With strong support from the U.S. Department of Education and organizations such as the National Network of State Teachers of the Year, teacher leadership has emerged as a national trend. Given the need for teachers to guide the direction of their profession, it is prudent to support teacher leadership as a mechanism for teacher voice and meaningful professional growth. A lack of funding, however, will inevitably stifle the important momentum that has been generated over the last few years. Whether it is the inspiring work carried out by hundreds of teachers who attended the Teach to Lead summits, teachers taking on hybrid roles, or the many other iterations of teacher leadership, sufficient financial support for states and districts will go a long way toward enriching the professional lives of teachers and ensuring that teacher leadership remains a potent force in years to come.
Practice and Support
Creating and implementing well-designed structures for relevant professional development is a key feature of teacher leadership. Utilizing teachers’ expertise in guiding and supporting each other at various points across the career continuum is a smart approach that not only increases our pedagogical effectiveness, but also bolsters teacher self-efficacy, motivation, and morale. Hybrid roles, such as peer coaches, are another way that schools and districts are recognizing the value of teacher leadership at the local level. This distributed model of leadership fosters a participatory culture and maximizes teachers’ skills and capacities for the benefit of teachers and students. Teacher leadership is a means by which all teachers – novice and veteran alike – can support each other in the enhancement of teaching practices that are informed by authentic experience, collaboration, and research.
Advocacy and Policy
Teacher leadership also serves to facilitate positive, productive educator-policymaker partnerships. There are numerous examples of meaningful, genuine teacher voice being solicited and respected at the local, state, and federal levels. In Connecticut, for instance, the highly successful Empowered to Lead symposium brings together teachers, administrators, policymakers, and others to discuss current educational issues, potential solutions, and next steps. Participants leave the symposium with a greater sense of urgency and the knowledge that many of our educational challenges are best approached in a solutions-oriented manner geared toward improvement and innovation. Teacher leadership opportunities like this one result in a proactive – rather than reactive – stance, with interactions characterized by mutual respect and the understanding that all parties involved are working toward the same goal.
Teacher Leadership as the New Norm
In some countries, teacher leadership is ingrained in the educational culture. Teacher engagement in practice, support, advocacy, and policy is so commonplace as to be unexceptional, except when viewed from the lens of those who yearn for it. If we continue to insist on international comparisons, then we must also consider the policies and practices undertaken by other countries that have designed ways for teachers to be recognized, supported, and respected as the leaders of their profession – and we must act upon it.
We will know that we have been successful when the phrase, “teacher leader,” becomes a redundancy in terms. When that day comes, teacher leadership will be intertwined with the many professional roles and responsibilities carried out by every teacher every day. Teacher leadership is transforming the landscape of education and elevating the teaching profession. Accordingly, adequate levels of funding will further augment the conditions for teacher leadership to become the new norm.
Just as teachers are boldly stepping up to lead the needed changes in our education system, funders must step up and offer them the resources needed to bring their ideas to fruition.
Dr. David Bosso is a Social Studies teacher at Berlin High School in Berlin, Connecticut, and the 2012 Connecticut Teacher of the Year.