– Rosalynn Carter
The idea of a “Teacher Leader” is one that is gaining quite a bit of traction in the educational field particularly as of late. In a time of constant change and uncertainty, schools need leaders from within buildings to emerge as competent, reliable, compassionate and empowered individuals to help lead the way. Those who can survey the climate and culture of an organization, use data to create action plans to target needs, model effective instructional practices, coach and collaborate with colleagues and deliver professional development to satisfy demands for personal and professional growth are essential in the field of education. In an excellent article appearing in ASCD magazine, Charlotte Danielson explains that Teacher Leaders are an obvious choice to bring change into schools as teachers often retain their positions for a number of years unlike administrators who typically stay in their roles for an average of three to four years (www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept07/vol65/num01/The-Many-Faces-of-Leadership.aspx). Furthermore, she notes that Teacher Leaders often envision change in their environment yet understand that the typical path of administration is not their calling, yet they look to make changes within their own buildings. This is important because they often understand the climate, culture and history of their setting due to their long standing roles.
While changes in education have traditionally occurred at a slower pace, these days change appears to be the only constant, particularly given State initiates around Common Core and the State evaluation system. As a result, it is imperative that districts remain relevant, infusing innovation and adaptability in an effort to anticipate changes from above. Who better than to assist with this than Teacher Leaders?
Anticipating leadership needs, several colleges have been partnering with local school districts to create new “grow your own leadership” programs. I was fortunate enough to reap the benefits as a student in the Central New York Leadership Development Program (CNYLDP) created through a partnership between Lemoyne College, OCM BOCES and several local school districts including Liverpool, North Syracuse and Fayetteville-Manlius among others. As part of the program, my cohort and I were involved in a multitude of experiences and diversified coursework including: understanding systems-level thinking, recognizing personal goals and beliefs, communicating effectively with others, facilitating group conversations, conducting needs assessments, remediating conflicts through effective resolution, as well as several other topics over two years.
So how does this program look in translation? Are “leaders” emerging in their settings and can their influence be felt? I think one of the best pieces of evidence can be found by turning to my colleague and member of my cohort, Christina Luce (@christinamluce). Christina is an elementary teacher in the Liverpool Central School District. A jack of all educational trades, she writes insightful and thought provoking blogs about education (christinamluce.blogspot.com), was recently nomiated for the Bammy Award, is currently a District Technology Turnkey Trainer and most recently the mastermind behind the first ever EdCampCNY (@edcamp_CNY). Christina is the epitome of leadership in schools and a testament to the teacher leader movement. Echoing the sentiment of many teacher leaders before her, Christina has explained that she feels as though she can be an effective leader in her current role without crossing over into administration. The results of her work and accomplishments in her role as teacher leader are undeniable.
As for me, I am in the homestretch of completing my Certificate of Advanced Studies (CAS) in Educational Leadership. Many have asked, “so what will you do next?” or “have you decided what you want to be when you grow up?” The answer is, “I don’t know” and “I’ll probably never decide.” I do know that I will take the skills that I have acquired as part of my teacher leadership training as well as my internship experience and apply that knowledge and growing pains towards being a better version of the educator I was before. I hope to inspire, support, listen, respect and encourage those around me.
For all the current untapped Teacher Leaders the promise and potential of what lies ahead is amazingly exciting and difficult to put into words. It’s so much more than recognition through a certification. It’s the adoption of a mindset formed by opportunities to challenge beliefs and integrate new theories of organization, management and change as well as consider the utopias of highly effective schools. It’s a chance to build relationships with leaders in the field and develop the skills so that you may one day “pay it forward” and help mold the leaders of tomorrow. I would be remiss, however if I neglected to acknowledge those who have supported and pushed me, cheering from the sidelines, on my own journey. So, a special thanks to you all as you will forever be in my psyche continuing to coach me long after my days as a student are through.