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Six Ways You Can Empower Teachers to Lead

04 Jan 2016 by LeTosha White

If you’ve been hearing a lot about teacher leadership lately, consider yourself privy to a very relevant educational topic. All the buzz right now is focused on well-deserving teachers who are leading the way in their schools. Now  more than ever, we are seeing a trend of teachers moving into leadership roles, such as coaching other teachers and participating in planning committees. Because these shifting roles and responsibilities were previously correlated with administrators, longstanding staff, or even tenured faculty, they may cause indeterminate or converging relational/organizational patterns. As a result, educators need innovative approaches to facilitating their new leadership systems and models in education.

Teachers who are empowered to lead are more likely to commit long term and positively influence others within their schools. While evidence pointing to the benefits of teacher leadership is prevalent, information regarding the implementation of teacher leadership and how it can be sustained is more challenging to find. 

So, I’ve compiled a list of some ways we can empower teachers to lead as a contribution to the ongoing topic of teacher leadership. I gathered the thoughts of several rather candid discussions with teachers in leadership positions and also a very green Golden Apple Scholarship recipient, who is certain to be a trailblazer in education. Here’s what I learned:

1. Nurture an authentic workplace.

Ensure that equity and diversity are at the forefront of leadership opportunities in order to establish an environment of trust and fairness. Leadership is packaged in different gender, colors, shapes, sizes, ages, personality types, religious conviction, and incumbency. Building trust via transparent leadership prerequisites and selection processes is key for staff to know that objective practices dictate leadership placement.

2. Mix it up.

Variety is truly the spice of life. Avoid group-think mentality, a mindset that takes over when lack of diversity and uncritical like-mindedness prohibits a group from accurately assessing problems and considering a full range of decision options (Paula Jorde Bloom, Circle of Influence: Implementing Shared Decision Making and Participative Management). Add in healthy doses of experience, expertise, skills, and open mindedness. These positive attributes will keep fresh ideas circulating.

3. Create opportunities with clear expectations.

Creating ample leadership opportunities that vary in levels of commitment and ability encourages teachers to contribute in measures that are comfortable to them. With an abundance of chances to participate, teachers will look for a lead project or position that suits them. Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) and negative competitive tendencies that damage morale prevent teachers from volunteering and scaffolding their leadership commitments and experiences.

4. Always be on the lookout for leaders and become a matchmaker.

The hunt never ends because there’s always room for more leaders. Discover teachers’ passions and hobbies; it’s a great place to start. Assess strengths, opportunities, instructional practices, and daily routines in order to encourage passionate teachers to take on projects that fit their expertise, talents, leadership skills, and influence. 

5. Share the load and avoid burn out.

Face it: being a leader takes a great amount of time and energy. A recurring theme I heard while listening to teachers’ perspectives on leadership was their struggle to balance additional responsibilities with an already full load. It’s important to understand that teacher leaders are hungry to learn, but they have tendencies to overload and be stressed. Keep their delicate balancing act in mind. Teacher leaders value planning time and do not want to lead at the cost of diminishing instructional quality. Look back to #3 and #4. Creating ample and varied leadership opportunities, appropriately matching leaders to tasks, and sharing the load distributes responsibilities in manageable, collaborative doses.

6. Support professional learning communities so that leaders can network.

Petroleum pumps need to be refueled after filling cars with gas, just like teacher leaders need refueling after invigorating our students and colleagues. Supporting charismatic environments where leaders are both energized and inspired to share what works and what doesn’t, will not only reinforce a culture of collaboration but will also expand your leader’s impact. Plus, it allows for opportunities to reflect and plan, and therefore improve effectiveness that ultimately results in increased student learning. 

What are your thoughts? In what other ways can we empower teachers to lead?

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