Shifting Leadership Paradigms

I believe the opportunity is before us to inspire a movement within our schools. We all have unique desires for our school campuses. From school culture to innovation, it’s our teachers who have the ability to cause a ripple effect of change. Consider what teacher leadership looks like at your school. Often times, it’s not defined. Some teachers have leadership roles, but they end up stifled by constraints, or a top down approach. Other teachers develop as leaders by pioneering, sharing successes and failures, leveraging the strengths of individuals around them, and motivating colleagues in their district.

 

Traditional hierarchal structures may send a message that teachers are to be compliant and wait for instruction before proceeding,Shifting Teacher Leadership however, The Teacher Leader Model Standards “imagine school cultures in which teacher leaders and administrators have reciprocal relationships, supporting one another’s work and sharing responsibility for outcomes.” As we consider the vision for our respective schools, how can we ensure that we are headed in that direction? How do we excite our teachers and get them charged up to imagine possibilities, and empower them to turn those possibilities into a reality? Teachers are the key to creating significant momentum of change within schools, and empowering them through leadership opportunities is critical.

 

Why Teachers Leaders?

In this era of education, teaching has become more complex. With an increase in available edtech to enhance learning, designing relevant yet rigorous learning opportunities, and expectations to personalize learning, teachers are seeking a new way to balance the demands. What teaching really requires today, is leadership. Leadership puts us in control of how we collaborate toward specific targets and scaffold learning with intention.

 

The advantage is that teachers have the opportunity to connect daily with colleagues through authentic relationships on personal levels. They often share the same students and plan for what individuals need using collective input. Teachers hear from their colleagues first-hand about what the bona fide struggles and successes are. Due to developing a rapport with one another, they tend to be transparent, develop trust, and are able to reflect together on a deeper level. This nurtures professional growth and ultimately impacts student success. We need to seize the opportunity to develop our teachers as leaders in a genuine way that inspires them.

 

Teacher Voice Transcends Student Voice

There’s great value in amplifying student voice to co-design learning. The question is, how does the students’ voice make its way into conversations within committees where decisions about what’s best for students are taking place? When teacher voice is empowered it transcends student voice. Teachers are direct advocates for students. It’s our teachers who are connecting what’s taking place within the classroom and providing committees with valuable student input to connect all pieces of the puzzle.

 

Empowering Teachers

Every educator has unique strengths that can be leveraged. Consider who the influencers are within your school. Who will take risks without fear of failure? Who takes the time to check in and connect with colleagues about topics that are both school and non-school related? If we want to see the most growth in our schools, our building and district leaders need to intentionally work in a collaborative manner with teachers, foster authentic relationships and provide ownership to them as leaders.

 

Contemplate how impactful teachers could be as leaders in your school. Teacher leaders listen to and are cognizant of students’ and colleagues’ needs. They assess how they can best engage in reflective conversations to support the development of others. When the objective of teacher leaders is to empower others by adding value to colleagues, and helping them to identify their individual strengths in order to view themselves as a leader as well, we all become more impactful. By restructuring traditional protocols, we can provide opportunities for autonomy which leads to increased integrity.

 

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Risk Taking and Innovation

Today’s leaders are expected to communicate with clarity, collaborate and share best practices, continually pursue professional development, and be forward thinkers. Teacher leaders model and promote risk taking, and are eager to share failures for others to learn from. If we want to ignite innovation in our schools, we need to champion both teachers and students as risk takers.

 

While teachers have the ability to lead without seeking permission, some still look for approval. Principals inspire a culture of innovation by empowering teachers as they listen to them with intent, provide collaboration time as well as ongoing support, and work alongside teachers in an encouraging manner that’s non-evaluative. Collaboration time within a culture of yes, where teachers have autonomy is critical. New ideas develop due to the synergy amongst educators who are passionately working toward a shared vision. Teacher leaders empower their colleagues to be risk takers and this creates unsurpassable energy within a school.

 

Rethinking Leadership Pathways

Traditionally, teachers who are identified as leaders are encouraged to take the next steps to go into administration. While that may be the ideal path for some teacher leaders, it’s essential that we retain talent in the classroom by providing support as well as leadership opportunities for our teachers. We need to shift our culture to value the role of teacher leaders and the impact they are creating beyond their own classroom as they influence colleagues. Schools that intentionally utilize the expertise of teacher leaders rather than moving them into a new pathway are strengthening the foundation of their culture of excellence.

 

I envision vibrant schools filled with connected, driven teachers who join hands to overcome any barrier in the best interest of students. Teacher leaders have the ability to collaboratively cultivate this mindset within their school’s culture. What will be your role in making this happen? We all entered the field of education to make some kind of a difference. This is our time to step up and lead forward.


 

On both Twitter and Blab, #LeadUpTeach is driven to empower teachers as leaders and connect educators in all positions as we take part in this movement.

Lean Out a Little Farther

Today’s post is by Sandy King, an innovative master teacher in South Jordan, Utah. 

The climb to the top of the cliff had been exhilarating. I ascended without fear. As long as I looked up, with my site on the goal, I knew that I could make it up to the landing. Going down was another story. I couldn’t go back down that way that I’d climbed. I’d have to rappel. I had my safety gear on, and I had instructors that I trusted. I felt reasonably safe considering that I was standing on a cliff. But walking closer to the edge made my heart pound! I listened intently to my instructor. My safety gear was checked once more and then I walked backward to the ledge. My life flashed before me. “On rappel!” I shouted.

“Lean out!” I heard my instructor say. I looked down with trepidation and leaned out farther. “Lean out a little farther!” he repeated.  I took a deep breath and leaned out a bit more.

I took my first step over the ledge and pulled my right hand up to brake. One step led to another step. It was awkward at first, but I kept going. My confidence grew as I took each successive step down the rock face. Words of encouragement motivated me to keep going. Before I knew it, I was at the bottom being congratulated by others in my group. I was excited by the thrill of this personal victory. I had conquered a fear!

“Lean out! Lean out a little farther!” often echoes in my mind. Take a risk! Challenge yourself! Raise the bar!

But trying something new is scary. Feelings of being vulnerable, inadequate, and incapable are common. You no longer feel safe. The human body responds physically by initiating the “flight or fight response” that causes the heart to beat faster, breathing to quicken, and palms to sweat among other things. Stepping out of your comfort zone is a risk.

The choice isn’t between success and failure; it’s between choosing risk and striving for greatness, or risking nothing and being certain of mediocrity. –Keith Farazzis

In the quiet white space of self-reflection over the years, I’ve asked, “What can I do to improve my practice?” And I’ve heard the words, “Lean out a little farther!”

One of the best pieces of advice that I ever received as a new teacher was to model lifelong learning by consistently acquiring new knowledge, but more specifically, to learn new skills. The difference between gaining knowledge and learning a skill is that learning a skill requires practice.

Name a skill that you’ve started to develop within the past month. Are you learning to play a musical instrument? Paint? Skateboard? Knit? Ski? Speak another language? Maybe you’re finding yourself in an all too familiar state of continually learning new information, but not necessarily new skills. Reading a book, attending a professional development class, conference, or even an edcamp facilitates gaining knowledge, but it doesn’t require practicing new skills. We ask our students to learn multiple skills every day. How long has it been since you have walked in their shoes?

In your mind’s eye, take a moment to envision yourself learning a new skill. How did you choose to learn? (book, video, teacher) Describe your level of success on your first attempt? Do you need to be shown how to do this skill more than once? Twice? What kind of feedback helps you learn best? How often do you need feedback? What motivates you to struggle, learn, practice, and improve? How important is growth mindset? How does “coaching” help you? What would make the learning of this new skill easier for you to learn? Describe the “zone” where you feel challenged but not frustrated.

Reflecting on teaching practices from the perspective of a learner opens the mind to possibilities. It cultivates empathy and compassion. Questions such as, “How will the reflections about my own learning impact or change my instructional practices?” brings metacognitive thinking to the next level. The reflection in the mirror may not be the most flattering. Do you need more patience? A change of tone? An ability to break down a skill into smaller parts? To be more encouraging? To give specific feedback? Being humble and owning what we know we need to improve is sometimes the most difficult. It requires action and accountability.

 The mediocre teacher or administrator will use any number of excuses like lack of time to avoid this step. But excellence takes effort! Great educators rise above the excuses, make an action plan, and have others (such as a PLN) hold them accountable. The status quo is not acceptable. If there’s room for improvement, the great educators welcome the challenge. They embrace the fear of being vulnerable with a positive attitude and courageously move forward.

So, I challenge you to “Lean out a little farther!” Get completely out of your comfort zone! Learn a new skill during the next few weeks. Put yourself in the position of a learner. Start a blog, record video of your attempts, or keep a journal of your progress. Share your mistakes, your learning, and your reflections. Let those that you lead see you as a beginner with all of the mistakes you’re bound to make. Lean into the discomfort.

Are you truly a life long learner? Will you walk the talk? Maslow said, “You will either step forward into growth or back into safety.” Will you accept this challenge as an opportunity to stretch, risk, and grow? You have a choice. Greatness or Mediocrity.

You’re on the edge.
“Lean out a little farther!” 

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