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Coaching Teachers To Be Leaders

How Do I Maintain Momentum
For Teacher Leadership?


A school decides to create a powerful vision based on a professional learning community ideal. Creating that vision is an exciting, positive process because it promises a better future for students, teachers, and staff. Nearly everyone is thrilled about the changes the new vision will bring starting with a basic tenet of professional learning communities -- shared leadership.

Administrators create the conditions to share leadership and teachers go about the work of leadership eagerly. A group of teachers participates on the School Leadership Team, every grade level is organized to have common planning times, and others have taken on various formal and informal leadership responsibilities.

But, of course, not everything goes smoothly. It doesn't take long for everyone to realize that change is hard, teacher leadership is tricky, roles are blurred, and relationships are suddenly strained. And then all at once there's a shift in momentum. Excitement fades, commitment wanes, and old patterns surface. And the principal of the school wonders, How do I maintain momentum for teacher leadership?


Suddenly everyone is feeling incompetent and frustrated with the prospect of teacher leadership. Teachers think about retreating to the privacy of their classrooms and forgetting they ever thought of becoming leaders. This feeling is not unusual and, in fact, it is predictable. The loss of momentum can be attributed to what Michael Fullan calls the implementation dip.

When an organization moves forward with an innovation that requires new knowledge and skills, such as with teacher leadership, a dip in productivity is likely. The implementation dip is a logical phase in the change process and should not be characterized as a failure. This is a small setback to momentum that principals can effectively manage with a few simple strategies.

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When faced with loss of motivation and excitement
It's hard to maintain a high level of enthusiasm all of the time. It is natural for teachers to exhibit signs of apathy with their new leadership roles and responsibilities. Supporting teachers during that time is a matter of effective communication about the change process. Here are some tips to increase motivation and excitement when you are faced with loss of motivation and excitement:

  • Explain the change process to teachers. If teachers know that they are in the "in between" stage of change it will help them understand that this is just part of the growth process.
  • Express a belief in teachers' abilities to work through this stage of change.
  • Listen to teachers' concerns and engage them in brainstorming solutions.

When faced with feelings of incompetence
The implementation dip is a sign that teachers are feeling anxious, unskilled, overwhelmed, and fearful of incompetence. Leadership development is a career-long endeavor and mastery of leadership skills and strategies won't happen all at once. Because teachers are using leadership strategies for which they may not have been properly educated, they will need quality professional development to support them in their new responsibilities. Here are some tips to help you deal with teachers' feelings of incompetence:

  • Provide timely, relevant, and specific feedback to teachers on their leadership work. At this time focus on their strengths.
  • Provide time for teachers to reflect, generate new understandings, and share their learning with others.
  • Conduct a needs assessment to determine the content of a leadership workshop for teacher leaders.
  • Provide leadership coaching for teachers.

When faced with dips in the data
What happens if the implementation dip is characterized by a dip in the data? While this is not unusual, it can be disheartening. Here are some tips to help teachers learn from data dips:

  • Use a broad range of data to get a clear picture of what is going on in the school. What does that data suggest?
  • Based on the data, generate and list hypotheses for the current situation. What in our leadership is causing our students to perform this way?
  • Establish specific, measurable, achievable goals. What outcome do we want to see at the end of 5 years?
  • Identify specific improvement action strategies. What specific actions will we take to achieve our improvement goal?

Change is a difficult process, especially when efforts to improve seem fruitless. When teachers and principals are not rewarded for their hard work, feelings of frustration and incompetence can set in as characterized by the implementation dip. Teacher leadership is not easy but principals can help maintain momentum that will inevitably lead to an implementation "rise."

Read more of Ellen Cortez-Ford's nine-part Coaching Teachers To Be Leaders series.

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