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2011-12-05 Steve Gardiner Teacher Leaders Promote Shared Leadership

Throughout 34 years of teaching high school English, I have seen many changes. Some have made teaching more difficult; others have made teaching more exciting. I believe there is one change that is making a significant difference in teaching and is helping develop and retain quality teachers. It is the creation of a teaching profession.


This movement began in the late 1980s with the advent of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. This organization allowed teachers to define quality teaching in our own words. It let us set standards we believed we should meet and identify those who had met those standards. That professional voice, along with development of the necessary technology, has led today to the rise of online communities such as the Teacher Leader Network, ASCD Edge, and many others. It helped establish many excellent web sites and educational blogs where teachers sharing their ideas with the world today. Teachers have been given a voice and a place to express that voice.


It wasn't always that way. Three decades ago, the principal was the boss. It was frightening, even as a teacher, to be called into his office, and what he said was the way it would be. School board members were above us. They didn't mingle much in classrooms or teachers' lounges. If we were assigned to a committee, we knew we would complete the work that was given to the committee, but we wouldn't make suggestions for change. At the time, it didn't seem so strange. It was the system, and we worked within it.


After the National Board defined Accomplished Teachers and teachers established Professional Learning Communities and online networks, we learned we could speak. The traditional structure of the profession changed and out of that change emerged a new concept, the teacher leader. It was an idea that could not have lived in 1980, but after the turn of the century, teacher leaders became more than a clever idea, they became a necessity.


Schools are too complex now for an office of one to control. Shared leadership is required to cover all the concerns that exist in education. Distributing the work, collaborating on new ideas, utilizing the tremendous human resources are key components to making school leadership successful and to helping teachers see their role in education as long-term, important, and valuable. The widespread growth of the teacher leader concept is evident in every educational convention. Sessions on teacher leadership are frequent. Keynote speakers address the ideas of shared leadership and the role of teachers in that process. Summer institutes are devoted to the topic and an ever-increasing list of colleges and universities, both traditional and online, are offering degree programs in teacher leadership. This gives teachers a sense of a career path, of belonging to a true profession, and the pride and unity that come from that will keep many teachers in the classroom in spite of the many challenges and trials we face daily.


More than pay raises or praise, meaningful involvement in the shared leadership of a school will support the development of strong teachers, foster professional conversation, and retain the best teachers in the classroom where they can do the most to impact our students and their learning.

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