This week at Principal Matters!, we’ve focused on teacher teams and teacher-leaders (T-L). To catch you up for today, here’s the picture that’s painted so far:
- It’s necessary for teachers to work together in teams for our schools to be effective;
- Teacher teams need purpose, selflessness, and professionalism to be their best;
- Administrators shouldn’t expect teacher-leaders to automatically know how to lead; training and support of teacher-leaders is essential.
As principals ask teachers to become teacher-leaders and lead teams of teachers within a grade level, department, or other group, what do those teacher-leaders need in order to be successful?
- Clarity: Leaders in practically any pursuit need to know the scope of the work, the expectations, and the timeline. Teacher-leaders are no different. Principals need to take the time to make sure that the T-Ls know what they’re being asked to do. While this seems like a minor point, it is often a show-stopper. Clarity is essential.
- Leadership Skills: While this is a broader topic, it’s equally essential for the success of the group. The T-L needs leadership skills in order to take the group on the journey to success. This doesn’t mean that you only engage those teachers who already possess leadership skills; it means that you take time to support them in their growth. Leadership skills in this sense are about people and how to work with them. They are about the purpose and uniting everyone to work together to accomplish it. You can count on the necessary learning becoming evident during the course of the work.
- Management Skills: Remember, management isn’t a bad word. In it’s absence, things are … mismanaged. Leadership is a different set of skills, also critical for a team’s success, but so is management. Leadership is about the people and purpose; management is about the process and the protocols. All four parts matter. Some leaders… whether administrator or T-L… are better with one than the other. Helping your T-L as needed with the operation of the team, the timing of meetings, the flow of the work, is just as critical as anything else. Teachers, pressed for time, do not suffer disorganized people lightly.
- Commitment: If you want to have great T-Ls, you have to make a commitment to their success. This primarily consists of you making your T-Ls leadership growth a priority. You demonstrate this by dedicating your time to observe their work, lead them in reflective practice, and have conversations with them about their growth, their struggles, and their lessons learned. Give them meaningful feedback. Helps design what they need to continue their growth. Without this commitment and following through, you are leaving the growth of your T-Ls to chance. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be lucky! But is that a great strategy for success?
- Collaboration With Other T-Ls You can leverage to an even deeper level if you bring your T-Ls together after they’ve spent time learning and then reflecting on their work. Most of the time when we bring that group of teachers together they serve more of a role as a “faculty senate” or teacher’s council to discuss matters of the school. What if you flipped that framework, and instead of them representing their colleagues in discussions of dress code and tardies, they were representing the school’s mission of quality instruction to their teams? Longer conversation for another time, but consider what value you are getting when you bring your teacher-leaders together. You can use a survey-monkey or google poll if you want to get teacher’s opinions on school-wide topics. What you need are leaders of your teachers throughout the school, so when you have them together talk about leadership, not parking and duty.
- Encouragement: Feed your people. Give them what they need in terms of gratitude, acknowledgement, praise. Don’t forget to thank them for what they’re doing. Notice how they do it. Encourage them. Strategically and consistently encourage them in the personalized ways they like to be encouraged.
- Celebration: Celebration is different from encouragement, but it might also be encouraging. Encouragement is formative; celebration, although it can happen at many mileposts, is more summative. When you ask your T-Ls to do something and they do it well, celebrate it. It’s important for them but also good for the entire team to know that they are on the right track and making progress. Celebrate the whole team, and the teacher-leader is boosted up.
While you could make a more exhaustive list, or even have different items that you place importance on, using these seven would most likely help you develop an excellent teacher-leader. In fact, if you moved some titles around, this same list could be used for superintendents and principals as well.
Leaders, even full-time leaders like principals and assistant-principals, need growth and support. When we are building capacity with teacher-leaders whose primary roles are classroom teacher, we should plan for more learning and support, not less.
The growth of your teacher-leaders might be one of the most valuable uses of your time as a school leader. Short of cloning you, this is the next best thing. Let’s work hard to get it right!