Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Training Teacher-Leaders to Make the Difference

I like to think of myself as a teacher-leader, but that is a process that has taken years and years to develop.  It’s time for Districts everywhere to develop their own leaders, and administrators need to step up, encourage their teachers, and accept cooperative leadership. 

1.     Use your curriculum director.  Thank GOD for good curriculum directors.  In particular, people like Cheri C., Wayne W., Luann B., Sue D., and Robin M. have made a huge different in my own life.   They identified opportunities and they give me a chance to go to conferences, present to others, or to ask my opinion on an issue.  Without their encouragement, I never would have participated in formation like Toolkit 95(an early Rick Stiggins assessment package), Eisenhower Institutes, local presentations.  They showed me the importance of moving beyond my own classroom and looking at the  state and national trends in education. Have your curriculum director identify several leaders in your building, and encourage them through conversation.

2.     Use your AEA.   My biggest frustration with the current financial climate is the suggestion that we drop funding from AEAs, which is one of the things that distinguish Iowa from other states.   Let me be clear: AEA consultants are invaluable.  They will come into your classroom, not just once, but over time, give you suggestions for student-centered teaching, work with you to integrate technology, and suggest leadership strategies.  My most important formation as a teacher leader came from AEA opportunities, including inquiry institutes, technology integrations, and membership in Every Learner Inquires.  Encourage your staff or colleagues to utilize the AEA, and ask them to invite consultants into their classroom.

3.     Regional Opportunities.  Each year, look for an outside opportunity.  Some of these will fall into your lap through serendipity—a flyer in the teacher’s lounge, a chance email, or a glance at a professional website.  For me, this included Eisenhower Institutes, the DEN network, Quarknet, and This opportunity usually includes a stipend or a credit as an enticement, but gentle encouragement on the part of co-teachers and administrators can tip the consideration into a definite commitment.

4.     Outreach from Local Universities.  UNI, Iowa, and Iowa State have all been part of innumerable summer opportunities and I’ve taken advantage of them.  They’ve allowed me to network with others across the state, and gather the thoughts of people who have devoted their lives to education reform and change.  Eventually, the change I experienced led me to pursue an advanced degree.  Here, I think it is important for more-experienced teachers in a department to encourage newer teachers, and administrators, to take advantage of these chances.  What are you waiting for—start looking!

5.     Shared Leadership.  The reality is that we still have pockets of permissive leadership in schools.  Your job is to make sure that your staff shares in the decision-making through a strong Building Leadership Team and through relational leadership; although it is a more complex dynamic, the conversations are richer, the teacher growth is phenomenal, and the leaders benefit.  Promote shared leadership at every opportunity.

6.     Online Community.  I know that this seems obvious to you, but that does not mean that it is obvious to your staff—many still use the Net as a newspaper, not as a 2.0 collaborative.   Developing an intentional online community is a priority for you and your District, as it allows a movement from local concerns to state and national conversation. One of the best building communities I have seen has been developed by @Shawn_Holloway and his teachers at #mnwcougars; ask your building tech, a teacher, or a student to help you show off Twitter and RSS readers.

I’ll leave you with an example of an unintentional teacher-leader—Ms. Q,  whose call for dietary reform at  have brought national attention to an issue, and were fueled by simultaneous efforts by Michelle Obama, Jamie Oliver, and a national debate.  Although none of us plans to save the world, sometimes it’s an unintentional consequence. J

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