Jumpstart Teacher Leadership & Create District-Wide Leadership Principles


Does your district (or school) have leadership principles that define and empower every person as a leader, like the ones from the Kansas Leadership Center in Wichita, KS?


The 5 Leadership Principles from the Kansas Leadership Center (photo Laura Gilchrist, KLC Wichita, KS)

If the answer is no, that’s a lot of leadership potential in your schools just ‘sitting on the shelf.’


If the answer is no, kick off your commitment to teacher leadership and create your district or school leadership principles with a collaborative teacher and administrator team. 


Superintendents and principals, invite teachers to co-create a set of district-wide leadership principles that will grow every person in your district and ‘give permission’ to innovate! The voices of teachers are a most valuable resource to every school and district. Pull up chairs and get teachers to the table. Teachers can make a school shine from the inside out if they are empowered as innovators, ideators, and collaborators. In case you didn’t know, teachers who believe in themselves and know that an entire district believes in them, will inspire and empower students. Inspiring students to their greatness is our true calling.


I asked a group of educators on Voxer if their districts or schools had a set of leadership principles that empowered everyone in their ecosystem. The answer, in each response involved a long pause and a ‘No’. “We have group norms and a mission and vision,” said one educator. Her next comment was that those things are related to management, not leadership.


Approach Leadership and Management with Intentionality


Leadership is often confused with Management. They are not the same thing. Managing is telling and directing. It’s about subordinates. Leading is encouraging people towards a vision. It’s about growing leaders. Management has been ‘on the field’ in education, playing in every game. We’re behind. Leadership has been waiting on the bench, as a subordinate, and is ready to come in and help the team WIN.


What is leadership? 


Leadership is about empowering others to believe in themselves and act as leaders and innovators. In education, we’ve relegated student and teacher ideas and dreams to the bench. We’ve missed chances for kids to see how powerful and smart they are. With an intentional shared statement of leadership beliefs, we can let everyone know we value their talents and want them to act on them.


If you believe that anyone can lead, anytime anywhere, your school becomes a place where every person’s ideas are regarded with interest and analysis, with action and gratitude. If you believe it must include others, collaboration is a must.


To create shared leadership principles and beliefs, administrators must initiate the work with teachers and then model it with sincerity and integrity. If it’s not modeled, lived and breathed by the administrators, it will not fly. If it is done right, it can transform the culture of learning!


Design Your School Culture


Design your school culture. Stop being a victim of it.  Design it with district leadership principles and beliefs at the core. After you adopt the shared leadership principles, teacher and student voice are activated as positive players in your school culture. When principals, teachers, students, and superintendents are active leaders in buildings, whose stories are shared on social media and in the community, schools will start shining from the inside outpowered by leader agency and innovation.


Empower every learner in a school/district to lead and innovate. What might happen? Ask Amazon and Google about how they designed their culture of innovation and leadership.


Google’s 9 Principles of Innovation for Every Organization
Amazon Jobs Leadership Principles


Teacher Perspectives on How Leadership Impacts our Work


The problem I see, from my 21 years teacher perspective, is that the power and authority inherent in administrator positions–if used as a tool of compliance, control, or shield from actually leading–can shut down innovation (and true learning) in teachers and students. Hello, fixed mindset. Hello, compliance culture. Hello, we’ve failed to elevate kids to their true genius and passions. Leadership is not something you DO to people, it is something you do WITH people.


When teachers or students go to a new school, they find the answers to these questions quickly:


“Can I be creative? Am I sought out for ideas by the principals? Will teachers, principals listen with interest to my ideas? Am I ‘just a teacher’ or ‘just a student?”


It doesn’t feel good to be in a school culture where you are not valued as a leader. This is a major reason I see teachers leaving for other schools or for other professions.


Leadership Principles posted and talked about daily, because they are part of the district/school culture, can help make sure no one feels like ‘ just a teacher’ or ‘just a student.’ (The fact that these statements are common make my heart hurt. Future blogpost)


District-wide Leadership Principles: A Perfect 1st Task for Teacher Leadership Initiative 


Adopting district/school leadership principles and living them, modeling them from the top down, builds an innovative and growth mindset into every person in every school. It encourages communication and connection across the district, in all directions. Leadership principles show that ideas and passions are valued, everywhere and by everyone.


Once your teacher/administrator team has crafted your district-wide leadership principles, the teachers will work like crazy to figure ways to get kids living these principles. It is up to every person in the district after that, not just the teachers, to LIVE the leadership principles as well.

Design the school culture of your dreams with leadership principles flowing through its veins. Start conversations at your school or district. Administrators, no time like the present to invite teachers to make this happen for your school or district. Teachers, ask if there are leadership principles like the ones above from Kansas Leadership Center. Ask to form a teacher leadership team to work with administrators and create one! We’re all leaders.


Make it happen. Get leadership flowing through the veins of your school or district ecosystem. 


I invite you to share comments, ideas, experiences below in a larger, growing conversation on this important topic!


Laura Gilchrist is a Teaching/Learning coach at a high school in Kansas City, Kansas who spent 20 vibrant years as a middle school science & social studies teacher, doing PBL and storytelling from her room. Read more by Laura here.

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.