Why would COVID times be a good time to become a teacher leader? Isn’t it enough to just show up and make it through each day? And after all, schools have principals. Isn’t it the administrator’s job to lead?
If the pandemic wasn’t putting our schools at the center of contention, if we had no pressing student needs, if the status quo provided a healthy, safe place for students to thrive, then there would be no need for teacher leadership. But the very fact that our status quo is not sufficient to support thriving, engaged students is reason enough to call teachers to action.
And why now? What is it about the pandemic that makes the need for teacher leaders so pressing? The problems of operating a school during COVID times are complex, volatile, and inescapable. And the solutions to those problems are at best controversial. What makes the situation even more difficult is that the solutions often cause unintentional consequences, which become additional problems that need to be solved. There is too much complexity for one leader to do it all. Each staff member of a school campus is crucial to the problem-solving process.
If the needs are so great and the teachers so dedicated, why then is it so hard step up and lead? Have you ever gotten that little voice popping up in your head saying “I’m nothing special. Why would anyone want to listen to me? What difference can I make?” (Sigh) That voice has been in my head more often than not throughout my life, but I’ve learned a few things that help me be brave despite the doubts that creep in.
Overcoming doubts is an ongoing battle.
Hillel the Elder, an ancient Jewish rabbi gave us this piece of wisdom, “If I am not for me, who will be for me? And when I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, then when?” These words remind me that teacher leadership is a choice to act for yourself and for others. It helps me realize that I have an important part to play—if I choose to play it. Emma Watson shared a similar sentiment in a 2014 speech to the United Nations about gender equality. She cautioned that if we do nothing and let the status quo persist, the changes we want to see won’t occur in our lifetime.
Teacher Leadership comes down to this: making a choice. The choice to speak up when there may be a social risk. The choice to show mercy when you’re feeling vengeful. The choice to dive into learning when you’re up against an obstacle. The choice to be brave when you’d rather be comfortable.
What does it take to be a teacher leader?
- Recognize a need
- Recognize that YOU are smart, capable, and willing
- Get to work
And what does the work of teacher leadership look like? Well, it’s different for each teacher leader. An excellent resource is this document, “The Teacher Leadership Competencies” which was developed and published jointly by the Center for Teaching Quality, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and the National Education Association. I encourage all teachers to read and internalize these leadership competencies. Reading this document reflectively will allow teachers to see themselves as leaders and the problems of the pandemic as opportunities.
What will it take for you to become a courageous teacher leader? If doubts creep in, ask yourselves:
If not me, who? If not now, when?
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