Teacher Leaders

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!

So …

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

Why Great Teachers are also LEARNERS

As a teacher, the most important asset I can teach my students is a love of learning. In my 10 years teaching high school, I have found that making a deliberate and transparent effort to continue my own learning allows me to inspire my students to follow my footsteps.
Here are some best practices that I have created for myself, to facilitate both my own learning and my students’ passion to learn.
1 – Spend 15 minutes 3 times a week learning new things
The first step is making a genuine effort to learn things that will make me a better educator. I call this “intentional research and development,” mimicking the language that businesses use to describe investing in knowledge. With this set time I look to expand my own knowledge in ways I can bring back to the classroom. No mindless surfing here. On most days, I read blogs, newspapers, and Google searchers in areas that interest me. At the end of my 15 minutes, I make sure that I have a list of the next three things I’m curious about, which I use to guide my next session. 
2 – Talk about the new things you’re learning, and let your enthusiasm show
When I learn something new, I let my students know. For example when Apple released the new iBooks platform, I downloaded the interactive Yellow Submarine book from the iBookstore and hooked it into my projector to explore it with my class. We were all excited and learning, and the students and I engaged in a discussion that motivated them. They even asked me to have the curriculum director come to class the next day to hear their thoughts on incorporating technologies into coursework. This discussion has directly influenced the technology plan at our school.
3 – Share your questions about topics that interest you, and ask for student feedback
When I don’t understand something or have an issue that is bothering me, I’ll mention it to my students or even ask them to explain it to me. For example, when Facebook timeline first came out, I invited my students to show me how they were using it. They gained confidence from teaching me something valuable, and I gained helpful insights from them–and I demonstrated the value of asking questions and collaborative learning.
4 – Show students that you’re willing to investigate
There are times when a student poses a question I don’t know how to answer. When this happens, I’ll make a note to investigate, and I’ll let my students see me doing this. Then I make sure to come back and tell them about my new findings. This demonstrates to students the power of inquiry-based learning: They see that I have unanswered questions. I admit that I don’t know everything. But, then they see me learn and share. I become a model of learning in action.
5 – Let students see you learning leisurely on your own
I purposely take time during the school day to learn in a way that is quietly visible to students. last weekend, I started reading Tom Peters’ book The Little BIG Things on my desk and am reading a bit every day. When students ask me about the book, I explain what I learned and we have conversations. The message that the students receive is this: She doesn’t have to read. It’s not her homework. She wants to read and she gets excited about what she reads. 
I want the students to see this.
This week, I’m learning how to use Pinterest. I’ve created a board called Big Little Things to Improve Education and I’m talking with students about the difference between Pinterest and other social media sites. Through these conversations they are seeing me learn. In this particular situation, they witness me combining content knowledge (discoveries I make about learning about leading and teaching) and with technology findings (Pinterest). Technology is such an important part of students’ lives, so it is good for them to see the two mix.
6 – Let students hear you talk about learning
When my curriculum director comes in the room, I intentionally talk to her about the new things I’m learning and what I’m excited about. I know the students are listening and she does too. We don’t care. There are no state secrets we’re sharing, just a mutual love of learning. Let them overhear you and other teachers talking about what you’ve learned.
7 – Let students see you proudly sharing your learning
When I learn something new, I blog it, Tweet it, Tumblr it, or Google+ it, and eventually I put some things into the books I write. Sharing is part of learning. When you share, others will share back. In today’s world of social media, the world helps those who are helpful. If I can foster an attitude of sharing, my students will reap the benefits.
8 – Involve students in on-the-fly learning
When Conde Nast contacted me about testing a new app (Ideaflight) for them in my classroom, the students were excited to give their feedback. I decided that instead of filtering student answers back to the publisher, I would schedule time for the whole class to skype with the Conde developers. It worked beautifully. The students were beta testers, and they took ownership. I’ve also had my students skype with BBC reporters and present online and face to face in conferences. With this kind of involvement students become excited about sharing their learning, and they see the value and relevance of learning in real life.
9 – Give students opportunities to share what they are learning
My friend Angela Maiers who is researching struggling schools in Hawaii alerted me to a practice having success there. Those schools begin with each teachers and students sharing something they learned the previous day. Inspired by this example, I make it a point to set aside specific learning-sharing time several times a week.
Getting excited about learning is why I’m teaching! Let’s hear from other teachers. How do you inspire lifelong learning in your classroom? How do you light a fire for learning that will continue throughout a child’s life?
Blog Resource can be found here