By Alisa Simeral
—Marilyn Katzenmeyer & Gayle Moller, Awakening the Sleeping Giant, (2001)
Despite having roots in education since the 1980s, teacher leadership remains remarkably underdeveloped in schools across the nation. Although a variety of reasons for this have been identified, written about, and exposited over the years, the fact is that until all stakeholders (teachers included) see teacher leadership as an essential component of successful school reform, it will continue to take a backseat to other competing priorities.
A plethora of research points clearly to the fact that when teacher leaders deliberately invest, influence, and inspire, they significantly shape the culture of their schools and positively influence student and adult learning. With this as the case, how are we working to leverage the teacher leaders in our buildings?
Definition: to devote one’s time, effort, or energy to a particular undertaking with the expectation
of a worthwhile result
My most successful years as a classroom teacher weren’t ones when I had a perfect group of kids on my roster, curriculum and pedagogical strategies dialed in, or “less on my plate.” My most successful years occurred when I had positive professional relationships with colleagues. We met throughout the week to plan; we divvied up tasks and followed up our teaching with reflective conversation. We knew each other’s students and assessment data. We leaned on each other for ideas and constructive feedback. Simply put, I was invested in their work as classroom teachers as much as they were in mine, and success for one meant success for all.
Definition: to affect or change someone or something in an indirect but usually important way
Vicki taught across the hall from me. I’d just reached my fifth year as a classroom teacher and was hitting my stride—feeling confident, dialed in, and ready to shift into cruise control. One day over lunch, Vicki began talking about a new book she was reading and how it was transforming her thinking and, subsequently, the engagement in her classroom. She was switching everything up, from seating arrangements to lesson design, and (get this) she was excited about it! Being the faithful colleague that I was, the first word out of my mouth was, “Why?”
Fast-forward two months. As I watched her tackle the changes and listened as she shared successes, I began to look at my classroom in a different light and wonder if I, too, could make some of the same shifts. I reached out with a few hesitant questions and eventually asked to borrow her book . . . which led me to get my own copy and, in time, propelled me off the path of complacency and down the road of lifelong learning.
Definition: to fill someone with confidence and desire to do something
What made Jim so inspirational? He was inspired himself! He taught on the opposite side of the building from me, in another grade level, and although I didn’t work closely with him, his was the laughter I’d hear booming from the staff lounge. His was the person who took a genuine interest and encouraged everyone. He challenged thinking through questioning, yet he was vulnerable and shared his struggles openly in the search for new solutions. Jim pushed himself professionally and expected us to have the courage to do the same. He took ownership in our school and was committed to making it a better place, and we all responded by following his lead.
Let’s be honest. In this time of unprecedented demands, teacher morale is at an all-time low. Maintaining a passion for our craft is becoming harder to do, and the need to invest, influence, and inspire is crucial. Teacher leaders have the capacity to get others excited about teaching again. They have the capacity to spark passion and shape school culture in significant ways.
This week, I’ll be traveling to Albuquerque, N.Mex., to participate in a Leadership Lab facilitated by the U.S. Department of Education and the NBPTS Teach to Lead initiative. I’ll be given the opportunity to work alongside a group of educators from Albuquerque Public Schools who understand that teacher leadership is a critical lever to successful school reform. There’s value in sharing our stories of investment, influence, and inspiration, and I challenge you to think about this question
There’s value in sharing our stories of investment, influence, and inspiration, and I challenge you to consider this question: How might you leverage the teacher leaders in your building this year?
Alisa Simeral is a school turnaround specialist and author. She coauthored The Principal Influence: A Framework for Developing Leadership Capacity in Principals, Teach, Reflect, Learn: Building Your Capacity for Success in the Classroom, and Building Teachers’ Capacity for Success: A Collaborative Approach for Coaches and School Leaders.