A classroom of young boys and girls drawing on one large piece of paper. The children are wearing school uniform while their teacher watches.
Reading Time: 4 minutes

I believe it was 2004…I was teaching second grade at a school in Fayetteville, North Carolina and Deborah Johnson was my principal. I wanted to pursue my master’s degree in school leadership. Ms Johnson decided that if I was to pursue my master’s degree in leadership, I should have experience. I can remember her moulding me into a leader.

She gave me my first opportunities.

While I was still in the classroom, she began putting me in charge of menial tasks, like making sure the science department had all they needed. I was also a member of the school improvement team. As the next school year progressed, I was elected chairperson of the school improvement team. The team was comprised of various members of the school: leaders and school administration, as well as other stakeholders. I was in charge and the first task was to update the school improvement plan. The school improvement plan was an 80-page document, front and back. As I went before the teachers to tell them we had to edit the document, they complained that they were tired and wanted to go home.  I went back to Ms Johnson, who was in the room behind the wall listening to everything.  She said to me, “either they do it or you’re going to do it”. That was the moment when I began my journey into leadership.  I realise now that, she trusted me to take care of something that was very important, because we had to turn it in, to the County when finished.  It was at that moment that she began to groom me for leadership.  At the time, I was a third-year teacher.  Today, I look back and I’m grateful for the experience.

Teacher leaders are so very important in education. By incorporating teacher leadership into a school setting, you give teachers the opportunity to feel like they belong, you give teachers a place where they can say, “I helped build this thing”. Teacher leaders are the protectors of your curriculum. They are the ones that can work with new teachers, so they feel more comfortable. They can also be the mediators between the staff and administration; keeping an open line of communication.

It is one thing for us as teachers to have to work for someone and do as directed, but it is something else to be given the opportunity to actually have a say in what goes on in the school. This can be a key factor in motivating teachers to stay in the profession, at a time when teacher retention rates are decreasing rapidly worldwide

So, who is a Teacher Leader? In a recent study conducted by Torren & Bose, Teacher Leadership was described as not being in charge of everything in the school, instead, it was described as working together to help promote a common goal and working toward the betterment and the development of students.

There are four different types of leadership: The Model, The Mentor, The Observer and The Coach.

The Model

This person is a great communicator. They can model lessons for their peers.  They can co-teach, have very good lesson planning skills, they have strong pedagogy and they are willing to listen to their peers. Overall, they are great teachers! They are a perfect example of how we can all flourish as educators.

The Model” in action: cuts down on time for administrators to be in the classrooms. There is a solid example of best practices by having someone like them in the classroom. This creates an environment of teamwork. They can give administrators feedback about the teachers with whom they have worked (i.e. growth, development, etc.). The Model can help determine the types of professional development needed for the future.

The Mentor

This person is key to guide new teachers and they help to create a very positive work environment. They keep others from feeling lost or behind.  They have knowledge about the school and they keep their mentees abreast of everything (i.e. school hours, where to find things, etc.).  In an international education setting, where people come from all over the world, The Mentor can help with the settling process.

“The Mentor” in action: is a good teacher, may not be as strong as The Model teacher, but can help the new teacher overcome their struggles and they may keep them from being frustrated. They truly care about their peers and others. By having them on staff, it makes new hires feel welcome, feel like they have support and lessens the probability of teachers quitting. A good mentor can help improve the communication between administrators and teachers. Mentors can help with the implementation of new programs; modelling for the new teachers.

The Observer

This person sits on the outside, is very quiet and you rarely hear from them.  When they do speak up to give information, it is in line with where you want to go with your vision. They are visionaries! They are secure in who they are and what they are, so there’s no real fear of being “shot down” for what they say or fear of judgement from their peers. They are strong communicators and are typically those that can analyze data.

“The Observer” in action: less visible, but very important. They are not to be confused with the type of person who is a “tell-it-all” or “busy-body”. The Observer analyzes the data and they can give Leadership a clear picture of the direction of the school. They typically provide evidence to support their suggestions and/or plans. There have reasons for doing what they do. They have ways of persuading others to change based on the evidence they have collected and they have “eyes and ears” all over the school. They can be pivotal when trying to decide in which direction to go when developing plans. The observer’s information can be very insightful.

The Coach

The person that can work with teachers through the process, cheers them on and the room “lights up” when they enter. This person must be very trust-worthy. They have to be able to talk to people when they are having a rough day. They also should have very strong pedagogy because they will need to pass on the techniques that will make others better.

“The Coach” in action: priorities are the betterment of the team. This person could be the grade level chairperson…could be a lead person. They understand that it is their role, when someone may be feeling a little uncomfortable, to cheer them on and tell them “you can do it”. The coach also knows the team, so in the time of change when the curriculum needs to be updated and programs need to be implemented, they cheer everyone through the process. They can help others to overcome any uncertainties.

Teacher leaders are key contributors to school growth, development and curriculum implementation.  Allowing teachers to become leaders within the school setting creates buy-in and a sense of belonging. Anytime people have this feeling of belonging, it creates a sense of a family. Teachers as leaders are important to the success of schools.

By Loretta Sanders