Failure to Launch

Wenner and Campbell define teacher leaders as:
“teachers who maintain K-12 classroom-based teaching responsibilities, while also taking on leadership responsibilities outside of the classroom” (p. 140).

We often assume teachers implicitly understand this dual role of being an effective teacher as well as a leader. They don’t.

Over the past fifteen years, I have been a part of numerous projects, which sought to build capacity through teacher leaders. An unfortunate pattern emerged across projects.  The selected educators would embrace the new ideas and/or practices in their classrooms, with their students. However, when asked to take an active leadership role, most would either avoid the task, provide a litany of reasons why the task could not be accomplished or provide a half-hearted initial effort with little follow through.

Now we did have success stories, but too many teacher leaders were falling through the cracks. Why? How can we improve outcomes?

Three Rules for Success:
  1. Pick the right people - Seems obvious right? Wrong! Not so obvious. We tend to go to people that are open to new ideas or have an interest in the initiative area. However, are those individuals open to taking risks? Are they willing to provide support or turnkey presentations to colleagues? Are they willing to show what did not work as well as what did? Do they want to lead and influence others? Encourage and select the teachers with a mindset that the work involves both implementation in the classroom as well as tasks and activities with their peers.

  1. Be explicit about desired outcomes - If you want teachers to run a workshop or open their classrooms to peers, they need to know at the beginning of the journey. Sometimes we wait because we do not want to overwhelm the teachers. However, you can’t wait and then spring it on them. Tell people what you want early so they can self-select out if it is not for them. Don’t waste a spot on someone not interested in follow through.

  1. Provide learning around leadership, not just teaching practices - It is important that participants develop their understanding of what it means to be a leader. Do not assume they know. They need guidance and time to process what that means in their role. The Teacher Leader Model Standards are an excellent source to ground and anchor the leadership conversation.

While at Discovery, we documented some of these lessons in a white paper on teacher leadership. Check it out. Teacher Leaders: The (Not So Secret Catalyst for Change).


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