The Path of Teacher Leadership

The Path of Teacher Leadership

We have seen the  moment play out a million times, in a million different ways. We bet you have experienced the moment, too. You have stood on the side lines, watching a situation unfold, and all the things that you predicted could go wrong, do. This happens in schools more often than people would like to admit. Decisions are made at the school, district, state, or national level, without teachers sitting at the decision-making table, while those same teachers are the ones responsible for implementing the decisions made. The very people who will implement are often not given an authentic voice.

Teacher leadership is critical for the success of policy, instructional practices, and change.

The voice of the teacher is so crucial because it is laced with experience. That very experience allows for successful implementation. That very experience allows for creativity and knowledge of what will work. That very experience is laser-focused on what is best for kids. However, oftentimes that very experience is not valued like it should be. In education, we help the next generation step into their life’s calling. We equip them with skills to be successful in careers, school, and life. But, do we actively practice doing that with our teaching staff?

How are we supporting the teacher's voice? How do we guarantee that the valuable experience of the teacher is an essential part of all decisions? How are our schools developing teacher leaders? What steps can we take to develop and value teacher leadership?

The first thing schools and leaders can do is invite teachers to the decision-making table. The caveat is that the invitation to the decision-making table needs to be authentic. The decision cannot be made before educators enter the room. An authentic seat at the table means the teacher's voice is valued enough to have influence in the decisions. When the teachers speak, their perspective is valued with a high regard. The seat at the table is consistent and “how we do things” because we know the immense value of the experience they bring to the table.

The second way a school can develop leaders is by having mentoring conversations. Often, our conversations between an administrator and a teacher center around the evaluation. What if administrators encouraged a teacher to think beyond the "look fors" and "indicators" and small snapshots of time. We often spend most of our conversation talking about strengths and areas of growth observed in a teacher's current practice. What if we took the time to ask our teachers about their next professional goals and asked what we can do to support them? Asked them what they are doing not only inside the classroom walls to impact students but outside the classroom walls as well and supported them in those endeavors?

The third way teacher leadership can be elevated in schools is by actually letting them lead. How many meetings are led by administrators and how many are led by teachers? A School Improvement Plan built by teachers would be laced with strategic goals and practical application. Implementation would be thought through with every action step. Each committee led by teachers would not only create support for initiatives and impact the school culture faster, but it also would build teacher leaders.

Finally, the last way to build teacher leaders and then retain them is to become creative with positions.

This step is critical because it allows for the teacher leaders to truly lead but also stay connected with the classroom. Students and schools benefit from hybrid positions for teachers. Here are a few examples:

  • A teacher leader is part time in the classroom and part time released to lead initiatives
  • A teacher leader co-teaches with a colleague and then at times is out of the classroom to lead
  • A teacher leader spends part of the day teaching and the other part looking at school policies, procedures
  • A teacher leader spends part of the day teaching and the other part advocating for public education with lawmakers
  • A teacher leaders spends part of the day teaching and the other part forming connections and partnerships within the community to better support our students
  • A teacher leader spends part of the day teaching and the other part recruiting and growing future teachers through implementing a strong Grow Your Own program
  • A teacher leader might work with the state education department to support model classroom positions that support educators across the state

Taking these steps to build teacher leaders is critical for the retention of educators who are passionate about leading. Currently, there is really only one path to lead and that is through administration. That is the perfect path for many people, but the problem is, there are countless educators with valuable experience who are ready to impact education for the better while still continuing to work with students. The question remains, are we ready to utilize them?

Rachael Wilcox is the Director of Social-Emotional Learning in the School District of Washington. Previously she was a First Grade teacher at Independence Elementary School in the Francis Howell School District. She is a 2020 Missouri Teacher of the Year Finalist and recently honored with the NEA Foundation’s Awards for Teaching Excellence. She is committed to creating cultures that educate the whole child by weaving character education and social emotional learning across all instruction and professional development. Rachael enjoys inspiring educators, but her most significant impact has been on the hearts of her students. She believes educating the whole child influences the next generation to act with empathy and empowers them to become world changers.



Shelly Parks, the 2019 Missouri Teacher of the Year, is a high school English teacher in St. Charles, MO at Francis Howell North High School. She considers her greatest teaching accomplishment is when students decide to join her in the education profession. Shelly is a recruiter of future teachers, an advocate for students who want to take AP courses but need support, a lover of cooperative learning, a proponent of teachers creating greater work-life balance, and a voice to promote teacher leadership.




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