Education Opinion

Being Strategic With Teacher Leadership: No Leeroy Jenkins in Education!

By Megan M. Allen — April 01, 2016 5 min read
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Last week I wrote about some of my meandering thoughts about the smorgasbord of teacher leadership initiatives that are popping up across the nation like a game of whack-a-mole. I received many good questions and pushback on Twitter, and have had some great conversations as a result. My fellow blogger and thought-leader extraordinaire Nancy Flanagan responded to my questions in her blog, in which she delves further into the topic and asks some more big questions (to which I’ll respond to in my next post). A few of those questions have me thinking deeper on the topic, but I’m still a bit of a Pollyanna on the subject. For example, I asked:

Do we have a game of whack-a-mole with so many different systems, definitions, and recognitions? And would it be helpful if we all moved in sync?

The responding question from my colleague Gamal Sherif, a former Teacher Ambassador fellow for the US Department of Education, got my mind swirling:

And then yesterday, I had the privilege of talking to a state committee that is charged with figuring out that very thing. This state is on track for teacher leader endorsements, but the committee is wondering how the different district plans, the patchwork of district career lattices, and the newly formed and soon-to-be-formed programs developed by institutions of higher education can all work in sync. With all these players in the sandbox, how can they all work together but still allow for differentiation that recognizes the wide spectrum of leadership?

Though I don’t have answers or solutions, I do have a non-example. I know what this should not look like. And I’ll preface--for this case and question above, I am speaking about formal teacher leadership, not the organic and powerful teacher leadership that has carried public education for years. But in navigating the murky waters of more formalized teacher leadership that is happening, whether we agree with it or not.

Case in point for the non-example: You may have seen the viral video of Leeroy Jenkins. If you haven’t, check it out here (I will preface by saying that if you have sensitive ears, it includes a lot of profanity). The gist of the video is that a team of about 10 players that has worked together (virtually) in a role-playing game called World of Warcraft is planning a group attack. They are standing outside a door in a group huddle and thinking through implementation of a plan, with thoughtful questions such as:

  • What are the next moves?
  • What do these next moves mean?
  • What are the pros and cons of these moves for each team member?
  • What is the step-by-step plan?
  • And if they carry out this plan, what are the odds for survival? (They even have a team member who is crunching the numbers so they can put their hands on a quantifiable figure. If only we had that in education!)

But suddenly, Leeroy gets tired of waiting.

You hear his battle cry: “Time’s up! Let’s do this!”

And into the thick of battle he charges, practically blind and throwing all strategy to the wayside.

His team is left, standing in awe. One teammate vocalizes his frustration, yelling “Stick to the plan! Stick to the plan!” But Leeroy rushes in, with his team forced to rush in as well. One by one, they voice their dismay in the midst of chaotic fighting, and they all end up in bad shape.

This is the non-example for implementation of ANYTHING in education, though my realistic side thinks this is the most implementation plan for almost EVERYTHING in education reform. But this is not the way that sustainable changes are made, nor do I think this is a fair way to go about big changes that impact both students and teachers. This is why most teachers end up with reform whiplash.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have a wild rumpus of teacher leadership bubble up as my colleague Brianna Crowley suggested in her amazingly thoughtful comment. I absolutely think we need to be nurturing a caucophy of beautiful, organic teacher leadership. But as we are thinking about building these formalized models, we should be strategic and thoughtful in moving the bow of the barge instead of zipping around little speedboats of change that get lost in the waves. We should not be Leeroy Jenkins.

So, how can we all move in sync when building systems to support more formalized teacher leadership? How do we not rush ahead into something like Leeroy, but be really thoughtful in figuring out how all the moving pieces work?

And how do we support the informal teacher leadership that has been trailblazing for years within these systems? I don’t necessarily agree with Nancy Flanagan on the point that formal leadership and initiatives are a slap in the face to the teachers who have been leading the charge informally for years. Working on a campus swarming with pre-service teachers, I see these movements shifting the way we think about the role of a teacher. These formalized leadership initiatives--pathways, programs, whatever you would like to call them--are causing our newbie teachers to realize the potential impact educators can have beyond their classroom walls, so the self-confessed Pollyanna in me sees this having a positive impact on retention and even recruitment. I am eternally optimistic in thinking that there are shifting tides in professionalizing the profession and changing the way we view the role of a teacher...but this shift will be as slow as molasses. It will take decades to turn the barge, but I feel in my heart of hearts that the ship’s wheel is beginning to turn as we begin this slow change of course.

One issue I do see is that many endorsements and initiatives in teacher leadership are neglecting the informal leadership that has kept public education afloat despite failed reform after reform. For me, the process of becoming a National Board Certified Teacher was a pathway to instructional leadership. Informal leadership. This taught me to articulate learning and instruction in ways I couldn’t before, and led me to become better at bringing my colleagues along in hard conversations. It helped shape who I was as a leader. But I haven’t seen many new initiatives or programs that grandfather in teachers who have achieved their certification, or who have been leading the profession informally. And for me, that’s a huge oversight.

Again, more questions than answers. But I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Keith.

The opinions expressed in An Edugeek’s Guide to K-12 Practice and Policy are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.