“My peers winning awards shared with me how their colleagues cheered them on – were excited for them – gave them parades and gifts. I did not have that. Every time I was honored, my colleagues rolled their eyes as if to say, ‘Here’s Tracy* tooting her own horn again.’ I did not have support from my colleagues.”
I was sitting in a training with some of the best teachers I have ever had the privilege of knowing. These teachers are inspiring in everything they do. They’re not only the kind of teachers I strive to be – Each of these teachers are the kind of people I strive to be. Downright good human beings that are doing good things for our students, their communities and humanity. The purpose of our training was to develop greater leadership and advocacy skills as teachers.
One of our speakers was an incredible teacher. She’s the recipient of numerous highly-sought after awards in our field. She’s knowledgeable about policies that affect students, teachers and our state’s schools. She’s dedicated to her content and kids. And she was alone. She is Tracy and the person that delivered the (paraphrased) quote above.”
This training was in November. Now, 2 months later, I can’t get her story out of my head. She was referring to a specific time in her career when she was being honored with awards she absolutely deserved. I don’t believe Tracy is completely disregarded by her colleagues all of the time. However, I still can’t forget that this was her experience as a “teacher leader,” at least at one specific time.
I need to reiterate that I respect Tracy’s practice and professionalism at every level. However, I continue to grow a stronger and stronger conviction that ‘teacher leaders,’ are not effective teachers if they are not supported by their colleagues. So I’ve struggled with her story. I’ve wondered how a teacher with such accolades was dismissed by her own colleagues.
Teacher leaders sometimes have to make waves to advocate for students. Teacher leaders sometimes feel alone as they work hard to increase learning. Teacher leaders may experience minor jealousy of their colleagues due to their successes. However, teacher leaders are responsible for influencing their colleagues and growing them into stronger, more effective teachers. Really effective teacher leaders are respected and celebrated by their colleagues.
I’m not naive. I know we don’t live in a perfect world. Teachers work on staffs of varying personalities. Humans experience conflict in order to move forward. Leadership will inevitably feel lonely at some point, but eventually great teacher leaders will have their colleagues on their team. Why? Because teacher leadership doesn’t happen alone. Effective teaching and learning requires professional collaboration.
Educational Leadership explains 10 different teacher leadership roles that may exist in schools. I’d argue there are likely more. In my eyes, you’re not a teacher without being a teacher leader. Each of us bring something to our profession. In a building or district where teacher leadership is being effectively used, teacher leaders will feel supported because the staff appreciates the need for each person’s role.
I know Tracy is ultimately respected and appreciated by her colleagues. Her story was a small part of a longer journey. I thank her for reminding me that true leadership doesn’t happen in isolation. After all, nobody teachers alone … and does it well! Teacher leadership does not happen in isolation!
What kind of teacher leadership skills do you bring to your teaching setting?
*Name has been changed.
I grew up here in Western Washington, wanting to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. As the oldest child in my family, I had plenty of opportunities to "practice" teaching my younger siblings. I enjoyed this. They may not have. :) When I'm not working, I enjoy outdoor activities with my husband and our two Australian Shepherds (whom are far too spoiled for their own good!). I also love spending time with my family, being an auntie (to the cutest kids ever to grace this planet!), hosting dinner parties for friends, crafting, taking photographs and shopping.