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'Teacher Leadership' Has Become a Buzzword, But What Does That Mean?

If school systems don't do a better job of defining teacher leadership, then we should recognize that no one will want to take on teacher leadership.

There's been plenty of thought provoking conversation about the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Challenges for Student Leadership. One of the other major findings we see in this survey is the set of critical points made about teacher leaders:

1. Half (51 percent) of teachers are at least somewhat interested in teaching in the classroom part-time combined with other roles or responsibilities in their school or district, including 23 percent who are extremely or very interested in this option.

2. Most teachers (69 percent) say they are not at all interested in becoming a principal.

3. Teachers are most likely to say it is very important for a principal to have been a classroom teacher (79 percent) and give less importance to leading the development of strong teaching capacity across the school (69 percent) and using data about student performance to improve instruction (53 percent).

    These three pieces can either lend themselves to an improved school culture where we innovate on teacher leadership … or perpetuate the idea that teacher leaders are just assistant principals with less pay.

    Currently, the term "teacher leadership" varies from giving a few teachers a bunch of titles to fully teacher-run schools, and everywhere in between. For instance, New York City recently implemented a pilot teacher leadership program where they would work in the classroom for around half the time and, for the other half, do leadership-type activities, all negotiated between central offices, principals, and the teacher leaders.

    This sounds amazing, and familiar to the ideas we had a few years back.

    Yet, in programs like these, I wonder if they're trained as teacher leaders or as assistant principals, learning how to speak to teachers from on high instead of as a liaison between parties. I wonder if some principals actually let those leaders attend to their teaching load, however “light” the program seems.

    I wonder if teachers deemed teacher leaders understand why so many of us put the word teacher in front of the word leader when talking about teacher leadership.

    This falls on some of our colleagues too, who jump right into the teacher leadership role and misunderstand what comes with the title of "teacher leader." The perception is that, yes, they will lead as teachers. No teacher should have to feel reserved or voiceless when it comes to their professional opinion, but fellow teachers do value expertise and approach when it comes to leadership, no matter who it comes from.

    If school systems don't do a better job of defining teacher leadership, then we should recognize that no one will want to take on teacher leadership, similar to what’s happened with leadership period.

    A version of this post originally appeared at The Future of Teaching

    Education activities in the classroom image via Shutterstock

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