What is a Teacher Leader?
The phrase “Teacher Leader” comes in many shapes, sizes, job classifications, and years of experience. Teacher leaders are teachers that show a strong work ethic, a love for children, and most of all, a propensity to evolve and learn.
Many people think of teacher leaders as people that are destined for the front office. People that have spent a lot of time in classrooms. People that the administration taps for special duties or responsibilities. All or these may be true for teacher leaders, but a teacher leader in a school has many possibilities.
Teacher leaders delve into the latest research. We, as educators, must never stop our mission to continually evolve and provide the best content and pedagogy for our students. Teacher leaders constantly seek out expertise from other leaders inside and outside the school in order to keep their delivery sharp and on point. Remember, steel sharpens steel. Who do you surround yourself with day in and day out?
Teacher leaders are people that inspire not only their students, but the other adults in a school community. Teacher leaders are constantly tweaking lessons even during a school day in order to ensure that they have given their best effort for every student that steps foot in their classroom. Teacher leaders see a problem and work tirelessly with others to devise solutions. Teacher leaders are people that others trust. Adults in a school want to know that there are others they can count on when difficult days take place. Be that adult for them.
How to Become a Teacher Leader in Your School
Some teachers tell themselves, “I will just do the best job I can and hopefully someone will notice.” That may actually happen in some instances, but the best bet is to invite stakeholders into your classroom to see what you are doing and be humble enough to seek and/or receive feedback. Being a teacher leader does not mean that you have everything figured out. Getting high test scores alone does not necessarily tab you as a teacher leader.
Most of the people that I have encountered that I truly believe have the best teacher leadership are ones who constantly come to me or another administrator with a new professional development idea or technique they want to try. That last point can be tricky. I have witnessed teachers that are trying so many new things that students never have a grasp of what is going on in class. Be sure to find strategies that are research-based and tweak a few things until you find the right technique. This shows perseverance instead of the habit of quitting on something and moving on when you hit a bump in the road.
Another way to develop into a teacher leader is to put yourself out there. Make sure that when a leadership opportunity comes along, you note your interest. If there is an opportunity to showcase a technique in a faculty meeting or a vacancy becomes open as a grade or subject area leader, express your interest in the position. Your work after that will speak for itself.
Many teachers say they are more comfortable leading a group of students as opposed to their peers, but in order to move the needle on the macro level in your new school, you must be willing to put in time with and in front of your colleagues. Keep in touch with your alma mater and seek out courses that will push you out of your comfort zone in order to continually improve your craft. Ask your former professors to visit your classroom and give input on your lessons.
How to Thrive as a Teacher Leader
How do we thrive as teacher leaders? It is often a tall task to try to keep things fresh and innovative in your classroom while also serving as a teacher leader in your school. Do not be afraid to ask for help from administration or others when you encounter a problem.
Many teachers in your building who see you as a teacher leader may think that you have it all figured out. For example, if you bring a group together to problem solve gap group proficiency, you are acting as a leader, but more importantly, you show those around you that we all need help and we can do much more together than alone.
Leaders unite people around a common cause; leaders do not shut people out for fear of looking weak. The hardest thing to do sometimes is to say to someone, “I don’t know.” It is your action after that statement that makes a difference. Do you throw your hands up in frustration, or do you roll up your sleeves and get to work?
Also please remember that teacher leaders are often tapped by administration for a variety of jobs and tasks. If you are not careful, you may end up overextending yourself. Some people feel like they cannot tell their administrators “no” when asked to lead an endeavor, but I am here to tell you that it is perfectly fine. If you agree to everything asked of you, you will end up burning out. It does not do you or your future students any good if you are looking for a new profession after five years in the classroom.
Along the same lines, find a hobby or interest that has nothing to do with being a teacher. You simply must find an identity outside your classroom. This is essential to finding work-life balance, which ultimately will make you a better teacher leader.