(Originally Posted on Common Sense School Leadership.)
By Christopher Wooleyhand
Good schools have good leadership. Great schools have great teacher leadership. We can all think back to the day when the single heroic leader model was the norm. This was the era of the authoritarian principal who ruled with a firm hand. They were the only “expert” in the building and they used their influence in every aspect of management. Some of those dinosaurs remain, but much like the dinosaurs, they are headed for extinction.
The postmodern principal recognizes that schools have no chance of success unless leadership is a shared commodity. The job is just too big. The need to develop teachers as leaders is a generally accepted premise in most school districts. The challenge, of course, is how to do it. How can school systems and individual schools harness the skills of their teachers to improve instruction and raise student achievement?
Here are three thoughts that school leaders may want to consider when developing teacher leaders:
School leaders who select the teacher leaders in their building automatically limit the potential for success. Everyone can lead in some way. If teachers aren’t considered part of the leadership team, then they are unlikely to be a part of a school’s success. Principals who are perceived as having “their people” create a climate of acrimony that leaves many on the outside looking in. Leadership opportunities must be given to everyone.
Identify and Capitalize on Strengths
We expect teachers to know the strengths and challenges of their students. School leaders must do the same with their teachers. This can be done formally (surveys) or informally (conversations/observations). Either way, school leaders can capitalize on that knowledge when developing their school improvement plans. Every teacher should be offered and encouraged to have their moment to shine.
School leaders must take a leap of faith and trust teachers. Sometimes, that trust must be given before it is earned. Most principals want control over the sharing of information in their buildings. They want to make sure that instruction is consistent and focused. Trusting teachers and their expertise will actually enhance quality instruction. Teachers want to be included in the important decisions related to instruction. When school leaders exclude teachers, they eliminate the potential for innovation. Innovative teaching comes from a school climate that fosters risk-taking. If principals are willing to trust their teachers, the ideas will come pouring out.
Building teacher leadership is one way that school leaders may be able to ensure long-term success. School leaders come and go. Turnover and change are inevitable. When leadership is shared, the transition to new leadership is much smoother. We owe it to our students and their families to utilize the knowledge of our teachers. Let’s replace those dinosaurs with a new generation of resilient and inclusive leaders.
Christopher Wooleyhand is an Elementary Principal and co-founder/co-moderator of Maryland Elementary School Chat (#mdeschat). He shares his insights on his website, Common Sense School Leadership. Follow Christopher on Twitter at @principal64.