Leadership for Student Learning: Redefining the Teacher as Leader

It has been seven months since I transitioned into the role of assistant education administrator with Grafton Integrated Health Network-Richmond, after teaching in special education for 13 years. As a novice administrator, I’ve gone through many changes, both personal and professional. But whatever new role or title I may have, one thing about me will always remain unchanged: I am at heart a teacher!

Being a teacher means I have to be a leader. In the words of John C. Maxwell, “Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.” And that’s what teachers do.

In fact, my new career trajectory developed from teacher-leader opportunities, from my appointments as a teaching ambassador fellow with the United States Department of Education and as a White House Champion of Change educator. These positions provided me with a platform from which I could  collaborate with local, state, and federal policymakers and leaders on educational issues.

They also gave me new confidence and a skill set that allowed me to encourage other teachers to become involved in the development of policies that affect the classroom, and to find other ways to expand their policy leadership. It was a time of tremendous growth for me. I found myself reflecting upon my craft, my values, and my purpose in the education profession.

In my current position as an administrator, I focus primarily on the growth and well-being of my teachers and the school community to which I belong. My advocacy for teacher professionalism and expanded leadership roles is based on the understanding that because they have contacts with learners, teachersare in the best position to make critical decisions about curriculum and instruction, as well as  implement changes in a comprehensive and continuous manner.

Most recently, I joined with other teacher-leaders and Champion of Change educators in Washington, DC. We shared our stories and had deep conversations on redefining the teacher as a leader.In particular, the United State Department’s Initiative Teach to Lead.

So what is a teacher leader?

Teacher leaders assume a wide range of roles to support school and student success. Whether these roles are assigned formally or shared informally, they build the entire school’s capacity to improve. Because teachers can lead in a variety of ways, many serve as de facto leaders among their peers.

Teacher leader

As Grafton Integrated Health Network undergoes accreditation with AdvancED, a national protocol for schools committed to systemic, systematic, and sustainable improvement, teachers are finding themselves at the core of the process. It is a process that supports, enhances, and stimulates growth and improvement throughout the school and corporation because it forces us to meet well-defined standards. These standards focus on systems within a school and systematic methods of attaining high student performance and organization effectiveness. Moreover, the standards address preparing students with the skills they will need for the future and include high expectations for professional practice.

Tying it all together, teaching to lead is about redefining the teacher as a leader.It’s about fostering ambitious commitments to authentic opportunities to take up leadership roles without leaving the classroom.The goal is to ensure that when important decisions are being made about the work teachers do, the teachers themselves are there to help set the direction for their classrooms, schools, the profession more broadly, and ultimately, to ensure all students have opportunities to learn.