The idea of teacher leadership—educators playing a role in crafting their profession from the inside out—isn’t new or revolutionary, but it has evolved over the past few years. For decades, the logical career trajectory for those seeking to advance in the profession consisted of moving from the classroom into administration. Becoming an administrator was seen as both a promotion and a symbol of leadership in a school building. As educator and author Charlotte Danielson has written, this was the only way to grow in what was perceived as a “flat” profession.
But successful schools require more than administrative leaders; they demand teacher leaders who directly work with students in the classroom. Because teachers tend to stay in the same schools and districts longer than administrators do, they have institutional knowledge that administrators may lack.
Just as important, classroom teachers have the instructional expertise necessary to carry out ideas and projects that principals or school boards may want to enact. And they can lend their perspective to important school reform discussions. As a result, it’s crucial that teachers use their position as classroom experts to influence education policy debates and help their schools to improve.
Types of Teacher Leaders
There are two main types of teacher leaders: formal and informal. Formal teacher leaders take on responsibilities that come with particular positions, such as department chairs, master teachers, instructional coaches, and curriculum developers, some of which may require an application process.
Rather than being selected, informal teacher leaders take the initiative and earn the respect of their peers, although they lack official authority within their schools. Every teacher knows these types of leaders: those who do their jobs so well that novice and veteran teachers alike always seek their advice.
Roles for Informal Teacher Leaders
As detailed below, teacher leaders can take on many types of roles, and it’s important to find the one that best fits you and your personality. That’s where the Share My Lesson website can help.
Lesson plan provider
Have a great catalogue of activities, handouts, lessons, or other resources you can share? Then do it! Ask colleagues if they need your resources to teach a particular unit. Or if you notice a newer teacher struggling with organizing his classroom, share successful strategies you have learned over the years. Interested in sharing with a larger group? Post your resources today on the AFT’s own Share My Lesson website.
Informal mentorship can be one of the most rewarding types of teacher leadership. Rather than being used as a replacement for formal mentorship programs offered by many school districts, informal mentoring can help all teachers, not just new ones.
Perhaps you’ve observed a colleague do something amazing, and you think she can have an impact well beyond her particular classroom. Spend some time with that teacher to plan ways to share her successful approach with others.
Have something to say about education but not sure anyone will listen? Try blogging. Take a stand on issues affecting your school, share your curriculum planning expertise, and grow your own professional learning network.
Interested in exerting more influence within your school and throughout the profession as a whole? Grow your influence without leaving the classroom by becoming a “teacherpreneur.”
This term was popularized by Barnett Berry (whose article about teacher-powered schools appears in the Summer 2016 issue of American Educator) and the TeacherSolutions 2030 Team, who in 2011 wrote Teaching 2030: What We Must Do for Our Students and Our Public Schools—Now and in the Future. According to the Center for Teaching Quality, which Berry leads, teacherpreneurs are educators who “hold hybrid roles: leading beyond their schools while continuing to teach students part of the time.”
The Need for Leadership
The time has come for more teachers to become leaders in their school communities. The voices of those who work with students each day must be heard. Hopefully the ideas outlined here will encourage you to consider your strengths as a leader and explore ways to get involved.
–THE SHARE MY LESSON TEAM