Over the holidays I was catching up on my bookmarked reading, and an article in the Huffington Post caught my attention– Teacher Leadership as Adaptive Leadership by Nicole Gillespie. One of Nicole’s opinions really resonated with me:
But I object, strenuously, to the implicit message that teachers can only enact leadership by leaving teaching behind. Why is it so hard for us to imagine teaching and leading as overlapping, even complementary, functions?
This opinion is one I happen to share, partly because of my work over the past 10 years with teacher learning communities. These groups have varied with foci: data, formative assessment, literacy instruction or instructional practices in general. Yet there were many commonalities:
- Formed by teachers
- Led by teachers
- Common, agreed upon focus
- Loose structure to the meetings
- Time to share, reflect, give and get feedback
- New learning
What the communities have also had in common is the leadership model. In some one teacher leads for a while, while in others, the teacher leading varies on the new learning focus. Another commonality is that the group adapts based on its needs. Those needs include the desired learning and style of learning of the group members. We’ve written a good bit about Teacher Learning Communities (TLCs) and how they support teachers in deepening their practice. You may have experience with PLCs (Professional Learning Communities), data teams, WSGs (Work Study Groups) or even POP (Peer Observation Process).
So what might adaptive teacher leadership look like and how can we support the development adaptive leadership capacity in teachers? There is no easy answer to this question, but a first step is recognizing that adaptive teacher leadership must be a collective, collaborative effort of teachers that results in a whole greater than the sum of its parts. It hinges on iterative processes of observation and interpretation and designing and testing solutions to identified challenges.
The “collective, collaborative effort” is what happens in a variety of models. In TLCs for instance, the teacher leader is definitely active in his classroom, working to incorporate what he is learning about formative assessment. The “iterative process” of sharing what happens in the classroom, giving and getting feedback, modifying and trying again supports the teacher leader in adapting to the challenges he has identified. Peer observation and peer interview are part of this process as well, which enhances the community’s ability to observe and interpret what’s being tested. As teachers become more confident about what’s going on in their classroom and the community, about what they are learning, we see leadership shifting. What’s nice about this is that while teachers are leading their communities they are empowered to lead due to the support of their colleagues and they enhance their personal instructional practice at the same time, again due to the support of their colleagues.
I strongly think that teachers can play an adaptive leadership role while continuing to be the teachers they are, but what do you think? Do teachers have to leave teaching behind in order to be leaders in their profession?