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Coaching Teachers To Be Leaders

How Do I Develop
Skillful Teacher Leaders?

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Many teachers participating in school reform are immersed in activities for which they have not been properly prepared. When teachers are asked to take on leadership responsibilities without the benefit of professional development it is an invitation for frustration and failure. The good news is that teachers can learn on the job, and principals are in a great position to provide job-embedded leadership development for teachers.

JOB-EMBEDDED PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Many opportunities to develop leadership skills are embedded in a teacher's typical workday. As teacher leaders go about the business of school improvement, occasions to reflect on their experiences, develop new understandings, and share their insights abound. Examples of job-embedded professional development structures include coaching, mentoring, participating in study groups, planning together, and performing after-action reviews.

Those collaborative structures are ideal situations in which teachers can enhance their leadership performance. But the structure alone does not provide leadership development. Learning on the job occurs after thoughtful reflection and an intention to stretch oneself to the next level.

HELPING TEACHER LEADERS STRETCH

Job-embedded professional development is a valuable process for adult learners who are practical, self-directed problem solvers wanting to improve their leadership performance. Developing teachers is a matter of helping them stretch their leadership abilities. Stretches move teachers out of their comfort zone and into activities that help them broaden their leadership performance. Principals can support the growth of teacher leaders by helping them stretch in the following ways:

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Coaching. Leadership coaching is a collaborative, professional partnership between a coach and a leader. Coaching occurs in structured conversations that increase leaders' awareness of their performance. Principals can stretch teachers by listening for untapped potential, asking questions that lead to new perspectives, and identifying next steps for teacher leaders -- actions that will stretch them to new leadership skills.

Mentoring. Partnering a less experienced practitioner with a seasoned one is valuable for both colleagues as they question, observe, and solve problems that arise in their work. Principals can stretch teachers' leadership performance by recognizing and encouraging potential mentor relationships. Articulating a belief in teachers' abilities to develop others, create and sustain professional relationships, and model effective teaching and leading strategies can move teachers into leadership action.

Study groups. Study groups are generally small groups of individuals who study a particular topic or issue. A great way for principals to stretch teachers is to participate as an equal in the study group. Teachers can take responsibility for planning, organizing, and facilitating the group. School leaders can be active members of the group by posing questions and listening to others.

Planning together. Collaborating on planning workshops, meetings, and other group events is a valuable way for teachers to learn leadership skills. Principals can provide resources and offer ideas that will stretch teachers' thinking. Co-facilitate the meeting or event with teachers until they are ready to proceed on their own. Modeling leadership skills -- such as effective communication -- will inspire a desire to learn.

After-action reviews. Taken from the military, this structure is a debriefing session that engages leaders in understanding what happened, what went well, what didn't go well and why. This structure would fit nicely in teaming situations such as the School Leadership Team. Principals facilitate the AAR focusing on learning how the group can improve their leadership skills. Begin by asking What happened in today's meeting? In what ways were we effective? In what ways do we need to improve? What actions will we take to meet our goals?

Teachers and students benefit greatly when principals support teacher leadership development. Learning opportunities are embedded in teachers' workday and principals can leverage those experiences to stretch teachers' leadership performance to new levels.

Article by Evelyn Cortez-Ford
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World

08/11/2006