Teacher Leaders in Action
Reviewed by Linda Biondi
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
Every teacher has moments that they treasure in the classroom– times a student says “I got it!” or “Thank you for being there for me.” We often forget that our role as teachers goes beyond the four walls of the classroom. We forget that we are not only leaders of students but also leaders of teachers. We are often not only the “unsung” heroes but also the “unsung leaders.”
One of the highlights of my teaching career was being recognized as a teacher leader to serve on the Teacher Advisory Panel of the New Jersey Department of Education. Its purpose was “to facilitate direct, two-way, in-person communication between NJDOE and educators on the ground around the implementation of key DOE initiatives.” We were asked to provide feedback regarding Department of Education initiatives, suggest ways the Department could support teachers in increasing student achievement, and share information about initiatives at the state level with fellow educators. Teachers spoke and were listened to.
In October, 2014, I was nominated to attend Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers (ECET²) Convening in New Orleans, sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The goal of the convening was to celebrate teachers but also to build a network of teacher leaders.
Trepidation set in. I began to reflect and wonder. Why me? What do I have to offer? What is a teacher leader?
Recognizing teacher leaders
As I sat on the plane, I reflected on what a teacher leader was. Since I was in the company of other exemplary teachers from around the state, I decided to watch other teacher leaders in action. As I eavesdropped on their conversations, I tried to think of what was the perfect picture of a teacher leader: Tall? Short? Broad shoulders? Age?
So, what was a teacher leader? For one thing, they seem to have a magnetic presence. I watched a colleague I had just met intently listen to and counsel a new teacher. I watched as a former principal from Boston joined in the conversation and gave the new teacher a book about first year teaching and scholarly words of advice. I watched and listened as their voices became more animated and excited about teaching and how to spread that passion. I felt proud, honored, and inspired to be in the presence of gifted teacher leaders.
Educational researchers combine data and authentic experiences
Coincidently, right after I returned from the convening, I received the book The Power of Teacher Leaders: Their Roles, Influence, and Impact edited by Nathan Bond to read and review. Talk about timing! At the conference, I was in the presence of teacher leaders from all over the country. Now I was able to continue to learn more about teacher leadership. This book, written by nineteen educational researchers, describes how teachers are using their leadership skills to improve student achievement, guide others, inspire excellence in practice, and influence their school culture.
The book is divided into three parts: becoming a teacher leader, roles of teacher leaders, and the influence and impact of teachers who lead. Each chapter details how teachers are leading within and outside of their school environments. Case studies are highlighted including six elementary school teacher leaders in Austin, Texas who initiated and facilitated Professional Learning Communities on their campus; mentorship in university teacher induction programs; and the role of inquiry in teacher leadership. Another example:
TEACHERS AT THE FOREFRONT
Learning to Lead
This chapter analyzes three different programs that foster teacher leadership: the National Writing Project, the New Teacher Center, and the Teacher Learning and Leadership Program. In each program, the focus is on how teachers learn to lead and the organizational conditions that support this learning. In part, the growth of the programs in the United States and Canada indicate their impact and success. Working with both novice and experienced teachers, these programs continue to expand and deepen. (from Chapter 1)
A book of programs in practice and best practices
Thia is NOT a book of why we need teacher leaders or ten easy steps to becoming a teacher leader. It is, however, a book of programs in practice and best practices. Topics include “The Special Education Teacher as a Servant Leader,” “First Year Teachers: New and Ready to Lead,” “Teacher Leaders as Professional Developers,” and “Teacher Leaders and the Art of Self-Mentoring.”
Many teachers don’t realize that they are teacher leaders. This practical guide describes how teachers can be teacher leaders in their schools, highlights the leadership roles that teachers can serve in, and explores the impact of teachers who lead. Readers will come away realizing how they cultivate and inspire learning and strengthen the teaching profession.
Each case study covers a multitude of educational settings, situations, and grade levels and each researcher provides empirical research data and authentic experiences for the reader.The Power of Teacher Leaders is beneficial for staff development within school districts, aspiring teachers (novice and veteran teachers), and university teacher education programs.
Reading options: where to start
I have to admit that there is a great deal to read, process, and think about as you read this book. It’s not a book that you have to read each page sequentially, but it’s a book that you can read from different perspectives. In fact, Bond suggests that educators who are new to teacher leadership might start in the beginning and experienced teacher leaders might choose chapters that attract their interest. Professors engaged in Teacher Leadership Programs at the university level are cautioned to work “sequentially through the first part, give students a choice in what they read in the second part, and then work with students as a group for the third part.”
I was impressed with the accompanying online study guide referred to in the introduction. However, if the reader happened to neglect to read the introduction, this important piece of material would be missed. A “must have” questionnaire that is included in the online study guide is a crucial piece that should not be neglected for school districts to use to ask teachers to assess their perceptions of how compliant the district/school is towards developing teacher leaders to improve the school. The study guide is complete with objectives, activities, assignments and additional resources to complement instruction.
Whether you decide to use this book as part of your school’s Professional Learning Community (PLC), a part of a teacher leadership program at the university level, or as an independent researcher/teacher leader, The Power of Teacher Leaders will empower you to mobilize your colleagues to positively affect school change and student achievement. Key is to remember that the practice of teacher leadership is a shared and collaborative practice with a goal on student success. Carpe opportunities – seize the opportunity and Opportunities cape – take advantage of the opportunity.
Linda Biondi is a fourth grade teacher at Pond Road Middle School in Robbinsville, NJ, and a long-time Morning Meeting practitioner. She’s also the recipient of several educational grants, a Teacher Consultant with the National Writing Project and a participant on the NJ Department of Education Teacher Advisory Panel. She recently shared her thoughts about the Common Core at the NJ SDE website.