Developing Teacher Leaders: A Transformative Process

Developing Teacher Leaders

Today’s students are far different than the students sitting in classrooms not even two generations ago. In response to the varying needs of today’s students, we have heard the call for differentiation in the classroom. This call is often answered by teachers whose own varying needs are not met by those tasked with leading adult learning. Though managerial leadership has been the norm of educational leadership in the past, the time has come to embrace transformative leadership—the type of leadership that differentiates for the needs of the adults in the building in order to develop leaders of learning. Why should school leaders embrace this style of leadership? Because school transformation is a highly collaborative process and as John King, U.S. Secretary of Education states: “We don’t just want educators to be a part of the necessary change – we need them to lead it.” How does this leadership differ from other styles of leadership? It focuses on coaxing teachers through three stages of leadership in the same way that nature coaxes the butterfly through the stages of metamorphosis.

Build Them Up by Identifying Everyday Strengths

In the caterpillar stage, the primary objective is to eat and grow. A transformative leader helps a teacher grow by recognizing his or her contributions to the learning environment. Knowing that a teacher may not recognize these contributions as leadership, a transformative leader helps teachers recognize their everyday roles as leaders of learning. Drew Dudley helps us all understand the value of what he calls “everyday leadership” in his TED Talk by that same name. He states: “We’ve made leadership about changing the world, and there is no world. There’s only six billion understandings of it. And if you change one person’s understanding of it, understanding of what they’re capable of, understanding of how much people care about them, understanding of how powerful an agent for change they can be in this world, you’ve changed the whole thing.” A great tool for helping teachers recognize their everyday strengths is the article “Ten Roles for Teacher Leaders” which will help teachers recognize that their current contributions are indeed leadership.

Push Them to Grow Through Sheltered Opportunities

Though the chrysalis stage appears to be a restful one for the caterpillar, it is anything but restful. In fact, this is the stage that is the most challenging for the caterpillar as its body literally transforms. A transformative leader recognizes when a teacher is ready to develop additional leadership skills and is willing to push the teacher to do so. This type of push may come in the form of asking a teacher to teach a new grade level after several years of success in a different grade level; asking a teacher to lead professional learning for his colleagues; or asking a teacher to chair a curriculum committee. Regardless of the look of the push, it will certainly take the teacher out of her comfort zone. We must end the practice of moving skilled teachers from the classroom and into the front office and calling that “teacher leadership.” Teacher Leadership was a topic of focus during the Fall 2014 ASCD Whole Child Symposium. In its report on the symposium, ASCD states: “Now more than ever, skilled classroom educators must hone their craft, mentor others, and grow professionally—while keeping one foot firmly inside the classroom.” A transformative leader recognizes her role in growing teacher leadership through the appropriate amount of push married with essential support and coaching.

Let Them Fly

Following metamorphosis, the caterpillar emerges as a butterfly but is not immediately ready to fly. Its wings are small and wet and its flight muscles are not quite prepared. So it is with teacher leaders. Following the transformative experiences set in motion by an effective leader, a teacher leader emerges but is often unsure of her ability to fly. She may still come to her school leader and ask questions such as “How would you address this issue?” A wise school leader would encourage the teacher leader to exercise those flight muscles by pushing back on the question with a question of his own: “I’m curious. How would you address this issue?” Feeling the support and encouragement of her leader, the teacher leader tentatively takes flight. With time, she recognizes the impact her leadership is having, seeks out additional opportunities to lead, and becomes an integral part of the school transformation culture.

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