Why Can’t Teachers be Leaders?

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“We have administrators, teachers, and teachers who think they are administrators.”

I heard a colleague say this and it made me think about how, in our education system, we have many people who believe that there is a clear difference between what teachers and administrators are able to do on a school campus. There are many in our profession who believe that the influence a teacher has (or should have) is only within the four walls of a classroom and the administrator is supposed to make all the decisions that impact the entire school. Yes, the administrator has the authority to make certain decisions and hold others accountable but authority doesn’t make a leader. Leaders are influencers at any level who are creating change to improve education and are able to get people to follow them. So I ask, why can’t teachers be leaders?

Too often, I hear education professionals automatically bestow the title of “Leader” on a principal or assistant principal. Have they shown leadership? Are they a visionary? Are they working with a team to create the change that is needed so that all students are successful? Are teachers and other staff implementing new practices and taking risks because they were mandated or because they, too, believe in the value of the task? We tend to believe authority and leadership are synonyms and yet, they are vastly different. Teachers do not have the same authority as administrators but can be as much, if not more, of a leader. Teachers have the ability to be visionaries; to work with teams to create the change needed so that all students are successful; and to get others to implement new practices and take risks because they help others see the value of the task. Teachers have the ability to be school leaders and we should welcome it. We should also welcome administrators as lead teachers but that is a post for another day.

I think, when teachers react negatively to the idea that a school leader may be a teacher and not an administrator, it stems from a misunderstanding of where the education world is going. Our world is changing faster than we can keep track of and the needs of our students are becoming more and more diverse. The antiquated model of principal as manager and teacher as autonomous ruler of the classroom does not work in the 21st Century. Our schools must become more democratic and we NEED teacher leaders to implement and support the education initiatives that will help all our students to be successful. We need amazing teachers to become site leaders, to share their best practices, to bring new ideas to the table and to re-energize the system. Leadership is a collaborative idea and is fluid. There may be times when you are the leader and others follow and times when you take the back seat and let your colleague lead. This is the foundation of a strong team and we should want to promote, foster, and value the leadership skills of all educators. If we expect students to be leaders, shouldn’t we expect the same of ourselves?

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