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The Collaborative Leader

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As part of a new partnership, is publishing this regular column by members of the Teacher Leaders Network, a professional community of accomplished educators dedicated to sharing ideas and expanding the influence of teachers.

Are you ready to lead improvements in your school but doubt you can get permission from the front office? My advice to you is: Unite and conquer!

Remember that famous saying by Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Teacher leadership is a whole lot easier with administrative support, but consider the power of a group of teachers who commit to work together to bring about change. The key word is group. Imagine a team of accomplished and determined teachers forging ahead toward a shared objective. There's an awesome force!

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

1. Begin by joining forces with other teachers who want to work together on a common goal. Some key words here are "together" and "common goal." Don't try to tackle everything that needs fixing at once, but focus! And don't try to "go it alone."

2. Accept one another's strengths. Interestingly, it's often easier to accept weaknesses than strengths, especially in a profession that is traditionally individualistic and isolationist. Don't let your efforts seem like a contest—make this a true collaboration.

3. Know your stuff. Don't go to the administration with a problem—go with a plan. For example, if you want job-embedded professional learning time during the school day, don't just go to your principal with the idea. Get together, find out how other schools do it, decide on several options for your school, write the suggestions up, cost it out if it involves substitutes, and be prepared to objectively and calmly provide a rationale for the change and to cite the benefits for teachers and students.

4. So you gave it your best shot and it didn't work? Okay, no problem—go to your "new" best shot. There is absolutely no such word as "No" when a group of teachers unite to bring about needed changes that ultimately benefit students. The trick is to avoid drawing lines in the sand and making people defensive. The bottom line here is, is your goal worth doing? Then don't be easily discouraged and don't throw in the towel.

5. Accept those roles in which you are effective. For example, don't try to present a proposal to the entire PTA if you are uneasy speaking to adults. Let a colleague who is comfortable with that role do it. Say no to jobs in which you can not, for whatever reason, turn in a peak performance. Support those on your team who can. And be sure to work hard in your own areas of personal strength.

Powerful changes in education can't depend solely on an enabling administrator, or those changes may never happen. I think change should start with the folks who really know what needs to happen for kids—accomplished teachers!

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