Harnessing the Power of Teacher Leaders

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By David Aderhold, Rebecca McLelland-Crawley, and Barry Saide

Harnessing the Power of Teacher LeadersTeacher leadership develops within educators who are grounded in a continuous state of professional improvement to meet the needs of students. These teacher leaders flourish in environments that are supported by administrative teams who acknowledge teachers as partners in achieving goals. To support student learning, districts can develop cohorts of teacher leaders by

  • Increasing shared leadership roles while also promoting work-life balance.
  • Encouraging teacher voice and choice for professional development.
  • Ensuring teachers have a seat at the table when new initiatives are being considered.
  • Supporting teachers who wish to pursue National Board certification, microcredentialing, and other voluntarily endorsements beyond basic licensure.
  • Providing opportunities for peer visitations within and outside of district classrooms.
  • Hosting edcamps or other professional development conferences and encouraging teachers to present at them.
  • Providing opportunities for teachers to lead alongside administrators at PTO/PTA, BOE, and other stakeholder meetings.

The Teacher Leader Model Standards exist to provide a framework for teacher leadership, not to define potential roles for teacher leaders. The standards describe the qualities of leadership as opposed to providing a checklist to identify leaders who embody all of the characteristics. One teacher leader might be significantly stronger in an area than another teacher leader. The standards can help provide context and a starting point for budding teacher leaders and school districts.

The effectiveness of teacher leaders is often reflective of the vision and model an organization employs. Regardless of titles and roles, when teacher leaders share a common vision with administration, they can shape and shift the culture of their schools in ways that many administrators cannot. The five profiles in the chart below reflect just a few of the many ways teacher leaders can do this.

Saide Teacher Leaders Inside Post Image

Teacher leaders provide guidance to their fellow teacher leaders to help one other learn and grow. The advantage of such guidance is that it comes purely from a place of support, free from the judgment of an evaluative eye. The growth goal aimed toward improved student learning is evident in improved teacher practice. Aligned with administrators as instructional leaders, a formidable team of influencers emerge, modeling best practice instructional models to peers.

The role and scope of a teacher leader is influenced by the limits and vision of the position. Teacher leaders can fill a variety of roles, whether formal or informal, to support a district’s vision for student learning and teacher development. These roles include but are not limited to the following:

  • Curriculum specialist
  • Resource specialist
  • Mentor
  • Coach (instructional, professional development, data analysis, etc.)
  • Student champion
  • PLC leader
  • Change agent
  • Pedagogical technician

Teacher leaders are experts in their craft and can be identified by their influence on the system. They support their school community in numerous ways, from serving on professional development and planning committees to mentoring new teachers to spending summers writing curriculum or reviewing assessments.

At the end of the day, teacher leadership is a mindset, not a role assigned by an administrator. Leaders possess a passion for teaching and learning that is infectious to those around them. There is no greater influence on sustained instructional gains for students than to have a staff committed to a singular vision. When such a vision is created, it must be nurtured. The teaching profession demands continuous, focused commitment to improving one’s craft. Teachers of all levels of experience must be supported in their growth. There is no better way to shift and support instructional practice than to develop a cadre of caring and committed teacher leaders.

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David Aderhold is the superintendent of schools for the West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District and adjunct professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rider University. Connect with him on Twitter @david_aderhold.

Rebecca McLelland-Crawley is a National Board–certified teacher from New Jersey. She is the gifted and talented facilitator at Community Middle School in the West Winsdsor-Plainsboro Regional School District. Connect with McLelland-Crawley on Twitter @Bec_Chirps.

Barry Saide is a 2nd grade teacher in Bernards Township, N.J. He is an ASCD Emerging Leader, an NJASCD executive board member, and a member of the Teacher Advisory Council for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Connect with Saide on his website, barrysaide.weebly.com, or on Twitter @barrykid1.