Sarah Brown Wessling, high school English teacher in Johnston, Iowa and 2010 National Teacher of the Year recently offered advice for teacher leaders in Education Week. An excerpt of her post appears below:
As many of our systems work to make space for elevating the profession by calling on the wisdom and expertise of our best practicing teachers, they must simultaneously flatten hierarchies within that system to create a culture wherein teacher leaders aren’t separate from their colleagues, but in balance with them. For all the language of mindsets and culture we may wrap around this goal, getting there requires geology: time and careful pressure for change. If you are a teacher leader who finds yourself working furiously, but still waiting for that first follower to make you feel not so alone, here are some dollops of wisdom I’ve collected from others like you.
Be patient. It goes without saying, I know. But patience can be some of the toughest work, especially when you’re already missing the rhythm of a classroom and are seeking to replace it with this new one. Patience requires presence and while you are and others are growing into this leadership role, use the time to read voraciously and learn all you can about those pockets of pedagogy that may not have been part of your classroom experience. Be the engaged learner you want to see in others. This said, you don’t have to be an expert, you have to be real.
Be vulnerable. Being real means being vulnerable and being vulnerable means living a beginner’s mindset. It means you’re not looking for answers, but trying to ask the right questions. It means you’re not pressuring yourself to devise a vision for learning, but collecting one from the best of what you know and observe. It means you are looking for possibility in the most unlikely places and throwing out ten bad ideas to make space for the seed of one good one. It means you make mistakes and publicly learn from them. It means whatever you hope teachers will start doing, you go first.
Be empathetic and resist judgment. With all of this vulnerability you’re bound to be spreading, it can stir up back-handed compliments or even outright snarky ones. These are the moments to be most empathetic and least judgmental. Remember that all anger comes from fear and as you suspend judgement when it’s taking f-o-r-e-v-e-r for momentum to emerge, you must seek to understand others’ fear. Look past the complaints or hesitancy and reach for the real reasons. Nurture those.
Be a teacher first. Never take the teacher out of the leader. Ever. You are a leader because you are an accomplished teacher. Remember, you still have learners who need opportunity and need time to construct their own understanding. Your best skills in the classroom are your best skills now: use them. Respond, question, celebrate, revise, construct, laugh, individualize, design, let go, follow-through. As my mentor Jon Quam always says, “Figure out what they need to learn and how you need to teach it.”
Then be watchful for the first follower, who may emerge from the most unlikely source.
For the original post, see http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/teacher_leader_voices/2016/03/when_youre_a_teacher_leader_wa.html