Teacher Leadership Benefits Teachers and Students

Teacher Leadership Benefits Teachers and Students

Teachers are leaders, and leading from the classroom is an organic progression that occurs as a novice teacher matures. Support of the teacher leadership model (TL)  has strengthened as hierarchical leadership structures in schools have eroded because of welcomed changes in the authority and power distribution on school campuses. I recall a time when there was an unspoken fear that if teachers tasted the rewards of leadership beyond their classrooms, they would pursue administration. My truth was I loved my class, but I also wanted to thrive in my classroom while continuing to learn with opportunities to apply those skills. With the growing body of TL research that emphasizes its attributes, education leaders are more accepting of the TL Model.

As teacher leadership programs bloom across the country, educational leaders in these spaces have created hybrid roles or positions that enable teachers to spend half of the day teaching and the other half mentoring, coaching, or training their colleagues. Still, in other places a teacher leader might be found serving as grade, team, or content lead, academic coach, new teacher mentor, or community outreach coordinator. These opportunities allow teachers to continue growing as professionals. However, there are still those who may ask, “Shouldn’t teaching be enough?”  Leaders with this antiquated perspective would rather see teachers only teach, and they question the need for professional enrichment beyond the professional development (PD) that may be provided in the school or district. My response has and will always be “Teachers and their students deserve more!”

Why Teachers Must Lead

Though I was a professional before I became a teacher, I went through a period of trying to figure out how to use my expertise not just in my teaching space but beyond my classroom walls. Initially, I used my skills as a broadcast journalist to expose students to real-world language arts and challenge them to apply language concepts beyond the base level instruction to which they were accustomed. It was not until I pursued National Board Certification and gained exposure to the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) and the Five Core Propositions that I began to understand what professionalism for an accomplished teacher should resemble. This professional learning validated my need to grow and learn beyond my classroom.

According to Core Proposition Five, I understood that I should be a member of a professional learning community. For me, this meant I had a responsibility to open my door and share with my colleagues. It was up to me as a teacher leader to pay it forward to teachers on my hall, in my school, in my district, in my state, in my country, and in the world. Teacher leadership removed the ceilings, windows, and walls that still restrict teachers in some spaces. When teachers share with other teachers and take an active role in professional learning, not only does the teacher benefit, but students benefit as well.

My Personal TL Journey 

At the perfect time, while I was attending off-campus PD, I shared the table with a seasoned NBCT, who connected me with the World Class Teaching Program—Mississippi’s candidate support system for National Board Certification. The idea of helping teachers achieve certification was a little scary initially. However, after receiving training, I settled into a form of professional enrichment that was exactly what I was looking for. I was sharing my knowledge beyond my classroom with other teachers who wanted to grow. While helping the teachers, I was also becoming more skilled with concepts like building community, engaging students by creating rigorous and exciting learning opportunities, differentiating learning to meet the needs of diverse learners, and creating alternate assessments to determine student understanding.

The CCSSO State Teacher of the Year Program also played a significant role in helping me, along with other State Teachers of the Year, find our voices as award-winning teachers. The idea of speaking for my entire school made me nervous and to consider representing the entire state was mind-blowing. I’ll always appreciate the lessons I learned with the 2009-2010 NNSTOY cohort. This teacher leadership experience changed the trajectory of my career and solidified my understanding of why I need to use my voice to impact educational policy at the local, state, and national levels. Though not every teacher will have this experience, there are many other local opportunities that can support their growth and help their students succeed.

How to Get Started

Teacher leadership can be as simple as sharing tried and true strategies with your teaching unit or supporting a new teacher by modeling an instructional concept like differentiation. Connecting with education associations and other professional organizations also affords teachers opportunities to network, advocate for education, research, and lead from inside and outside of their classrooms. These organizations offer opportunities for teachers who have the heart to lead, but also desire to thrive in their classroom teaching roles. This concept coined as Leading without Leaving allows teachers to learn new things, share their expertise, and grow professionally while still serving as a teacher in the classroom. This is the type of collaboration and enrichment that is standard in every other profession, and it is high time teacher leadership becomes the norm in all schools. Ultimately, teacher leaders never stop learning or looking for ways to improve personal practice to positively impact student learning -- two great reasons to promote and support teacher leadership.

Dr. Stacey Donaldson is the 2010 NSTOY from Mississippi. Donaldson is a teacher leader and mentor at heart and has been an educator for 23 years. She currently serves as an assistant professor and Director of Education Technology and TESOL at Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi.  Donaldson mentors teacher leaders as they pursue National Board Certification. She serves on the Mississippi NBCT Network’s Executive Committee and is also a National Board Network of Accomplished Minoritized Educators (NAME) Board Member.

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