Seven Steps to Becoming a Teacher Leader

Seven Steps to Becoming a Teacher Leader from #education #leadership #edpolicy #advocacy
“What is a teacher leader?” Ask 10 different people and you'll likely get 10 different answers. For some, a teacher leader is someone who serves as an instructional specialist, coaching and mentoring other educators through peer observations. Others picture teacher leaders as quasi-admin, teachers whose course load has been partially or fully reduced in exchange for taking on a new job title and some administrative responsibilities. Still others view teacher leaders as those vanguard educators who are continually introducing or adopting the most innovative classroom practices.

In my professional opinion, being a teacher leader is more than just a new job title. A teacher leader is someone who inspires others and uses their influence to affect change. As educators, I believe it is something we all aspire to, but it is also something that can easily get lost in the urgency of the day-to-day tasks that so often consume our lives. Becoming a teacher leader is not something that happens overnight; it is a process. So wherever you are on your journey, I hope the seven steps listed below can help drive your development.

1) Educate Yourself - First, teachers must educate themselves. Education policy and practice is a complex and dynamic field. Teacher leaders must be aware of the legislation and regulations that govern their work. There is great power in being informed. Oftentimes, awareness is the first step towards action. Teacher education shouldn’t be limited to a handful of relicensure credits. Professional learning encompasses a wide range of opportunities and all of them can be leveraged by teacher leaders.

2) Educate Others - Just as it is important to educate yourself, being a leader also means being intentional about educating others. As teachers, we are engaged with our students and our school on a daily basis. For others, their understanding about our schools can be shaped by their own experiences, their children, or even the media - for better or for worse. Educating others means being transparent about our education system, including the policies and practices of that system. 

3) Organize - As someone who collaborates on a daily basis, I can say with confidence that working with others offers far more opportunities than working in isolation. When we close our classroom doors, we lose valuable connections that could help us all advance the goals of education. By organizing with other teachers and education professionals, both in-person and online, we build a network that has the potential to impact more than we ever could on our own. 

4) Elevate the Profession - Although enhancing the status of teaching is something that needs to happen at the system level, there are actions that individual teacher leaders can take to make a difference. Elevating education means making conscious choices about how we represent ourselves, our schools and our jobs. Professionalism is more than showing up on time and doing your job. It means learning how to communicate effectively and share knowledge in meaningful ways. 

5) Amplify Good Work - There is incredible work being done in classrooms all around the country. It is our responsibility as educators to promote the creativity, innovation, talent and success of our students, teachers and schools. To be clear, amplifying the good does not mean ignoring everything else. There are systemic challenges within our classrooms and schools today that need to be addressed. In our efforts to address those issues, however, we cannot forget to share the work that inspires, motivates and affirms.

6) Infiltrate - Although the word ‘infiltrate’ often conjures up images of espionage and deceit, I believe the strategy of ‘overt infiltration’ is a necessary step in affecting change beyond the classroom. I learned long ago that if you want your voice to be heard, you need to put yourself in positions to make that happen. This is especially true in my position as an EL Teacher. My students are often some of the most marginalized students in the school. To meet their needs, I must make sure that I have a place at the table where decisions are being made.

7) Advocate Locally and Globally - Finally, it is imperative that teachers become advocates for their students, their schools and themselves. Education advocacy can take on many forms, but it should not stop within your school. Too often, education policy is made by leaders who have limited experience in the classroom. Taking time to connect with local, state and national leaders can build a bridge between practice and policy.

If you’re interested in developing your skills as a teacher leader, you can start today by educating yourself. There are countless resources available online for learning more about education policy and practice. Some of my favorites are the US Department of Education and their What Works Clearinghouse along with professional organizations like ASCD and (for language teachers) MinneTESOL and CARLA. These resources will help prepare you for wherever your leadership takes you.