Why Can’t Teachers be Leaders?

auth-lead

“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?

Staff Meetings Should Be Differentiated Too!

 

Individuality

Occasionally, I have the opportunity to go to a conference and every time I am reminded why I like them. Conferences allow you to personalize your professional development by providing lots of choice. As educators, we are taught/reminded/told of the importance of meeting the needs of all our learners (advanced, struggling, language learners, unmotivated, etc.) and one of the best ways to do this is to differentiate our lessons. We all know the “cookie-cutter,” “one size fits all” lesson design is not effective at reaching all student nor is it effective at helping students master the 4C’s. Conferences, differentiate to their “students” (the participants) and provide lots of options, each session, because they know it is the best way to make the conference as meaningful as possible for everyone. School sites, however, struggle with this idea.

Why is it that we believe in differentiation when it comes to students but when we hold staff meetings and other PD we resort to “one size fits all?” Somehow, we believe that the professional learning and growth of adults is different than it is for children? I would argue that all educators have experienced, at least once, going to a meeting where they either mastered the task in the first five minutes, left still unsure of what they were supposed to do, or felt the hour was very productive and learned a lot. Our students have the same reaction when they experience a “one size fits all” lesson because it can’t reach everyone. Our staff meetings and PD should be differentiated too!

Here are some ways that we can differentiate staff meetings/PD:

  1. Let’s start to give options for educators. Provide the resources for all the sessions but hold two or more topics during the meeting time and let participants choose which is more pertinent to them.
  2. Have teachers run staff meetings. Just like the value we see with students teaching students, why not have teachers teaching teachers.
  3. Send out a “pre-assessment” of what will be covered at the meeting. If the educator “mastered” the task, either have the next step for them at the meeting or let them use that meeting time for something else they need to work on.
  4. Ask for feedback! Let your participants help guide the development of the PD from which they are supposed to benefit. While there are lots of things to help make us better educators, a glimpse into what participants believe they need will help make the PD more purposeful.
  5. Always strive for good teaching. Staff meetings and PD are like class lessons, model effective teaching strategies during these meetings. If it not something we should see happen in a classroom it also doesn’t belong in the staff meeting.

All educators want to get better at their craft and they know that professional development is a great resource. Let’s make those mandatory meetings and trainings not feel mandatory. Taking a spin from Dave Burgess’ quote from Teach Like a Pirate: if staff meetings were optional, would you be speaking to an empty room?