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Les Potter is currently the director of the American International School West in Cairo, Egypt. Les has over 40 years in educational leadership in the US and Egypt and most recently has been a...
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Teacher Leaders

One of the challenges that face educators is to prepare pre-service teachers with the skills and abilities that are essential for success in the school system. Since this preparation may span several years, it is essential that educators be aware of trends in areas outside the usual responsibilities of teacher.  One of these unfamiliar areas is the change that is emerging is developing teacher leaders.

This change is in response to societal demands that teachers have more input into designing aspects of the curriculum, help establishing rules, policies and standards necessary for a successful school. This trend is creating teacher empowerment through on-site leadership. This empowerment is coming from departments of leadership in universities and at the school site. I will discuss creating teacher leaders at the school site.

The rationale behind such a movement is an emergence of a different type of educational leader that often expects teachers to become empowered and more involved in the planning and operations of their specific school building.  Peters and Waterman found that the best run companies in the country are able to inspire a greater commitment from their workers when a large measure of autonomy is extended to their employees. Barth wrote that if principals tries to do it all, then much of it will be left undone by anyone. The principal gains influence and demonstrates leadership by entrusting some of it to others. It has been increasingly important to share leadership and to reduce control of every aspect of the school.

Several factors need to be present in order to create teacher leaders at the school site:

  1. Everyone (teachers to board members) must agree that there is a need for teachers to enhance their leadership roles to make schools all that they should be.
  2. A vision must be agreed upon by all members of how this can be accomplished.
  3. There must be a commitment from the school board, superintendent, school administrator and teachers that the redefining and implementation of leadership can take place. Risk taking and regrouping must be allowed and expected.
  4. Staff development and time must be given to build an effective knowledge base and understanding of leadership. Staff development must be a totally committed process for the transformation to take place. Time must be committed along with the necessary resources. Staff development will not be successful if it is not done frequently, is done at inappropriate times, not monitors and not evaluated. A school district cannot expect teachers to be empowered with leadership without the proper guidance and skills.
  5. Implementation of teachers as leaders should be done slowly, carefully and in small, measured steps. The transformation of leadership cannot and should not happen overnight. Teachers must be allowed to work slowly and develop their own buy in. Do not expect all teacher to buy in or be part of this trend. Principals that have used this model have seen it work well. Ideas, morale, and instruction have improved when schools empower teachers as leader and as educational professionals. It is a big step in allowing teachers to lead their classrooms as well as the school. Teachers working in groups for the betterment of student performance is a beautiful thing to see. Principals also know that with the “right” of leadership comes the “responsibility” of leadership. Everyone is working together for is working together for the success of the school in a combined effort based upon consensus. Leaders do not work as segments acting independently for the individual’s goal but for the good of the cause.
  6. As the process of leadership transfer continues, there is a need to reflect, monitor, and adjust. A very important piece of the leadership transfer puzzle is to know if that is done is working. Monitor your progress. But everyone must be flexible enough to change when change is needed.

However, principals who are transferring leadership do not just turn over the keys. The principal must not let the staff loose and hope for the best. As R. M. Kanter wrote many years ago that freedom is not the absence of structure, letting employees go off and do whatever they want, but rather a clear structure which enables people to work within established boundaries in a creating and autonomous way.

 

Les Potter, Ed. D.

Director
American International School West
Cairo, Egypt