Friday, January 13, 2012

Teachers as Leaders - part 1

When I'm thinking about all the really important changes that are happening in schools these days, when I'm thinking about global projects such as Quad Blogging or the Flat Classroom project or countless others, these have all been initiated by teachers not by government ministers making new policies.  Teachers as leaders are changing education.

Today I started dipping into the Teacher Leader Model Standards from the Teacher Leadership Exploratory Consortium. There's a lot to think about which is why I'm breaking this up over several posts.    This group started in 2008 examining the research about how teachers as leaders are contributing to student and school success through collaborative teaching practice and improved decision making.  These are the teachers who are creating a dynamic teaching profession for the 21st century.

The Teacher Leadership Exploratory Consortium has designed standards aimed at encouraging a professional discussion about teacher leadership and how it differs from administrate leadership in supporting student learning.  The Consortium recognizes both formal and informal teacher leadership and that there are different routes to developing leadership:  professional experience and mentoring, for example, as well as formal training or advanced degrees.  Some teacher leaders never get a formal leadership role in their school, but instead choose to stay in the classroom and lead informally from there.  Others may be selected by principals and given these positions as a stepping stone into administration.

Here are some questions the Consortium has asked:

  • Do you have to be a great teacher in order to be a teacher leader?
  • Can every teacher be a teacher leader?
  • How do we support teachers in leadership roles?
Let's start first of all with a definition of teacher leadership:
The process by which teachers, individually or collectively, influence their colleagues, principals and other members of the school community to improve teaching and learning practices with the aim of increased student learning and achievement.  (York-Barr and Dale)
Here are some characteristics of teacher leadership:
  • Teacher leadership differs from other school leader roles:  rather than having a position of responsibility, many teachers become true leaders in their schools simply through the respect of their peers.  This could involve being continuous learners, being approachable and having the skills to influence the educational practice of their peers through the modeling of effective practices and working in collaborate teams.
  • Teacher leadership can enhance the capacity of the principal: it's actually a two-way thing as teacher leaders need the support of their principal to be truly effective, however a principal cannot be truly effective without the talents and expertise of the teachers.
  • "Collective leadership" has a positive effect on student achievement:  this is to do with the influence that teacher leaders exert on decisions in their schools.  Key findings are that collective leadership has a stronger influence on student achievement than individual leadership.
  • Teacher leadership requires a shift in the culture of schools
  • Teacher leadership necessitates new organizational structures and roles in schools in order to successfully meet the needs of 21st century learners:  high performing schools are those where there is a culture of collaboration and professional inquiry.
One of the most interesting things I read today is that teacher leadership opportunities increase the retention of teachers - I would assume this means both in the school and in the profession.  Teachers welcome opportunities to participate in decision making rather than being dictated to from above.  This participation leads to a positive and supportive school culture and encourages teamwork.  It also means that attention is being given to effective collaboration and communication.

The Teacher Leadership Exploratory Consortium has developed 7 standards for teacher leaders and I'll be exploring these more in an upcoming blog post.

Photo Credit:  Leadership by Ed Gaillard AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike 

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