Monday, November 8, 2010

Developing The Leaders Within...

Cross Posted At The ASCD In-Service Blog

When I started teaching, I had no desire to take on any leadership roles in my school. Yet in my nine years as a classroom teacher and technology integration specialist, I've led as a team leader, grade-level chair, school improvement team chair, and district technology team chair.
How did I get here?
Straight out of school, I started teaching in a classroom with students who had essentially been kicked out of their home school and fallen behind by several grade levels. My lofty goal: get them to take and pass our state assessments, help them enter a program that would allow them to complete two grade levels in one year, and get them back on track to graduate on time.
It was an eye-opening experience. I had student-taught in a very rural area with very few problems like the ones I faced in my classroom that first year. I was ready to walk away from teaching after my second day.
With no mentor, seemingly no one to talk to, I went to my administrator. We talked for a very long time about teaching, classroom management, and my classroom. Eventually, this one conversation turned into a weekly meeting. She became my unofficial mentor.
During the next four years working with her, I learned what it meant to be a leader. These weren't specific lessons but more through the way she led her staff, the way she handled situations, the way she listened. She was firm when she needed to be, but her door was always open and she would always talk about whatever was on your mind, even if it was to criticize a decision she had made.
But what really helped me develop as a leader were the opportunities she gave me to lead.
At first, I was wary—didn't you have to be a veteran teacher and have lots of experience to do any of that? But with the encouragement of my administrator, I became a team leader and later a grade-level chair, all in the first few years of teaching. Later, I joined the School Improvement Team and became chair helping to guide the direction our school would take over the course of several years, all with the encouragement of my administrator.
I know my experience with distributed leadership is not the norm. Instead of taking the time to develop teacher leaders, many administrators take those roles away from teachers for whatever reason, be it fear, need for control, or just their personal style.
The difference between me and so many other educators out there is simple. I worked with leaders who took the time to identify the potential in their staff and foster their leadership development. I was not the only person in my building who developed in this way—many teachers were.
Administrators must take the time to develop those teacher leaders in the building. Who are they? How can they be supported or developed? It is about spreading the wealth of knowledge at all levels in the building.
But it isn't just administrators. Are teachers looking for student leaders in their classrooms? How are teachers developing leadership skills in students? How are teachers teaching students to find their leadership potential? Are they leading by example?
Perhaps you are an administrator who is like those I have had over the years, or a teacher who has worked for an administrator who was the complete opposite of mine.
What thoughts do you have about developing teacher leaders? What do you do to develop the leadership skills in others?
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