- Teacher-leaders are an integral–but under-utilized–part of a school
- School leaders can secure teacher buy-in around new initiatives through teacher-leaders
The typical leadership structure in a school is quite rigid, with administrators and teachers filling their roles separately. In this model, teacher skills are only utilized inside of the classroom, leaving teacher leadership potential on the table.
Because this is true in almost any school building, it is time for administrators to reimagine teacher leader roles and leverage teacher leadership, specifically at the grade level or in content teams. Many schools have positions such as “Lead Teacher” or “Content Team Leader,” which is a great starting point. The next step is transforming these established positions, or creating similar models, and implementing them across your school. This should lead to actionable steps taken by these teacher-leaders, and the loosening of the reins by administrators.
Leading Grade Level Initiatives
Rapport and community built at the middle leadership level is more responsive to student interests and needs. The foundation of any successful school is a strong school community where teachers and students can build a solid relationship over the course of the year. Quite often, this is artificially imagined by district experts as X or Y initiative in each classroom. Instead, the model needs to move to a teacher determined and led initiative.
A top-down community building set up by administration might be a pep rally for all grades. Not an unpopular choice, as it builds rapport between the students and the school. Given more time and thought, that same space can instead be used to build rapport between students and teachers. A teacher leader would converse with their team to determine a community building activity that might be a better fit for their students. This might include a trust building activity outside, a teacher vs. student basketball game, or a community service project. Similarly, the activity can more accurately reflect student interest and can be an opportunity to be culturally responsive to the school community. The activity itself doesn’t matter, but rather the student and teacher’s voice.
Likewise, teachers can make direct connections to their classroom instruction. We know students engage more in classroom activities when they develop a strong sense of rapport with their teachers. In the long run, these teacher-led initiatives will make the school year more authentic to the student body.
Many teachers feel anxious about observations, even if they have nothing to fear. If the grade level or content team can get over these worries, a teacher-leader observing your class can provide benefits to the school at large. To be certain, these observations should not be instructional or evaluative, but rather data collection on school culture and classroom procedures.
While observing, teacher-leaders should look for shared routines and classroom structures, behaviors of individual students to the teacher’s instruction, and something positive to celebrate.
Consistency amongst teachers provides continuity for students, especially in grades where they transition between classes. Similarly, routines can be refined and honed, especially if one teacher is exceedingly proficient. Share their expertise with the team!
Student behaviors, specifically students who struggle with behavior or academic performance, should be noted in these observations. Maybe they are more engaged or proficient in the class you are observing. If so, the teacher being observed should share ways they develop rapport with the student. On the flip side, if the observer sees a student who is usually a high performer, but is disengaged, the observer should talk with the student or teacher to provide that extra level of support.
Lastly, teacher-leaders should not forget to celebrate their team! Teachers go too long without being regularly recognized for their hard work. Taking time to acknowledge something good about their class to either them or to the team at large can positively grow your teacher’s confidence.
Developing a Middle Leadership
Schools have a plethora of goals to achieve and need all the extra layers of support they can afford. Developing and fostering teachers who are looking to grow into leaders not only provides support, but mobilizes larger teams of teachers if teacher-leaders are effective.
This requires a structure and a framework developed with your school in mind. This would include items such as goals for the position, meeting times with the leadership team, and potentially a professional development plan for the teacher or team based on the school’s needs.
Next, you need to select the teacher you would be interested in developing in this role. This teacher should exemplify the school’s mission and values, and should be an expert in their content area. Ideally, this teacher has a strong rapport with their peers and has a track record of being invested in the school community. As this step can make or break the process, it should not be rushed, and teachers should be viewed from multiple perspectives to ensure they are a good fit.
Once these elements are in place, take time as an administrator to nurture the teacher-leader position. Ask for their input about school initiatives, ask about the needs of the team, and provide them with the resources or support they need.
Developing these teacher leaders will take time, but in the long run your school will benefit from the additional support provided by the staff, the increased sense of community, and the strong rapport between students and teachers.
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