My decision to enter administration came from what I saw as a gap in effective leadership. I took the necessary steps to obtain my administrator’s endorsement so that I could impact more educators and students than just those within the four walls of my classroom. What I have learned along the way was that I did not need to be an administrator to lead, I was already leading in the classroom and that influence is much more important than authority.
As I embark on new ways to empower educators to lead from the classroom, I am constantly thinking about how to create new opportunities to have shared leadership in schools, especially as we begin a new school year. To the teacher leaders out there, I hope you will leverage your influence to lead for the betterment of our students.
What is Teacher Leadership?
Teacher leadership is the ability to bring people together and mobilize them to action through advocacy, policy, and practice. The word leader is not often used to describe a teacher. Sure, we all lead in our classroom by making decisions for our students and creating engaging lessons, but we do not always think of ourselves in the realm of a “leader”. However, if we think about various teachers in our schools, we can see leadership attributes such as charisma, kindness, integrity, responsibility, and loyalty. The problem is we have to shift in our thinking and allow teachers to have a voice in the issues that affect them the most.
Build your network
There is power in the collective ability of people coming together to make an impact. One of the reasons I wanted to go into administration was because I was tired of the negative narrative that I saw emerging. I wanted to become a partner with my leadership and assist in making school a better place for students. Finding like-minded people who believe in students and the power of their peers is certainly a means for ensuring that you can lead from the classroom. Teaching is difficult – and it is even harder if you are in silos. Build your network and support one another this school year so that our students can have access to all the knowledge, skills and abilities that we collectively bring to the table.
Influence v. Authority
To have authority typically means that you have a title bestowed upon you and are in a position to direct others to do what it is that needs to be done; however, when you have influence over others you can have an impact over their behavior, their character, and their actions. While we may desire to have authority, it is much more impactful to lead from a place of influence. Teacher leaders have this ability, as do leaders within our schools. We lead with influence by not just talking about what needs to happen, but by doing what needs to happen as well as living out loud the beliefs that we have about students. This school year, be an influencer, be a change maker, and be a walking billboard for your beliefs about students. You will quickly begin to notice that your peers will respect and admire your positive character. They will be more willing to take risks and follow your lead as you influence them through your actions.
A little bit goes a long way
As we think about ways to lead from the classroom this school year, it is easy to get burdened with all that needs to happen to make our schools a better place. From test scores to teacher pay, to burnout, there are many issues that educators face on a daily basis. What we have to remember is that one small act can go a long way. Telling someone you appreciate them, giving an encouraging word to a colleague, or asking the Principal how you can support them, can make all the difference for someone. Mother Teresa said, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” Teacher leadership does not have to be some grand sweeping act that changes the world, sometimes leadership is showing up and being present for whatever the moment calls for.
Although we have administrators in our building, they cannot do everything alone. Teacher leaders play a vital part in shifting the climate and the culture of schools. You do not need a title or a position to lead, you simply need to believe in your ability and the abilities of others to create equitable spaces for students to be the very best that they can be by inspiring, empowering, and influencing right where they are.
Sign up FREE to get all the latest preK-12 educational freebies, product samples, and articles delivered straight to your inbox.
About the author: Kelisa Wing is the Assistant Principal at West Point Elementary School in West Point, NY. She is a 2016 ASCD Emerging Leader and the 2017 Department of Defense Education Activity Teacher of the Year. She is an Army veteran and a proud graduate of the University of Maryland University College and the University of Phoenix where she earned her Educational Specialist degree.