Our definition of teacher leadership is too narrow. Examining the “Seven Domains of Teacher Leadership,” a domain is glaringly missing: the rest of the world.
In my first five years teaching in a Boston Public School, I was no leader. Sure, I mentored a full-time student teacher, and I collaborated with my colleagues on projects that improved our school, but something about it felt limited.
It wasn’t until I took a leave of absence in 2009 that I realized: I didn’t feel like a teacher leader because I wasn’t a leader beyond the education sphere.
During my leave of absence, that changed. I spent the year writing in Asia, working with a nonprofit in Africa, and learning Web design in Europe. I returned home in 2010 with skills, connections, and confidence that launched me into leadership beyond the education bubble. By the time I started my seventh year teaching in Boston, I was also running two global education websites, consulting for an ed-tech business, and leading a 200-person travel conference.
“So?” some might say, “Who cares if a teacher excels outside of the education world?” Well, we should care. In the 21st century, different professions are deeply interdependent. Isn’t the purpose of school to prepare students for the “real world”? To achieve this, teacher leaders who also lead beyond the education sphere are key.
As my leadership grew in the realms of business, Web design, and event management, my prowess as a teacher increased. I was far clearer in showing students the real-world applications of the concepts we learned. My collaboration with colleagues also became more effective as I drew in strategies and contacts from outside the education realm.
Teachers have a dire marketing problem now, as we’re attacked by people who don’t understand our profession. Happily, we can begin to solve this by engaging beyond the traditional confines of our career. When I lead travel conferences or do social media marketing consulting, I frequently hear exclamations like, “I didn’t know teachers knew how to do that!” By positively leading in domains beyond education, teachers work wonders for improving the image of our profession—an effect that’s desperately needed in these demonizing times.
The 21st century is about connections across borders. This means we rob ourselves, our students, and our world if we cramp teacher leadership inside the education sphere. It is time to realize that a “teacher leader” is actually... a leader.
Lillie Marshall (@WorldLillie on Twitter) has been a teacher in the Boston Public Schools since 2003, and is passionate about creative forms of teacher leadership and teacher retention.
The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable 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.