How do you know you’re ready to become a teacher leader? Will a trusted colleague tap you on the shoulder and say, “It’s time!”? Do you have to get so frustrated by something that you simply must speak up and work toward a solution? Maybe—but sometimes the signs are subtler. Here are a few things that may signal that you’re on the road to becoming a teacher leader:
Sign #1: You wish you had an impact beyond your classroom.
If you find yourself yearning to take an idea beyond your classroom, you’re probably ready to become a leader.
The first step might be as small as sharing a lesson plan with a colleague down the hall. Then you might spread your expertise further. Perhaps you will blog about how your students are using iPads to work on letter recognition, submit an article to your favorite professional journal, or share your knowledge in topic-focused Twitter chats. Or maybe your next step will be to help “unpack Common Core standards” for your department, or to offer to lead a workshop on bullying.
Whatever path you take, don’t wait to be invited. Act on your interests—you’ll be glad you did.
Sign #2: Colleagues often ask you for advice.
Are you a go-to teacher? You aren’t sure quite why, but your colleagues are beginning to turn to you (yes, YOU!) for advice on how to handle difficult situations. Guess what? You probably have what it takes to lead.
See Sign #1 for some ways to proceed. It’s great that your colleagues come to you for advice, but are there ways to share your expertise with even more educators?
Sign #3: You “think big” about problems.
When others are complaining, you’re imagining solutions. You can see ways that the system can change to help you and your colleagues to better serve students—whether at the school, district, state, or national level.
Maybe your next step is to have frank, open conversations with your principal about solving problems at your school. Maybe you will serve on a district leadership committee, acting as a spokesperson for your grade level at a school board meeting. Or perhaps you’ll become involved with teacher advocacy through your union.
Whatever the case, other teachers are beginning to look to you as someone who can help them move beyond frustration to positive action. You have the potential to extend the impact of your leadership by getting involved in district, state, and even national initiatives to improve teaching and learning.
Sign #4: You want to take new teachers under your wing.
You watch new teachers at your school and think, “Wow, I’ve been there and wished someone would help me out.” You have a keen sense of what kind of preparation teachers need to be successful in the classroom. You’ve probably offered advice and informal support to at least one new teacher.
Your next step might be to volunteer as a cooperating teacher for a preservice college student, or an official mentor to a new teacher in your building. Maybe you will agree to serve on a “walk-through” team, observing teachers and offering helpful feedback. You might even become an instructional coach or take on a hybrid role in which you are adjunct faculty at a local teacher- preparation program.
Whatever the case, you care about the future of the profession. When you begin to invest time and energy in new teachers or preservice teachers, it’s a sure sign that you’re becoming a leader.
Sign #5: You always want to know more!
You are afflicted with lifelong learning. What you know about the profession isn’t enough—you are eager to dig deeper into pedagogical strategies and/or your content area. You read. A lot.
Perhaps you’ve already taken one next step: enrolling in a master’s program. Or maybe you’ve already developed a Personal Learning Network of teachers across the country who regularly exchange ideas and help each other improve. And you might also be pursuing the rewarding but challenging experience of seeking National Board Certification. So many avenues for learning!
When you find yourself writing, advising, listening, collaborating, networking, seeking knowledge, reflecting, be aware. These are traits of leadership. Know, too, that there is no one “correct” path to becoming a teacher leader. I encourage you to check out the Teacher Leader Model Standards, which highlight a range of ways for teacher leaders to improve schools.
The right next step for you will depend on your own strengths, ambitions, and circumstances. But I can promise you this: When you go beyond what is expected, when you act on your desire to develop and learn, you won’t regret it.
By Marsha Ratzel
Published Online: February 21, 2012