3 Tips for Building Teacher Leadership

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:

Include Everyone

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.

Are you a dynamic leader?

What is dynamic leadership?  How do you know if you have it or not? Why is it important?  School leaders continue to take on a range of daily responsibilities. Dynamic leadership may be the singular approach that allows schools to meet with success.  Our students and teachers cannot afford to be led by those who lack the skills to ensure that every minute of their day is spent meaningfully.  Are you a dynamic leader?  Let’s look at the arguable qualities that make a leader dynamic or not.

Dynamic​​​                           Not
Fearless                  ​​​          Fearful
Inclusive​​​                           Isolated
Failure as opportunity​ ​      Failure as disaster
Innovative​​​                        Traditional
Proactive​​​                          Reactive

Fearless, not fearful

Leaders who are consumed by fear are unable to make even the simplest decisions.  They are the veritable “deer in the headlights.”  On the other hand, fearless leaders are thoughtful and decisive.  They weigh all of the options while making timely decisions.  Fearless leaders operate from a mindset that focuses on what is right for students first.  They don’t allow fear to cloud their judgment.

Inclusive, not isolated

Dynamic leaders understand that you can never have enough help and support.  While they are confident in their ability, they know that the success of their school depends on many people.  They give a voice to students, teachers, and parents.  Most importantly, they trust that others are competent and capable.  They assume the best in people without being naïve.

Failure as opportunity, not disaster

Failure is inevitable.  Dynamic leaders expect failure, some even plan for it.  Dynamic leaders model their humanity by acknowledging failure and using it to plan for the next success.  Students benefit from observing school leaders and teachers who model a mature response to failure.  If we expect our students to be resilient, we need to give them the tools for handling failure.

Innovative, not traditional

Traditional thinking gets you traditional results.  Innovative thinking, however, can take you places you’ve never been before.  What is the number one quality of an innovator?  They look to others for new ideas.  Yes, some innovators create their own great ideas, but most innovation builds on the work of others.  Innovative leaders are self-aware.  They know their strengths and challenges, so they fill in the gaps by capitalizing on the human assets around them.

Proactive, not reactive

Dynamic leaders are always one step ahead of change.  They anticipate change and start planning for it before it’s necessary.  Proactive leaders are calm and cool under duress because they are rarely surprised.  They support students and teachers by contextualizing change.  In schools, proactive leaders integrate new curricula, standards, and teaching practices with those already in place.  Their “we can do this” attitude reassures others that someone is looking out for them.

While dynamic leadership can be discussed and debated, it is harder to define.  It may be one of those “I’ll know it when I see it” phenomena.  What other qualities make a leader dynamic?  Post your comments below or tweet out a response to this post and help us grow the list.

Advice from A Great PLN!

The topic for #mdeschat last night was looking toward the New Year.  While the challenges of teaching and leading are many, it was reassuring to hear the hope and energy expressed by many in last night’s chat.  The last question was “fill-in-the-blank” and the answers are a good example of the power of positive thinking.

“2015 will be a great year because…


…I will continue to avoid “the box” and create an environment where creativity is valued.”


…I am surrounded by passionate educators who uplift, encourage, empathize, understand, care, support, hope, heal and love.”


…we have amazing resources to utilize as educators! Twitter networking has no limits!”


…that beats the alternative.”


…more and more educators are stepping out of their comfort zones for the benefit of student learning and growth.”


…I will listen to understand.”


…each day my own PLN grows and I get to learn from brilliant people who have much to teach me.”


…I will continue to build strong, long-lasting relationships through social media.”


…I have family by my side, a career that’s invigorating, and a network of colleagues on Twitter to support me!”


…I have a balance between work and home and a child graduating high school.”


…I’m lucky enough to have another year in the world’s greatest profession!”


…I have decided to make it so.”

Such inspiration from people who spend every day supporting teachers and students!  Perhaps Brandon Kiser’s (@SchooLeader) last statement says it best, 2015 will be great if we only decide to make it so!  That spirit of thinking reminds us of our potential.  Is it possible to make significant change and progress just because we decide to?  I sure hope so.