Many teachers assume that the only next step in their educational careers is to leave the classroom and assume a role in administration. Although some teachers find satisfaction and success in the role of principal, director, coordinator or superintendent, there are several other opportunities for leadership and advancement that teachers can achieve while still spending every day in the classroom.
Formal and Informal Teacher Leaders
In many districts, experienced and well-prepared teachers may take on formal leadership positions, such as department chair, master teacher or instructional coach. In most cases, these positions are filled using a rigorous selection process. Teachers awarded these positions usually receive specialized training. Some leaders will organize and facilitate study groups and workshops, as well as chair grade-level or content area teams. In addition, these non-administrative leadership positions may involve peer evaluation or a formal mentor/protégé relationship between leader and colleague.
Teachers often rise naturally to positions of informal leadership. A teacher or group of teachers may take on the responsibility of strengthening school spirit, forming a student art or book club, or fundraising for new playground equipment. These positions emerge when teachers follow their interests and passion.
In some instances, teacher-launched events may influence statewide decisions. Dodie Magill Rodgers, South Carolina Teacher of the Year, organized all of the kindergarten teachers to celebrate the 25th year of kindergarten in the state. She then used that excitement and involvement to spearhead a successful initiative, shifting the entire state from half-day to full-day kindergarten. Although it took several tough years, Rogers says, “Go for it if it is a cause in which you believe passionately. I could never have mustered the strength, determination, or courage to see this project to completion unless it had been a cause I believed in with all my heart.”
Characteristics of an Effective Teacher Leader
Whether formally appointed or informally involved, teacher leaders can foster collaborative efforts for schoolwide decision-making and influence change. The most effective leaders demonstrate these common qualities:
- Strong and effective teaching practices: Teachers who are successful in their own classrooms are more able to lead others than those who are ineffective with planning, instruction and classroom management.
- Willingness to share: Effective leaders do not keep information or strategies that work to themselves.
- Peer respect: Teachers may not always agree about the best course of action for success. But teachers will follow the leadership of a colleague they respect, even if they do not see eye-to-eye on every detail.
- Open-minded: Strong school leaders have vision for improvement and change but remain open to the suggestions, ideas and vision of others.
- Catalyst of change: Each year, teachers return to the classroom prepared for room, curriculum, administrative and staff changes. Other changes suggested by teacher leaders may be met with skepticism and resistance. But strong leaders see the value of their vision and persevere. They understand that keeping current with the state, national and global educational communities is key to school success.
The Value of Teacher Leaders
Terry Knecht Dozier, Director of the Center for Teacher Leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education, says, “Teachers have a perspective that we can’t get from anyone else. By helping good teachers become great leaders, we plant seeds that will enhance our profession and enable students to reap the reward they deserve — a high-quality education.”
A Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from Mississippi College includes six hours of coursework in teacher leadership. By completing these courses, you will be well-prepared to take on a position of leadership in your school and make the changes you have envisioned for your students and colleagues. After completing this program, you will have the skills necessary to “engage in leadership opportunities and research and participate professionally in ongoing learning.”
Learn more about the Mississippi College online M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction program.