Mention the word, “leader,” and many people conjure up an image of a larger-than-life character who seemingly single-handedly transforms their organization for the better. A leader, as many also erroneously believe, is determined by having a title or position of importance. John Maxwell said, “Leadership is influence, nothing more and nothing less.” Teachers all over the world, regularly lead positive changes in their classrooms, schools, districts, and beyond without fanfare, recognition and often without a formal title or position. They lead because their colleagues respect and trust them. Their leadership begins from the heart. Their passion for reaching and teaching young people and love for what they do is evident. Extraordinary teachers are leaders because they inspire and motivate others to be and do their best. How they lead is multifaceted and is only limited by their creativity.
Unfortunately, too many teachers fail to identify themselves as leaders. Many educators share the mindset that leadership is for a “talented” few. This limiting belief stifles the potential of teachers that could otherwise make a larger impact on student learning and achievement. The inclination to think about “my class, my students” or even “my team” prevents teachers from developing a greater vision. Instead of viewing themselves as leaders that accept not only the responsibility of their class but also the responsibility of all students; they see themselves as “just teachers” and limit their potential impact. Their talents and abilities largely remain an untapped resource that could enrich the lives of many more people.
The paradigm shift from “my” to “our” is subtle but powerful. When this shift happens, when teachers start to view themselves as leaders who are empowered to inspire positive changes not only in the lives of “their students” but in “all students,” they are motivated by an even higher purpose. “Every child, every day” takes on a whole new significance.
Every teacher can and must lead if they care about kids. Not all will become outstanding leaders, but everyone can improve. Leadership skills can be learned. What teachers will soon realize is that they are already leading! They need only to expand their circle of influence beyond their classroom walls.
There are as many ways that teachers can lead as there are teachers. Here are eight ways that teachers can make an even more significant impact on student learning and success.
Be the Person the Principal can Trust- Provide high-quality instruction for the students in your classroom. Do your job at a consistent level of excellence and then go above and beyond. Extend your circle of influence to others who will be inspired and motivated by you sharing your unique gifts and talents. Lead out and support the principal with the initiatives that will benefit students. Lead by example. Model professionalism. Continually learn and improve.
Take the Initiative- What improvements can you lead that align with your school’s shared vision? Look around. What is needed? How can you leverage your strengths? Taking the initiative is where the creativity of teachers come into play. Great teachers will see many opportunities to serve their students and colleagues. Teachers can share resources, informally help colleagues learn how to integrate a tech tool or teaching strategy, offer to present PD in an area of expertise, or oversee a student-led project. The possibilities are limitless!
Build A Positive School Culture- Spread positivity throughout your school and organization. Allow your infectious energy and positive attitude to spread. Do what you can to create memorable moments. Think outside of the box and find creative ways to welcome, encourage, and engage students in authentic learning experiences. Create a culture where everyone feels safe and that they belong. Lead by loving and serving others. Provide parents with the best school and opportunities available. Find ways of improving the communication between home and school.
Model Professional Learning- Read, attend conferences and edcamps, connect with other educators, and continually learn and improve teaching practices. A leader is a learner, and a learner is a leader. Take risks and try new things. Share your learning journey- both the successes and failures.
Acknowledge and Celebrate Greatness- Recognize the great work of your colleagues. Everyone has a need to feel valued and appreciated. Make it your mission to get to know staff members on a more personal level. Give the gift of time. Share the positive happenings of your school with others via personal notes of appreciation, social media, or other means. Encourage and instill confidence in others.
Collaborate- Build a culture of collaboration. Use your influence to break down the walls of isolation that surround teachers through one conversation at a time. Inspire your colleagues to see the bigger picture and importance of a PLC. Be the first to risk. Invite trusted colleagues into your classroom virtually or in person. Use their feedback for growth. Gently nudge and challenge them to stretch beyond their comfort zones and join you on a journey. Build momentum and work together for a common purpose. Be results oriented. Achieve goals together. Help to develop a culture of collaborative leadership where all voices are valued equally.
Have the Courage to Advocate- Listen and share the stories of your students. Speak up and speak out. Give an adult voice to your students who are often not empowered to advocate for themselves. Find ways to empower students and share their voice. What changes need to happen to improve student learning? What cause can you champion? Encourage and teach empathy. Great leaders seek to understand.
Observe and Problem Solve- Lighten the load of your principal by being observant of potential problems. Find solutions. A leader has a desire to change the status quo. Look at your school or organization with fresh eyes. Ask questions. Listen to feedback. Use your creativity to innovate and improve the current environment.
Educating children is a high and noble calling. The current challenges and demands are too significant for any one school leader to lead alone. It's crucial that teachers develop a leader's mindset. We can’t afford to wait years and years to improve our schools. Our students depend on us now. It will take an army of leaders working together with a clarity of purpose to significantly change the status quo. But, we must do it. Every teacher, veteran and new, is needed. Every teacher is called to lead.