It’s no secret that we are and have been experiencing teacher shortages for some time in education. Something that is new and that we might not be prepared for is the loss of our district administrators and principals. Each person that leaves the field of education leaves for their own reasons, but nonetheless they leave a gap. We grow accustomed to building relationships and seeking guidance from those that “lead” us. It is becoming too frequent that we are left without the human resource of leadership. The feeling of frustration and possibly abandonment that is felt by teachers is creating uncertainty in our profession. Teachers constantly have to figure out new systems for communication and new norms for interactions each time that there is turnover at their school site or district.
It is possible for this frustration to come to an end. Teachers hold the key to changing the structures that have been in place in education for far too long. The time has come for we as teachers to stop tiptoeing each time someone new is put in place to lead us. Why can we not lead ourselves? We successfully lead classrooms each day; we lead meetings, professional developments and community events. We are already skilled leaders. We often do not recognize these skills in ourselves because we are waiting for someone else to recognize them in us and to grant us the title of Teacher Leader. I challenge this idea, we are teacher leaders. As a teacher, each time that we step out of your classroom to support a colleague, mentor a new teacher, create a piece of work or possibly design a PD event, we have stepped into the role of Teacher Leader.
Too often the traditional or well-defined role of teacher leadership will take teachers down a cookie cutter path. This might include department chair, instructional coach, assistant principal etc… All roles that have been established having clear expectation, criteria and that have been used by many. I think of this as ‘you can lead as long as you are following’. For many years this has been the only path for teachers to take that might have been interested in becoming leaders. I think that the time has come to explore the idea of informal teacher leader roles; they have served as the backbone of every school, yet often go unrecognized or supported.
Informal teacher leaders aren’t selected; they emerge on their own. These teachers are able to identify needs, seek partners to support needs and create pathways for both teacher and student success. This happens organically and usually includes a call to action that mobilizes a larger group to focus on a challenge or need. Colleagues respect these teacher leaders, have the skills to communicate well and have the disposition to make things happen. Often these informal teacher leadership roles are what keep many teachers in the profession. These teachers are the backbone of every school.
Maybe the next time we are in search of leadership, we may only need to look in the classroom next door.