Are Teachers Leaders?

Is this leadership?

Is this leadership?

The other day I read an post by Russ Goerend (@RussGoerend), which raised a question by making this statement: Teachers aren’t leaders [Self-fulfilling Prophecies]). Russ wrote this post in response to a conversation he had with Scott Mcleod, where Dr. Mcleod stated that teachers are not “leaders and policymakers who have influence/power.” This statement was in reference to an event in Iowa where Will Richardson was meeting with a handpicked group of ‘educational leaders’ (which appears to include two graduate assistants, not sure how much power/influence graduate assistants have, but that is neither here nor there). I commented on the post and tweeted about it, provoking an interesting conversation with members of my PLN.

Mr. Goerend had a bone to pick with Dr. Mcleod and I am glad that he did. Teachers, particularly young or new teachers feel powerless enough when they voluntarily become a cog in the machine that is education, then to have someone as well respected as Scott Mcleod omit them from a meeting of educational minds because they have no influence or power does nothing to help moral. Dr. Mcleod commented on Russ’ post and even invited him to the event after there was a cancellation. But to be clear, although he states that he sees teachers as leaders in this comment he hosted an event touted as an educational leadership conference and deliberately left teachers out.

Or is this?

Or is this?

My beef is only with part of Dr. Mcleod’s statement, and that is the part that asserts that teachers are not leaders. The truth hurts sometimes and the bottom line is that teachers are not policy makers, and probably never will be in my lifetime. No matter how visionary I feel when talking with like-minded teachers on Twitter, YouTube is still blocked at my school and will be until my Superintendent decides to unblock it. No matter how useful it would be to my students, I cannot unilaterally purchase a laptop lab for my classroom. Furthermore, no matter how much time I think we are wasting preparing students for tests, to the detriment of other essential skills it is my professional responsibility to teach the curriculum given to me by the state education department; the policy-makers.

It is the differentiation of those two phrases that must happen for teachers to maintain their sanity, and hold on to the faith that they truly are making a difference. Teachers are not policy makers, but they certainly are leaders. Conversely, many policy makers I know are poor leaders yet they are given the power to affect the futures of a great number of young people.

Here is my advice to teachers to assert your leadership:

  1. Be a role model. – Lead students and colleagues by example, practice what you preach (don’t be afraid to preach), and always be true to you word.
  2. Build real relationships. – Build real relationships with every other member of the system you work in including; students, parents and administrators. If others can trust you, they will listen to your advice. You might not make a policy decision but over time you can have great influence over them.
  3. Acknowledge & congratulate success. – again with all members of the system.
  4. Be persistent & pervasive. – insert squeaky wheel adage here, don’t give up!
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3 thoughts on “Are Teachers Leaders?

  1. Your article raises an excellent point.  Teachers often do not FEEL like leaders because of their lack of political influence  or their lack of financial control over educational funds.  As as former classroom teacher, I will admit that I often felt that my impact on the BIG picture of Education was discouragingly minimal.  Over the years, however, I have come to realize the importance of impacting even ONE life for the better.  Also, teachers tend to forget how they are viewed by the parents and  other professionals in the community.  Teachers can make the difference through their positive relationships and their persistent voice in the community on matters they believe in.  We need to be reminded of this!
    Thanks again for your post!

  2. Scott McLeod says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments and extension of the conversation between myself and Russ. Teachers CAN BE leaders. The challenge is that the scope of informal leaders’ influence is limited. If someone like myself is aiming to beget SYSTEMIC change, it’s better to focus on folks like principals, superintendents, and state policymakers than classroom teachers, not because teachers are not leaders but because their scope of power and authority is on a smaller scale. So, faced with a limited number of seats and needing to use them as strategically as possible, I chose formal leaders, not informal leaders. If a teacher gets it, a classroom (or few) changes. If a superintendent gets it, the whole district begins to change. If state policymakers get it, the statewide climate begins to change. It’s an easy decision for me.
    No apologies for including two of my graduate assistants who are assisting me with statewide technology leadership training. They help me influence leaders all across Iowa on a larger scale.
    Take care.

  3. Russ Goerend says:

    Scott, I agree and understand. However, in the position I’m (teachers are) in, as I said in my original post, that leaves us just a few choices: become an admin, get after it anyway, forget about being a leader. I’m (teachers are) choosing to get after it anyway.

    The problem is not that some administrators don’t know. That’s just a fact of life. A lot of teachers don’t know either. The problem is when those who do get it are told to wait around for the people above them to get it, instead of being pushed to show those above them what it is. If administrators are smart enough to invite teachers into their scope of influence, that change we’re all looking for can happen more quickly. That’s what’s going on in my district. That’s why I’m optimistic about the way I’ve gone about leading. I can recognize, though, that it takes an administrator with the right mindset to allow this kind of leadership.

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