teacher-leader. It’s just a matter of time before they are involved in a committee or leading a professional development session. Inspired by Danielson’s writings on teacher leadership, we believe in the importance of growing the capacity within our building by supporting and empowering teachers to become teacher leaders.

 How do we do this? It is not as hard as one might think. Teachers, by their nature, are both inquisitive and collaborative. Most are hoping for an invitation, seeking out someone who will listen, or  needing someone to push them into that leadership role. When teachers know that their opinion matters, and it is not just smoke and mirrors, they will pretty much take on any task to help improve student learning. That is our second floor. We seek out teachers and invite them to participate in committees. We ask their advice. We share lessons. We compare what works. We push them to be their best. By knowing our coworkers, we know who is good at technology, who is good at grouping, who is good at annotating and text coding, and the list goes on. By interacting with our coworkers and learning their strengths, we push them in the direction where they excel.

 This is where Helen Timperley’s three criteria for developing teacher leaders comes into play. Between class, hallway conversations can either be opportunities for complaint or they can be problem solving chats that morph into opportunities for student improvement. When we recognize something that our students need the next question becomes, “what do we faculty members need to support that?” Once we can identify and pursue that it naturally leads to a positive, solution based plan for student improvement. Sometimes these conversations have been as simple as sharing or searching for a book that addresses a teaching practice. Other times our chats have sparked larger initiatives for example a student leadership summit planned and facilitated by faculty. Either way, by focusing teacher leaders on the importance of building professional capacity in order to increase student success, we have created a movement of continuous improvement all around us.

  As we worked with our administration to form the school improvement plan, we knew who to go to for developing vision, leading learning, and organizing learning because we could already see those qualities in the people around us. Asking them to participate on the SIP team gave them a voice and the support they needed to truly become teacher leaders by not only growing their own practice but also extending what they were learning to others in the building. This empowerment works to build the capacity of our faculty by creating a practice of constant growth and of course that energy transfers to the students as well.

 Tips for recognizing and growing teacher leaders:

  • Teacher leaders go beyond integrating best practices by sharing them with their peers.

  • Teacher leaders are invested in “growing capacity” by supporting colleagues in continuous improvement

  • Teacher Leaders drive their own professional development, taking the initiative to go above and beyond school sponsored professional development

  • Teacher leaders connect with other educators in and outside of their schools

    • Teacher mentors

    • Social media and blogging

    • Conferences participating & presenting

  • Teacher leaders are able to solve problems while considering the lens of all stakeholders

  • Teacher leaders work to create cultures of trust within their schools

  • Teacher leaders seek feedback from stakeholders within their school communities

Ideas for School Leaders

  • Create professional learning communities based on

    • shared students

    • shared content

    • shared professional goals

  • Get to know the people around you

    • break silos and support collaboration

    • visit each each other’s classrooms

    • share and support each other’s personal goals

  • Honor talents

    • free online tests like Myers Briggs and 16 Personalities can initiate conversations about individual strengths, preferences, and comfort levels

    • just like students, teacher motivation goes up when they have a voice and choice in how they get involved

  • Empower teachers to take leadership roles

    • no one likes to be micro managed or second guessed; instead, create avenues for accountability that support and grow leaders

    • keep positive lines of communication open and constant in order to catch new ideas and build relationships

  • Create cultures of trust for all stakeholders

    • trust creates safety and support for teachers willing to get out of their comfort zones and take risk