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Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Teacher Leadership

By Guest Blogger — February 03, 2014 3 min read
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Note: This week and next RHSU is featuring guest bloggers from the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. For more on NNSTOY, check them out here. Today’s post is from Josh Stumpenhorst. Josh is a 6th grade Language Arts and Social Science teacher at Lincoln Junior High School in Naperville, IL, and was Illinois teacher of the year in 2012. In addition to teaching, Josh is an active blogger at Stump the Teacher.

We need more teacher leaders in our schools.

To be clear, one does not need to be an administrator, a team leader, or even a department chair to be a leader. Leadership is not a position, but rather action. This can be done by anyone regardless of title or position within a school building.

Leaders inspire rather than require.
A true leader inspires those around them to do great things. They know how to motivate, and that motivation often comes from building trust and a sense of community within a school or classroom. The truly effective leaders know the role culture plays in inspiring growth and improvement in a school. They do not speak in terms of requirements and forced initiatives. While there is an element of required pieces within a school system, a true leader inspires their colleagues and students beyond just putting their feet to the fire of mandates or forced curriculum.

Leaders focus on kids not adults.
This should come as a no brainer, but clearly is not for many. A leader makes all decisions based on what is best for the kids, not for the adults. Yes, the needs of the adults in the building are crucial for creating a positive school culture. However, those needs should come secondary to those of the children we are entrusted to teach. Leaders need to have their decisions guided by the best learning outcomes for students rather than being guided by what is easiest or most efficient for adults.

Leaders are transparent.
There are no secrets and no hidden agendas with a teacher leader. They involve their peers as well as their students in the decision making process, not just a select privileged few. They value and honor the opinions of all and provide an open door to new ideas and feedback. Leaders honor confidentiality but don’t allow secrecy to breed division and distrust among their peers or students.

Leaders love their school.
Some of the most effective teacher leaders I have ever encountered speak with such passion and love for their schools. By school I mean they love everything from the building itself to the people inside and the surrounding community. They care that their building looks great and take pride in having people visit. Rather than rushing home after the last bell, they stay to watch the students perform, play, and compete and stand there proudly watching and celebrating. True leaders feel like the parent of a tremendous family and their unconditional love is obvious and contagious.

Leaders seek out help
Leaders know there are others out there who can help them in the work they are doing. They know how to seek them out and when to call on them for assistance or advice. Many leaders find themselves connecting with likeminded individuals through social media or professional organizations aimed at supporting teacher leaders. For me, I am an avid user of Twitter to connect with teacher leaders across the globe. In addition, I rely heavily on the network of inspiring teacher leaders in the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. Like many organizations, NNSTOY connects high caliber teachers to great learning opportunities aimed at increasing teacher leaders’ influence in the education landscape of the country.

All teachers have the opportunity to be teacher leaders. The key is not in position or titles but rather in the attitude to lead change or improvement within your context.

--Josh Stumpenhorst

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up 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.