How To Become A Teacher Leader

CTQ blogger Sandy Merz recently posted “My Teacher Leader Manifesto” and challenged teacher leaders to write theirs.

Instead of writing a manifesto, I decided to write a few thoughts about how one might become a teacher leader in his or her department, school or district.  These are some of the steps I have taken to develop as a teacher leader.


  1. Be the thing you teach. My late mentor, Dr. Nancy Peterson who was director of the Morehead Writing Project in Morehead, Kentucky, urged her pre-service teachers to be the thing they taught.  If you teach writing, be a writer. An English teacher? Read voraciously and be intoxicated with language. A math teacher should be obsessed with logic, numbers, computation. A history teacher should swoon at national parks and statutes.   Love and be and live the things you teach, especially those things we all should teach:  compassion, honesty, integrity, peace, humanity, kindness, grace.  There is a gravitas to the teacher who takes his calling seriously. There is inherent leadership in that kind of passion.


  1. Be the expert of your classroom. When, on every street corner and talk radio show, there is someone claiming they know how to fix public education, rest assured that you are the one who goes into the classroom every day and makes learning happen.  Being the expert doesn’t mean you have all the answers, but no one else has more knowledge of your own students, more reference points and growth charts than you have. You are the expert of that room.  Don’t let anyone else – a vendor pushing a product or an administrator pushed by a vendor pushing a product – tell you differently.


  1. Be data savvy. When I go into schools to provide professional development for school wide writing programs, I find many teachers (sometimes all of them) don’t have access to state data by which their students are measured or don’t care to look at it or don’t know how to read it in a way that is helpful in designing their instruction.   Institutionalized learning, standardized measurements, one size fits all education are all problematic, but quality data is not. Data—generated by the teacher, tailored for students, used to inform instruction— is almost always square one of targeted, individualized learning in a classroom.  Data is part of relationship building. Without knowing where kids are, how can we help them get to the place they need to be?


  1. Be continually reflective on your practice. A good teacher constantly takes the temperature of her classroom, either for comprehension or behavior. A good leader does the same thing in his professional life. How am I growing as a leader? Where do my interests lie? What projects are worth my limited time? Am I spreading myself too thin? Is teaching still my first job? 
  1. Be able to defend your practice. This directive is similar to the data-savvy and expert points, but teacher leaders need to be able to explain their craft. Your administrator will be trotting all kinds of people through your classroom.  As a teacher leader, you might be a maverick, doing things a little differently than the rest of the herd. Be prepared to defend that road less traveled.  Know why you do the things you do.  Then, as a leader, share everything you know.


  1. Be informed about local, state, national education policy. I’m always stunned by teachers who don’t know the standards by which they are evaluated as a professional or the policies that their own school board has adopted. Educate yourself.  Get involved.  Serve on a site-based committee with your school district.


  1. Be positive and solutions-oriented. It is hard to be positive when, perhaps, your school is led by an ineffectual administrator or the staff suffers from low morale or your professionalism has been questioned by an esteemed member of your community whose son or daughter is in your class. But complaining and blaming are not the answers. The teacher leader works toward solutions. She clarifies and explains. She builds a team and works toward resolutions.  She’s creative and thoughtful and resolute. 
  1. Rise above the turbulence. This is the key to being a teacher leader and being a human being.  Silver bullets come and go. Evaluation instruments change every decade or so.  Certain standard biases fall in and out of fashion.  Every week, there is another hand-wringing report about the state of public education. Thoughtful inquiry, collaborative discussions, critical thinking, humility, patience, honesty and integrity – these pursuits bear longevity.  Do the best that you can do, then go home.