Thursday, September 5, 2013

The 2014 Teacher Leadership Challenge

#TLC2014

The role of the teacher has evolved over time in tremendous ways. From presenter to decision-maker, and from sage on the stage to guide on the side, teaching is about much more now than an exchange of content knowledge between teacher and student. Modern teaching encompasses far more responsibilities and considerations than educators have had to think about in the past. Only through leadership can teachers effectively navigate the modern complexities of education.

Behind the Challenge

Though managing instruction and student learning might seem like the only things with which teachers need to be concerned, there are increasing demands outside of the classroom that come into play. Professional Learning Communities, standardized testing demands, evaluations, school violence and education funding all impact what's on a teacher's mind. Balancing all these responsibilities, issues, and the different aspects of the education profession, all while maintaining effective levels of instruction, can appear daunting. It is the demand associated with this very balancing act that has called for teachers to play a new role, that of leader. Teacher leadership is nothing new, but the ability for all teachers to be leaders inside and outside of their classroom is something novel. When I mention the term teacher leadership, I am not referring to the social studies department head at a high school or the grade-level chairperson of an elementary school. The term teacher leader refers to an educator who navigates the multiple roles of the profession in an influential and effective way.
Every profession has its leaders. Traditionally, those leaders, even in education, are managers. These traditional leadership roles of manager or administrator were the ones that carried the influence. The individuals in those leadership roles were part of decision-making process and were connected in an influential way. Yet educators no longer have to be managers with specific responsibilities to be leaders; instead, leaders can be collaborators, resources to colleagues, and sharers, presenters, influencers or ambassadors. Despite the position of a teacher having to focus first on teaching and learning in their classroom, teachers have every opportunity to be leaders in their field. Barnett Berry's latest book, Teacherpreneur, speaks to this exact opportunity–the ability for teachers to lead from within their classrooms and the profession. And while teacher leadership might look different from one school to the next, there are many resources available to support teachers moving into a leadership role, including standards for leadership. One simple way to get started, or to continue, developing your teacher leadership practice is through reflection.
The 2014 Teacher Leadership Challenge is an opportunity for teachers to grow their leadership practice, by thinking about education more globally, through a weekly leadership prompt to ignite reflection.

Reflective and Responsive Leadership

Teacher leadership requires thoughtful consideration of one's role in their classroom, school community, and education at a larger scale. In order to grow your leadership, it is important to be connected, reflective, and interactive with education beyond the four walls of the classroom. As your teacher leadership grows, you will think more deeply about how your role as a teacher for your students is interrelated to the rest of the education community. Ultimately, this will lead to the realization that educators must be interdependent to be successful. To be an effective classroom teacher leader, one must take the perspective that 'no classroom is an island.' Everything we do in classrooms is connected in someway to the larger education community around us. As teachers, we have multiple hats we can wear in our career, including leader. The leadership role for classroom teachers goes beyond great instruction and includes the realm of connectedness and influence in education.
So as you consider what teacher leadership will look like for the new school year, remember that it starts with excellent classroom instruction for all students, but must include connections to everything in education around us. To enhance our teacher leadership practice, we must think globally of education and how our actions impact other areas of the field. This has been one of the most powerful growth steps in my own teacher leadership over the years. A shift in looking at education as classroom-centered to classroom-connected. Every teacher can grow in their leadership from shifting their thinking outward, and that's why I've developed a teacher leadership challenge to help move others in that very direction this year.

How the Challenge Works

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Each Friday, I will publish a blog post with a new prompt dealing with a different educational leadership topic. I will include some of the relevant features, resources, or current educational events related to the topic of the prompt. The challenge to you is to craft a concise response (~500 words) to the prompt and to share it with others during the following week. Subscribe to or follow this blog in order to receive the weekly challenge by email.

Share Your Responses

There are a few ways you can participate in the challenge this year. If you are a blogger, you can publish your response to the weekly prompt in a new post and then share the URL in the comments below. You could post a video response and share the URL in the comments. Alternatively, you could share your response with others in your PLN or on Twitter using #TLC2014.
Maybe you're not into blogging, vlogging, or social media yet. If so, that's just fine–you can still participate by thinking about the prompt and how you would respond, but then sharing it with others in conversation. It could be a great lunchroom topic of conversation, focus of a weekly PLC meeting, or even an activity for a staff meeting. At any rate, sharing your ideas and inviting more educators into the conversation is one of the hallmarks of teacher leadership; so, make sure you share your response somehow!

Enhance Your Leadership

Through thinking and writing about the education issues, topics, and trends published in the #TLC2014 posts, this challenge aims to spark some great conversations in your education circles. Through participating in the 2014 Teacher Leadership Challenge, you will be moved to reflect on your own instructional practice and its connection to education beyond your classroom walls. This is a powerful way to grow your leadership practice. Once you've got the hang of responding, you'll naturally start thinking of your own questions to pose to your colleagues and PLN, thus growing your leadership practice further. Even if your teacher leadership is already well-tuned, then this will be an opportunity to expand your thinking and perhaps revisit some of the philosophies or practices you have found effective in your career. I hope you will consider to enhance your leadership practice in education by accepting the 2014 Teacher Leadership Challenge.