By: Rebecca Standridge, Program Specialist for ESE Curriculum and veteran Special Education Teacher in Marion County, Florida
As a child, I dreamed of growing up and becoming a teacher; practicing reading aloud with my baby dolls and stuffed animals and was always the first to volunteer to help the teacher grade papers. I am now an adult, living my dream of teaching while continuing to learn and explore the field of education. During my career, the lifestyle of a military spouse has been a challenge to my development as a teacher leader. I feel like I have to prove myself to my coworkers and administrators at each new school. I begin teaching at a school, and within one school year I have established myself and built solid relationships with coworkers; these relationships strengthen and just as I feel confident in my position and moving upward, it is time to move again. But, I’ve found several ways to make sure that I can continue to grow as a leader in this unique and constantly-uprooted professional journey.
I first experienced teacher leadership through my first job teaching in a self-contained Special Education classroom for kindergarten through second grade students. I worked closely with my team to problem solve student behaviors, and I was provided professional development offerings where I learned strategies that I implemented in my classroom and shared with colleagues. When I moved states, I endured one of my most challenging years thus far in my career as I faced adversity with coworkers, lack of leadership and administration support, and a shortage of supplies and materials. Most days ended with me in tears as I struggled with my career choices and questioned myself as a teacher. At the end of the school year, I found a new professional home in a neighboring district, and I felt ready to further my education and learning, using my past experiences to propel me to fight for student learning, for special education services, and for collaborative teaching.
Successful teacher leaders thrive in situations where they receive administrative support, buildings where teachers are allowed to share leadership responsibilities and have a voice in decision-making. Administrators must recognize and support the need for continuous learning, providing opportunities for growth and professional development. According to Lieberman and Miller (2004), teachers who are able to share information and model as continuous learners are credible to their peers and can influence others to take a leadership role.
Teacher research is another important element of teacher leadership. As professionals, we face problems of practice daily; we question our teaching, our methods, our data, and our reflections. As researchers we take these questions further than the conversations between coworkers in the copy room; we dive into the research process to discover information and find meaning .
I began thinking about how I could impact larger groups of students and teachers; I served on the hiring committee for the special education department and acted as a liaison for the Special Education teachers within the district. I dove into leadership opportunities, placing myself on committees, and changing the culture of Special Education at the school to include the teachers in weekly learning community meetings and presenting at staff meetings, professional development days – educating the staff on Special Education strategies, goals, responsibilities, and expectations. I want to work with administrators, sharing ideas and visions for the future of the classrooms, the schools, and my professional growth.
As my time as a military spouse comes to an end, I look forward to settling into one school district, which will allow me to build lasting rapport and stronger relationships. I am a teacher leader, no matter where I am, and I hope to continue to impact students, to reflect on my practice, and rise to the challenge of my students’ needs.
Lieberman, A. & Miller, L. (2004). Teacher leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.