Thursday, January 20, 2011

What Is Teacher Leadership?

A colleague and I were doing a workshop at a school today. I was filling in for someone who had been out and the content were we covering, I thought, would be better if we taught it together. And that also allowed one of us to teach while the other floated around the room to help teachers who got behind or need a little extra encouragement. 

The workshop was just like any other. Participants were very engaged and really enjoyed the content we were teaching. They asked great questions and were really excited to go back to their classrooms and try out what were covering. 

As we were preparing to leave a teacher said, "I have a question."

"Sure!" I said, thinking I would be answering another question about what we were there for. 

"Why are we doing this workshop?" 

Most people in my position have heard this question before. Immediately my defense goes up. In my brain I am thinking of the standard district response that it supports our goal of 21st century blah, blah, blah. 

"That sounded very rude," she said. "What I mean is why are we doing it this way. No what I mean is,"

Ok, at this point I am beginning to understand what she is talking about. She wanted to know why this particular workshop on this particular day. Without going into too much detail it was one that at the beginning of the year someone else thought this staff would benefit from. They were half correct in that the staff would benefit from what we were talking about but not in the format we were asked to do it in.

"I have a suggestion," she said. (I like suggestions. They help me get better at what I do.) "What we are talking about here is very content specific. I teach 7th grade science. My other 7th grade science teachers need to hear this information too as we all can benefit from it. Why are we not doing technology PD in more of a PLC format. You (mean me and my colleague) come in during our PLC meetings after we have the basics and talk to us more about how it applies to my content area. I know you guys (again meaning myself and my colleague) didn't plan this workshop but for the future I think this is how we should do it."

To say I was speechless is really an understatement. This was a teacher that gets it. She understands that most of the information that she receives in technology PD would be better suited in a small group in her PLC meeting where they can discuss how their content can benefit, rather then focusing on the tool in a large group setting. 

By the end of the conversation we had ideas as to how they could accomplish the PLC Technology PD and how they could get started working on Technology PD with other teachers at the same grade level from across the district. 

That, folks is Leadership. She understands what her and her department needs and what the needs of her students are and she took the initiative when the opportunity presented itself and capitalized on it. She is starting a movement in her school to have better PD that meets more needs than what we were currently providing her and her teachers. She is only able to do this because she has an administration that is flexible and understands that the PLCs will only work if they decide the direction they take. (That is Leadership too.)

I am reading The Technology Director's Guide To Leadership. (I picked it up at ISTE last year and have been meaning to read it for a while now.) In it the author talks about how technology directors and CIO's need to take a step back even now and then and reflect on the effectiveness of their program as whole. Is it on fire? Is it simmering? Or does it need some heat? If it is simmering or needs heat what changes need to be made to get it on fire? This teacher had done this for her school. She looked at all the technology PD they had been doing and said there had to be a better way. They needed some heat and she went straight to the fire. 

Being able to critically look at myself as a technology educator and look at what I am doing is an important part of my ability to be effective. I constantly look at my evaluations for workshops that I have done to see where I can improve. I like critical feedback. Again, thats how I get better.

The same must be true for everyone involved in education but most importantly those of us involved in technology. We have to make sure we are not only looking forward at where are programs are going but where they have been and if we have done a good job. We have to talk to people, solicit ideas, get feedback and make changes even when those decisions might be tough. 

But it all starts with one question and that teacher nailed on the way out. 

"These kids deserve better right? After all thats why we are here."

Couldn't agree more...

What do you think? What are some other aspects of leadership that we need to consider in our various roles. Leave me some feedback below. 


  1. Great story Steve. I am impressed that a district would listen to one teacher. I can not imagine my district listening to one teacher. I always ask for time for conversations and teacher choice on our evaluations for PD, but nothing changes :)

  2. She hit the nail right on the head! The district I learn in is moving towards more and more teacher input. The hope is the teachers take ownership of their learning. I have been advocating for "just in time learning" which is similar to what the teacher was stating. I heard this term for the first time at the LI Tech Summit.


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