Opinion
Teaching Profession CTQ Collaboratory

The Seven Verbs of Teacher Leadership

By Wendi Pillars — October 15, 2013 4 min read

The phrase “teacher leader” is an intriguing mental Rorschach test, since the interpretation depends on one’s perspective and experience. I always prefer to think and talk about what teacher leaders do (or would do, given the chance) than about their official or prospective titles. After all, a lack of title or recognition doesn’t stop us from leading.

I hope you’ll think about these verbs and the teachers in your life who live them out. How can these ideas help you support their growth, collaborate with them, or take on similar actions?

Invite

Success in education is collaborative by nature, so teacher leadership must be about power with—not over—others. Logic dictates that teacher leaders invite others along on the journey, encouraging colleagues to pursue and share their own gifts.

When we invite our colleagues to take part in a project or to share their knowledge about technology, literacy practices, or classroom management, we are acknowledging their expertise. That simple act of validation can encourage them to step things up a notch on their own accord.

People are rarely offended when they are invited to do something. Instead, invitations are an opportunity to recognize the passion of our colleagues, families, and community in the service of our students. Invitations show it is never just about us. Having one another’s backs is a game-changer.

Take Risks

Fear and analysis can paralyze—but not if we are fully committed to our students’ success.

We realize that criticism will come, of course, but we still take risks. We learn to distinguish criticism that pushes us to grow from criticism that we can ignore. And we consciously welcome that critical voice along, realizing that silencing it will lead to complacency or contentment with mediocrity. Each conquered step multiplies confidence even as it tempers our understanding of reality.

When we are told “This isn’t working,” we don’t assume inefficiency but ask why various needs are not being met.

Grow

Few of us believe there is a single answer to fixing our country’s educational woes, but we know that growth is mandatory for anyone invested in this work, including us. We take on the gradual expansion of our limited roles; we invest in and take ownership of our personal development; and we learn, question, and seek solutions.

Our success stems not from external validation but from, in the words of renowned NCAA coach John Wooden, “knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best of which you are capable.”

Act

We realize that a single action can set off an unlikely—yet powerful—chain of events, and that the fruit of some actions will not appear until the future. We never know when that tipping point of “a-ha!” will be, and so we plug on. But we do not plug on blindly—we share knowledge, ask for help and ideas, and do all we can to fulfill the high expectations we hold.

We ask others to do only that which we would do ourselves. We are fiercely committed to, focused on, and excited about making learning meaningful for others: our students, colleagues, and our communities.

Fail

We fail. We fail by taking risks and making mistakes. We fail due to external circumstances. We fail by setting high expectations for ourselves. We are, after all, human.

But we also reflect. When projects go wrong, when ideas are shot down by the short-sighted, when we face obstacles beyond our control, we reflect. Sometimes silently. Often publicly, with transparency and vulnerability.

It is at those times we lay it on the line and make a conscious decision—each day, or moment by moment—to be better, to be bigger than what crushed us. To embody our own phoenix rising.

Catalyze

Because we’re driven by our passion, we do all we can to create opportunities for others to innovate and grow. We seek and acknowledge the good in others, encourage the reticent, and exemplify the belief that our value is not defined or limited by our role.

We understand the old sports adage: that the “we” is more important than the “me,” when it comes to nurturing successful learners. We strive to unearth potential, lending credence and a listening ear to even the silliest of ideas because we know that seedling ideas can sprout something monumental.

We also realize that sometimes all it takes is knowing someone believes in you and your idea to spur you on.

Respect

Conflict-resolution expert Kenneth Boulding has broadly explained power both as the potential for change and the ability to get what one wants. There is destructive power (the power to destroy something), economic power (the power to get what one wants by giving something in exchange), and integrative power (the power to get others to act in order to please you because they care for you, respect you, or identify with you in some way).

Teacher leaders operate with integrative power, cooperating rather than coercing. We acknowledge and respect others. Even when we compete (think merit pay), we keep in mind that a great colleague must be committed to the team and willing to subordinate his or her individual goals for the collective good.

Yes, there are qualities that fit teacher leaders: boldness, resilience, innovation, willingness to take risks, confidence, knowledge, empathy, and a passion to ensure learning has meaning. But these qualities all demand proof of action.

We act because we have the responsibility to do so. We are not here to usurp anyone’s power. But we do appreciate it when those who have power also have our backs. C’mon—let us in. The world is waiting. We’ve all got work to do.

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Data Analyst
New York, NY, US
New Visions for Public Schools
Project Manager
United States
K12 Inc.
High School Permanent Substitute Teacher
Woolwich Township, NJ, US
Kingsway Regional School District
MS STEM Teacher
Woolwich Township, NJ, US
Kingsway Regional School District

Read Next

Teaching Profession After a Stillbirth, This Teacher Was Denied Paid Leave for Recovery. Here's Her Story
A District of Columbia teacher delivered a stillborn baby and was denied paid maternity leave. Her story, told here, is not uncommon.
6 min read
Illustration of a woman.
iStock/Getty
Teaching Profession Opinion What Your Students Will Remember About You
The best teachers care about students unconditionally but, at the same time, ask them to do things they can’t yet do.
2 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
Getty
Teaching Profession High Risk for COVID-19 and Forced Back to Class: One Teacher's Story
One theater teacher in Austin has a serious heart condition and cancer, but was denied the ability to work remotely. Here is her story.
9 min read
Austin High School musical theater teacher and instructional coach Annie Dragoo has three underlying health conditions noted by the CDC as being high-risk for coronavirus complications, but was denied a waiver to continue working from home in 2021.
Austin High School musical theater teacher and instructional coach Annie Dragoo has three underlying health conditions noted by the CDC as being high-risk for coronavirus complications, but was denied a waiver to continue working from home in 2021.
Julia Robinson for Education Week
Teaching Profession Photos What Education Looked Like in 2020
A visual recap of K-12 education in 2020 across the United States.
1 min read
On Sept. 24, 2020, distance learners are seen on a laptop held by teacher Kristen Giuliano who assists student Jane Wood, 11, in a seventh-grade social studies class at Dodd Middle School in Cheshire, Conn. Many schools around the state have closed temporarily during the school year because of students or staff testing positive for COVID-19. Within the first week of November 2020, nearly 700 students and more than 300 school staff around Connecticut tested positive, according to the state Department of Public Health.
Teacher Kristen Giuliano assists Jane Wood, 11, during a 7th grade social studies class in September at Dodd Middle School in Cheshire, Conn., while other students join the class remotely from home.
Dave Zajac/Record-Journal via AP