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April 19, 2021

Are You a Teacher Leader?

“I would like to be known as a person who is concerned about freedom and equality and justice and prosperity for all people.”

~ Rosa Parks

Following a recent Friday evening flurry of Twitter exchanges, a friend and trusted colleague picked up her phone and called me. “You have me all fired up now about how we need to change the culture around teachers as leaders. How are we going to do this? What are we going to do?” We chatted for nearly an hour, talking about great visionaries and leaders throughout time, people who started movements and influenced change, people like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. I haven’t stopped thinking about our conversation or wondering about who will be our fierce leader. Who will drive the movement around teacher leadership? I’ve come to this conclusion: It needs to be all of us, because we all want freedom, justice, equality, and prosperity for students.

Here is how YOU can become a teacher leader:

Move beyond the status-quo for ourselves, our students, our profession. Seek opportunities for self-improvement. Kentucky teacher Sherri McPherson states it this way, “I simply see a need to improve myself and seek opportunities to fulfill that need. If it helps, then I share. If it doesn’t, I keep looking and learning. My drive for learning often fuels my leadership.”

Think big. Teacher and CTQ blogger, Lauren Hill, reminds us that, “to do right by our students and ourselves, we require a larger community — a broader view.” Thinking beyond the communities we build in our classrooms to our local, national, and even global communities, provides perspective and access to other professionals and opportunities for collaboration. A broader view opens minds to issues of freedom, justice, and equality.

Model. Danny Hollweg, a teacher in Colorado, asks how we can effectively open up our classrooms, to use them as laboratories, for others to observe and model. This is what past National Teacher of the Year Sara Brown Wessling, and all the other teachers on Teaching Channel, are doing. Not only are they willing to show us how they work, they believe that getting feedback from fellow educators is valuable and helps them become better teachers.

Make learning meaningful. Elementary teacher Brad Clark designs meaningful learning experiences for 45 students under his charge, and he extends learning into his work as a mentor as well. If he’s teaching literary analysis of a short story, he makes sure to help his fourth and fifth graders understand how those same analysis skills can be applied to the media they consume outside of class. He says, “everyday is an opportunity to refine my practice, to become more efficient and more effective.” He also makes learning more meaningful for his students by continuing to be a learner himself. For example, if he’s working on questioning skills with his students, he seeks out his own professional learning around this same topic. If he’s sitting in a required school-wide teacher PD session that is designed as one-size fits all, he determines in advance how he will drive his own learning. Specifically, he sits near colleagues who he knows will push his thinking forward.

Mobilize. Across America and in other countries as well, teachers are cooperatively running schools, speaking in front of legislators, using their voices through blogging or writing op-eds; they are creating videos and podcasts, designing award ceremonies to honor other educators, organizing conferences and edcamps, and opening community organizations. While there are numerous national and state organizations to join, you could also choose to join Twitter and use social media to mobilize. We now know that revolutions and entire movements have started via Twitter.

Teacher leaders are people who want all students to learn, and they will do whatever needs to be done to make this happen. Teacher leaders influence change beyond classrooms. Great leaders are “regular” people like you, me, and Martin Luther King, Jr. — we are people who know that our convictions will make a difference. As King once said, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”


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