For teachers, being asked to be a school leader to our peers seems like a loaded question. What does being a teacher leader mean? We don’t want to direct our fellow teachers, demand they complete tasks or offer unwanted feedback.
Fortunately, being a great teacher leader requires none of those things. Instead, teacher leaders are characterized by their ability to support their peers. A successful teacher leader is not worried about being seen as better than those around them; rather, they seek to make the school a better place by helping their colleagues whenever possible.
Here are a few tips on how to be a teacher leader:
Show interest in other classrooms
Interacting with other classrooms is one of the most important parts of any teacher leadership role. And yet, we struggle. We are all guilty of closing our doors and neglecting to interact with anyone outside of our hallway. Classroom management is key, but so too is professional learning.
Recently, I was speaking with another teacher when I realized I had no idea where her classroom was located. How could I support someone I had not invested in? Take time out of your day to become involved in, or simply to observe, other classrooms.
My school has implemented a Pineapple Chart, a learning community calendar where teachers mark dates when they are open for classroom visitors. This is a great way for offering planned opportunities for others to observe other classrooms unobtrusively. Take the time to show support for the amazing teaching and learning happening all around you.
Help out when needed
When the call comes to help another teacher, it is shamefully easy to ignore it. We’re busy people. This is just one of the hundreds of emails we get each day, and you will not be the only one to pretend it doesn’t exist.
If a teacher needs classroom resources, coverage for an hour or two or help putting together curriculum plans, trust that they’re in need of a helping hand for a good reason. If you can, help them. Not only are you acting as a teacher leader when you support your other teachers by responding to their needs, you’re also setting a tone for the type of culture you want to create among the faculty at your school.
Advocate for growth
Change is one of the most frightening aspects of education. As soon as I feel I have mastered my curriculum, administration has new requests, standardized testing requirements evolve or standards are revised. While change and growth are not always synonymous, it’s important that teacher leaders give new policies their best chance.
I was staunchly opposed to a new textbook rollout for our high school, but upon reading the text, it had several stellar short stories by diverse authors. Keep in mind, teacher leaders should not bend to the will of the system on every occasion. An educator’s main goal is to help students learn, and policies that hurt our students should be discouraged. However, it is often true that teacher leaders support more initiatives than they oppose.
In the modern world, communication has taken a back seat to screen time. With social media vying for our attention, many of us have forgotten a critical skill: listening. Creating meaningful relationships through listening to your peers is integral to being a teacher leader.
Listen purposefully when you talk with other teachers. Be aware of eye contact and body language, and ask relevant questions to show your colleagues you are listening to understand, not just listening to respond. Listening seems like such a basic skill, but showing empathy to your coworkers will enhance the workplace for the better.
Be positive and kind
In the field of education, it is easy to get sucked into a cycle of cynicism. Apathy is a virus that can destroy the will of any teacher. Effective teacher leaders are optimistic, especially when it’s difficult to be so. When every lesson plan has gone wrong, an enormous number of students have been absent and the Wi-Fi is down again, teacher leaders are still looking for ways to make the day better.
We’re all human, and emotions -- good and bad -- are a part of that package. But our students need us to be there for them, even on our worst days. Similarly, our colleagues need us to be there for them, too. When we can remain positive and kind in the face of hardship, our school learning environment benefits.
What makes a good teacher leader?
Every day, teachers lead students. Teachers understand them, inspire them, collaborate with them and learn alongside them. There is no doubt that all teachers can make great leaders. It is time for teachers to take up the mantle and lead each other.
Let’s dispose of the notion that being a leader means being demanding. Instead, let’s promote a simple and genuine truth: the most important quality of being a good teacher leader means being supportive.
Andrea Marshbank is a second year high-school English language-arts teacher. Her students are leaders, writers and readers. Find more of her work at themarshbankclassroom.com.
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