Jeff started off his exploration of teacher leadership with the following quote:
“Within every school there is a sleeping giant of teacher leadership, which can be a strong catalyst for making change. By using the energy of teacher leaders as agents of school change, the reform of public education will stand a better chance of building momentum.” (Katzenheimer & Moller, 1996, p. 2)
The reality for the province is that although we recognize the power that Katzenheimer and Moller see in teacher leaders, it is difficult to harness and support the work of teacher leaders. How do we go about growing and supporting teacher leadership that is sustainable and powerful?
Jeff points to a variety of teacher leader roles in schools, from formalized positions (AISI lead teachers, curriculum specialists, administrators, etc.) to those less formalized yet so critical to school success and improvement. Jeff found that research alludes to three different views of teacher leadership:
- Every teacher is a leader – not based on status or salary but circumstance and need
- Teachers leading teachers – using credibility as a teacher to lead colleagues (informal and formal roles – not administration)
- Administrators involving teachers – promoting shared leadership and decision making
Teacher leaders have a single guiding purpose – to build capacity in others. They use their talents to influence, shape, support, and catalyze change that results in increased student achievement (Killion, 2011, p. 11)
Jeff shared with the group some reasons why teachers become teacher leaders:
- Exploration – this is interesting!
- Networking – who else knows about this?
- Community – I belong and contribute
- Agency – I have some decision making
- Impact – I can make a difference
- Self-Improvement – my classroom practice improves
Gerry Varty, a participant in the session, made a great point, sharing that most often classroom teachers do not typically have the time to really engage in the work of teacher leadership. It’s when we have teachers that initially move into these formalized roles that are then excited and anxious to return to the classroom, “then we have something”. This points to the importance of continuing to build capacity within the system, whether at the school, district or provincial level. AISI helps us to build this capacity in our system, as we build leaders that are creating knowledge, not just implementing (as suggested by Andy Hargreaves earlier in the day).
Four impediments to teacher leadership, as discussed by Barth:
- Too many tasks in their job description
- Not enough time to tackle the challenge
- The pressure of accountability
- Reluctant or resistant colleagues
It really struck me that these impediments are so easily identifiable in our schools, specifically in relation to AISI leaders. Teacher leaders have to straddle that delicate line, between relationships (are you a friend, a colleague, a coach or a supervisor), environment (classroom or where is your office located?), interactions with administration, and their role as expert or fellow learner. Leaders are constantly having to gain trust and establish credibility, which can sometimes be opposing forces impacting the life of our teacher leaders.
Jeff emphasized the importance of the key theme “what are WE working on together” as a guiding thought for teacher leaders. Without a clear focus on shared purpose, teacher leaders can experience increased challenges in their work with teachers. It should be challenging work but focusing on WE can ensure challenges are speed bumps, not roadblocks.
Critical qualities of leaders, as identified by Bennis and Thomas (2002) include:
- Adaptive capacity
- The ability to engage others in shared meaning
- A distinctive and compelling voice, and
- A sense of integrity
As cycle five of AISI continues moving forward, we are going to continue to learn more about teacher leadership in the Alberta context, building capacity for further innovation.