Teacher-Leaders Need Training and Support

The work of teachers and schools is increasingly more complex than ever before.  We evaluate our teachers’ effectiveness in preparation and delivery of instruction; communication and professionalism; engagement, assessment, differentiation, and design.  Our expectations for the outcomes of their work is that all of our students will grow in their competencies, and that those who are competent become exemplary.  It’s our school’s design that they do so while collaborating with their colleagues in order to support the team and grow as individuals.

All of these efforts are well-intended and are reasonable expectations for our teachers.  At the core, schools are learning institutions and our emphasis in recent years to include all students is both noble and right.

The problem is this:  in most settings, we’ve increased expectations without increasing the resources to support the work of our teachers.  The number of principals and assistant principals remains the same; the time needed to support the work of our teachers has increased, in some cases exponentially.

leadership isHow do we get it all done?  The answer can’t be “work harder.”  Or even, work longer.  Those aren’t sustainable and lead to burnout and/or crash on the parts of our school-based leaders.  The administrative churn is real, and more and more school leaders are working to deal with anxiety, stress, and a crisis of time.

The path forward to success is through the development of teacher leaders.  If you’re thinking, “wait, aren’t they just as taxed for time as the administration, maybe even more so?” you’re right.  We can’t merely shift the burden of responsibility and accountability from administrators to teachers.  The teacher shortage is real, and more and more teachers are working to deal with anxiety, stress, and time, just as their administrative colleagues. 

The pathway to a successfully-designed school environment isn’t a shift in duties and responsibilities, but a new approach in how we interact with each other and the work we have to accomplish together.

Many schools and systems have begun the shift into a distributed form of leadership that brings teachers, usually assembled into meaningful teams, together to design instruction, improve performance, and learn together.

That’s not new.  What might be missing for you and your team is a continuous, strategic approach in supporting the work of those teachers who lead other teachers.  What do they need?  What are you asking them to accomplish in this role?  When can you provide them leadership development that helps them in their teacher-leader role?


Most of our teachers who are asked to assume leadership roles have had little to no formal PD in leadership.  While many of them have learned a lot about leadership already, much through their work as teachers, coaches, and sponsors, an intentional approach to their work as leaders can provide the needed framework for them to successfully lead their colleagues.  Beyond the initial training, continued support from you and your administrative team can assure that their work continues on the trajectory you are seeking.

It’s like this:  as administrators, you don’t have time to do everything.  One of the most essential things you can do to improve student achievement is to focus on talent development, or the strategic growth of your teachers.  Given the restraints that time places on you as the leader, you need leverage, and that leverage exists in your school in the form of teacher-leaders.  While it’s hard for you to personally devote enough time to each of your faculty members for them to adequately grow, it’s imperative that you dedicate the necessary time to grow those you’ve tapped as the teacher-leaders.

Your grade-level leaders, department heads, and others need you.  They need you to help develop them as leaders, then support them in their work.  Get out your calendar and select upcoming dates for your work with them, and then pour into them what they need to join you in the  leading and learning that will help your school prosper.



Stop Looking At Your Phone All The Time!

Imagine that you’re a principal and you’ve joined your colleagues for the leadership meeting with the superintendent and staff at central office.  The year is 2002.  It’s five years before the birth of the first iPhone (June 29, 2007) and another year before the Blackberry RIM 850 and 857 debut.

mail-with-rubberbandNow, for a moment, imagine that you have brought with you to the meeting your mail.  I’m not talking about your laptop or tablet (we don’t even have tablets); there’s not much in the way of wifi so that’s not it.  Imagine instead that you have brought your U.S. Postal Service-delivered, sealed in envelopes, stamped and processed, actual mail.  Maybe for fun you have a really big rubber band around it to keep it together.  See the picture?

There you are at the meeting: you, your fellow principals, the superintendent’s staff, the superintendent, and… your stack of mail.  With the big red (or green) rubber band.

The meeting begins well enough, but as time goes on, you sort of get a little disinterested.  The topics aren’t items that are really specific to you and your school and, well, you have this stack of mail to look at.  So, you pull out your letter opener, make an incision, and open up a piece of mail.  You read it over, glancing back up at the meeting and its attendees every so often.  Just for effect, you even nod occasionally at something that someone else says even though you really aren’t sure what they said, but you do look like you’re paying attention anyway.

Can you imagine that scene?  Well of course not!  You would have been stared down by your colleagues first, then by the directors, and if you didn’t stop looking at your mail soon enough, the superintendent would have most likely addressed your behavior. This would not have been acceptable.

Why then, do so many principals, assistant principals, and other school leaders look at their phones when they’re around other people?  Have our jobs become that hypersensitive?  Are things in that  tenuous of a state that we have to be at that level of alert at all times?  Most likely not.

Do we even intend to look at our phones all the time?  I don’t think so, and neither does Larry Rosen, author and psychologist who suggests that our incessant viewing of our phones is potentially:  addiction; obsession, a social shield.

For the leader, any of those root causes of this behavior can be detrimental to our ability to lead our schools and the people in them.  There will be more about phones, technology and  our ability to conquer our use of it in future blogspots here.  For now, here’s a challenge for the school leader for this week:  let’s get a baseline.  How often do you check your phone between the time you get to work and when the school day proper concludes?  (buses, students and teachers have departed)  Count your glances; record them (where else? in the notes section of your phone), and then begin to see where you are.

If you are looking at your phone more frequently than you are seeking out others to have face-to-face engagement, you may have an issue that will need addressing.



The Truth About Stress and Managing It Effectively

In an article printed in  Harvard Business Review,  James Bailey writes about stress and how the leader can “combat its corrosive effects.”

School leaders are under tremendous stress.  As Bailey suggests, all stress isn’t bad; stress can make you refocus, get tasks completed, and energize you for performance.  That sort of “good stress” is only helpful if it’s coming in small doses.  That’s why the effective leader learns how to manage stress.

You won’t learn how to get rid of stress; that’s impossible given the demands of school leadership.  You also don’t help yourself by pretending that stress doesn’t exist or that you are immune to its effects.  The effects are real, whether you acknowledge them or attempt to ignore them.

Here’s the real story of stress:  stress produces cortisol and epinephrine into your body. The neurochemicals can be toxic to your system and lead to high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, cognitive disorders, and a litany of other physical ailments if exposed for long periods of times.  When you have been under intense stress for an extended period of time?  There’s a reason you feel that way.  When you work without ceasing and are preoccupied with work?  That feeling you have is the chemistry inside of you.  The effects of stress are real and often require treatment to address the damages done.

Bailey suggests that the steps towards renewal that counter stress can be sorted into  four categories :

  1. Health:    You’ve heard it before and it’s always true:  diet, sleep, exercise.
  2. Removal:   Anything that gets you out of the struggle of work.  Going to the movies, watching television, spending time with family, for example.  Getting your body and your mind away.
  3. Intellectual Activity:  Puzzles, games, reading, studying history.  When you study the world’s greatest thinkers they often led such pursuits away from their main occupation.  Lots of them were meticulous in their gardening.
  4. Introspection:  Meditation, prayer, breathing techniques, reflection.

The research suggests that it doesn’t even take much time for renewal to begin, even 20-30 minutes can be helpful in renewing your body from the effects of stress.  The difficult part for leaders?  It needs to be daily.

So, develop habits that keep the real, physical, neurochemical effects of stress from hijacking the awesome person, leader, and individual that you are and that you can be.



Source:  Harvard Business Review “Why Leaders Don’t Brag About Successfully Managing Stress” by James Bailey:


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