Teaching Opinion

From Teacher to Leader: Shift Your Mindset

By Starr Sackstein — August 01, 2017 3 min read
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Every teacher is a leader in his/her own right, but when it comes time to work with primarily adults in a leadership position for the benefit of students, growing talent is more nuanced.

After spending 16 years in the classroom, cultivating a deep respect for the learning process and growth mindset of “my kids,” I’ve learned to let go, let them lead, and artfully address needs and concerns, invisibly from a position of expertise.

Intentionally placing them in charge, in a system that has always told them they are to be compliant if they want to be successful.

In some ways, teachers function the same way beneath their administrators when cultures don’t allow for too much creativity and/or risk taking.

However, if we are going to successfully grow teacher talent to maximize the most student learning success, we must empower them so they can feel confident enough to compel students to take the same risk.

Asking people to take risks and not supporting them adequately presents only empty words. Risk-taking and change-making are scary businesses and doing them successfully makes a big mess along the way. What I’m learning is that confident leaders expect the mess, encourage the mess, and then stick around to help turn it into something beautiful.

It may be easy to point out the mess. I mean, we see it, but what good does just pointing it out do?

Ultimately, your risk takers will feel alienated and there is a high likelihood they will stop taking risks. Plus, you’re sending mixed messages. Don’t tell folks they should take risks and then beat them down after they do.

Instead, partner with them to reflect on what went well and where adjustments can be made to make mess into a masterpiece.

As I shift into that position of partner, I need to remember that I’m not just thinking about my classroom and my students anymore; it’s global. It doesn’t matter how I would have done it because it isn’t about me and my kids. It’s about the teachers who I will be working with.

Some good advice I’ve gotten recently was to be intentional and invisible in the way I carry out initiatives. I’m not there to “fix” teachers, but rather to help develop the skills that already exist by having teachers set goals and working with them to achieve them.

These conversations will need to be frequent.

After watching and experiencing many different leadership styles, I know how I don’t want to be and what I hope to be.

To exemplify the global leadership I plan to execute, I will need to be:

  • knowledgeable, but humble
  • a truly good listener, who engages in dialogue asking a lot of questions—and making eye contact
  • visibly present—face-to-face and available via technology
  • a model of the expectation—showing more than one way to do things
  • transparent—admitting when I don’t know something and eager to work with the team to find solutions together
  • ethical—shedding light, rather than shadows wherever possible—maintaining my integrity
  • recognize mistakes and seek to correct them
  • collaborative—keeping smart people around me because we are better together
  • a decisive decisionmaker who knows how to make great choices in a pinch and when to slow down and not react
  • patient—some challenges take time and although we all want to make things better faster, sometimes fast doesn’t achieve what is needed.

Education is at a pivotal point right now and too often, educators make excuses for why change isn’t happening as it needs to be. More teachers need to step into leadership positions (either as teacher leaders or as building or district leaders) to share their unique expertise and experience.

What characteristics make up a leader you’d want to follow or be? Please share.

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress 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.