Tuesday, March 28, 2017

MTL 528- Blog #4 Benefits for Teacher Leaders

MTL 528: Blog #4

Benefits for Teacher Leaders

As we talk about teacher leaders and their positive impacts on a school culture, its teachers, the students, and the system, I (selfishly) started to wonder- What’s in it for me?  My last blogs have focused on why we need teacher leadership, the obstacles they face, and how to be one, but nothing on why to personally become one.

It had me wondering why I enrolled in a Teacher Leadership program.  Did I do this for the better of my students or for me?  I think the students are the natural beneficiaries of anything I do.  To improve me is to support my students.  Always.  But I think there has to be a personal desire to be a teacher leader as well.  So I come back to my question- what’s in it for me?

Personal Gains

Completing a teacher leadership master’s degree is just the start.  There’s a sense of accomplishment that comes with the hard work.  There’s often pay increases in salary.  Great resume additions (if ever needed).  Overall satisfaction with new education.

Intellectual and Professional Growth

Becoming a teacher leader can lead to increased knowledge.  Through an official program, the learning is structured and specific with important goals.  This can lay the foundation for your leadership style and vision.  But there is the intellectual knowledge you gain on the job as well.  The more colleagues you interact with, the more opportunities you try, the more research you explore, then the more you gain in hands-on experiences and knowledge.  Professionally, you improve your practice.

Decreased Isolation

I know in my first year, I was very closed doors.  I didn’t want anyone to see what I was doing or how I was doing it.  I didn’t want to be judged or misunderstood.  Understandable for a first year teacher, but if this continues beyond your first year, then you work in isolation.  Never reaching out behind your walls to see what else your school (colleagues) have to offer.  With teacher leadership, you reach out.  You find answers.  You seek change and collaboration.  Two minds are better than one!

Job Satisfaction

Teachers tend to be teachers forever, with exception of those that move on to administration.  Teacher leadership provides that outlet.  There’s not many place to move up as a teacher but by sharing resources, inspiring others, leading PD, and imposing positivity and change, a teacher can feel renewed job satisfaction.  They don’t need a promotion but they have a way to impart knowledge and feel like they can make a difference.

These areas do not fully summarize what benefits you potentially receive as a teacher leader but could perhaps showcase what makes being a teacher leader just so attractive.  So when I think what’s in it for me?,  it sounds like a pretty good deal.  I improve my teaching practice and constantly learn more, I feel personally achieved, happier in my job, and surrounded by colleagues to collaborate with.  What do I have to lose?


Boyd-Dimock, V. & McGree, K.M.  (1995).  Leading change from the classroom: Teachers as leaders.  Issues...About Change, 4(4).

Saturday, March 18, 2017

MTL 528- Blog #3 Gusto

MTL 528: Blog #3


I was inspired to write this blog after I commented on a professional blog this week.  I have been following Dan Rockwell on Twitter for a few months now.  I stumbled across his name @Leadershipfreak and I quickly started following him.  His tweets are usually one-liners about leadership that really make you think.  I typically agree with his posts but there have been a few that have made me disagree.  Some of the disagreement may be due to the fact that his blog and tweets are not necessarily related to teaching practices.  

In a recent blog, Dan Rockwell wrote about helping reluctant team members find their gusto.  He listed 5 steps for leaders to use to help team members go from self-doubt to believing.  His first step involves listening- listening for the wants of the team member.  Secondly, remind them of successes they have add or encourage them to think about them.  Next, determine their commitments to this process.  Then create a list of other resources or team members that can assist them. And, finally, decide on the next steps.  

After I read this blog, I realized that I had seen very similar steps before.  In the Professional Development course, we read an article called It’s About the Questions by Ronald Bearwald.  Bearwald explains that effective coaching is not about answers but about the questions.  There needs to be a commitment from both parties.  Questions should foster growth and create valuable insights.  Instead of giving answers, coaches provide resources and support.  I found important overlap in both this article and Rockwell’s blog.  

When I trained to be a mentor last year, the biggest focus in all our sessions was about listening and questioning.  For a leader of any kind to be successful, they must have the ability to listen in order to lead.  There’s a lot to be heard in the silence.  For instance, I sometimes will sit back and just listen during PD.  There’s not always value in what I have to say but there will be value in what I hear.  A good leader needs to practice listening to the silence.  A reluctant teacher may not say their fears or what they wish they could do.  A coach/leader may need to infer.  That’s where the right questions come into play.  Asking a teacher what they want or, like Rockwell asked, “what happens if you do nothing?”  These questions have power behind them and can begin the transformation of reluctant teachers to good and good teachers to better.  

The goal is for reluctant teachers to find their gusto.  If a teacher has self-doubt, then they are worried about something they may want to try.  There’s a door there waiting to be opened.  For instance, I fear using a Google Hangout with an “expert” (aka a stranger) in my classroom.  Why do I fear this.  I am worried it won’t work or be worthwhile.  But when I read the question from Dan Rockwell’s blog “What happens if you do nothing?”, I think about that.  My kids are missing out a potentially inspiring and transformational experience.  That was the right question to ask me.  Now I need resources and someone to help me with that.  I’m ready for what’s next.  More gusto!


Bearwald, R.  (2011).  It’s About the Questions.  Educational Leadership, 69(2), 74-77.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

MTL 528- Blog #2 Obstacles for Teacher Leadership

Obstacles for Teacher Leadership

In my last blog, I talked about the need for teacher leadership to exist.  Principals need support, teachers need opportunities to grow, and others need to learn from them.  In this post, I explore just what challenges or obstacles a teacher leader may face.

I previously talked about how the school climate needs to be one that allows for teacher leaders to step up without judgement and be protected when things don’t go as planned.  But what if there is a school full of potential teacher leaders, and they all stay behind their four walls?  

According to Johnson and Donaldson, due to increased pressure in testing, and “because recent large-scale retirements have left a shrinking pool of veteran teachers, principals often ask teachers in the second stage of their career, with 4 to 10 years of experience, to take on these specialized roles” (2007).  

The issue that these newly regarded leaders face are the previously established norms of the school.   Your school may have a need for teacher leadership, and a principal that is recognizing that there are leaders within their building, but without buy-in from the rest of the teachers, the impact is minimal and the culture change is non-existent.  Teaching as a profession has long gone unchanged.  The more years of experience, the more inappropriate it may feel for a newer teacher to provide coaching or modeling.  The difficult part of this challenge is for veteran teachers to overcome this fear of someone more novice leading their instructional practice in new directions.  Novice leaders must be comfortable reaching out to those teachers by building relationships and trust.

Trust plays a major role in establishing a productive culture for teacher leadership.  But when teacher leaders (that are titled or recognized by the principal) are given more access to teachers or to principal time, the trust is threatened making it harder for a teacher leader to positively influence change.  The bitter feelings that can emerge from veteran teachers toward the less-experienced leaders can create a difficult working environment.  How does a teacher leader build the trust, inspiration, and understanding with those that resist?

According to Johnson and Donaldson, another hurdle is maintaining the position long enough to make the impact.  While some schools are able to add coaches as full-time time staff members, some schools are receiving grants to add on these positions.  The coach does their best to make connections with teachers and checks-in from time to time.  When money runs out, the coach is simply let go with minimal effects (2007).  If a coach is truly making an impact and affecting the system, there should be major detriments if that staff member were to leave.  Just more evidence that teacher leadership is not fostered in the right environment.
The first way to combat the resistance and encourage teacher leadership would be build relationships first.  Demonstrate to the veteran teachers and others that you are an expert in your area of practice and you can be trusted.  Wait to be called on by those that recognize your abilities.  Do not force it on them.  Approach it gently.  Begin with those that are willing.  Prove to them your worth and produce results that are evident to others.  Begin as a collaborator and a support rather than a leading teacher.

Teachers (many in the four to ten year range) are ready for the responsibility of being a leader, they make it through many of the hurdles to becoming a valuable change agent like building solid relationships, but it oftens begins and ends with the principal.  How can a teacher leader overcome that obstacle?

Johnson, S.M. & Donaldson, M.L. (2007).  Overcoming the obstacles of leadership.  Educational
Leadership, 65(1), 8-13.  

Sunday, February 19, 2017

MTL 528- Blog #1: The Need for Teacher Leadership

The Need for Teacher Leadership

As I thought about defining Teacher Leadership, I thought about the system changes that need to occur in order for teacher leaders to be successful.  Innovative and inspiring lessons are happening behind the four walls of a teacher’s classroom.  Students are benefitting from access to those superior lessons.  Who is not benefitting?  Other teachers and other students.  Not without the proper culture to invite teachers to become leaders can others take advantage from it.  Charlotte Danielson says that, “sometimes on their own initiative and sometimes within a more formal structure, these professionals find a variety of ways to exercise teacher leadership” (2007).  

There is a need for teacher leaders in the school system for reasons beyond influencing innovation and inspiration.  Without opportunities for teacher leadership, there are not many options for a teacher to expand their horizons.  Some are career-teachers and happy to stay within their own classroom.  But for many, there is a desire to reach out from behind the four walls of the classroom and share their expertise.  

By including teachers in the leadership of the school and district, it ensures that the school culture can maintain beyond any administration.  As I heard in class previously, a principal should be able to step out or leave, and the system works regardless of their presence.  Investing in teacher leadership can provide continuity and longevity in a vision and culture.

Additionally, principals are experiencing more demands than ever.  Distributed leadership is strong way to empower teachers and take pressure off a principal to please all stakeholders.  Principals can rely on the expertise that his/her staff has to inform and inspire other teachers.  One person (or principal) doesn’t have deep knowledge on everything, but by tapping into the power of teacher leaders, that knowledge can be shared to everyone.

Teacher leader roles fall into two main categories, formal and informal, which are both crucial to the success of a school system.  Formal roles are titled and often selected.  Their job is critical to maintaining order, curriculum, and training.  Informal roles are more naturally selected and collaborative.  Both are necessary to implementing change and innovation.  The influence can occur on a team level, school-wide level, or beyond-the-classroom.

The need for teacher leadership can only be fostered in the right environment.  The first would be a judgment-free zone.  Teacher leaders take chances and express new ideas but should not be criticized for their risks.  Secondly, a principal needs to protect and encourage teacher leadership in the school.  They, also, need to make sure that teachers feel it is ok to succeed and model for their colleagues.
Teacher leadership is a pivotal part of a school-wide system.  The need only seems to be growing and the desire of many teachers to be a leader seems to be just as strong.  With the right climate, teacher leaders will emerge and the benefits will be seen.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Welcome Blog for MTL 528

Hello Everyone in MTL 528!

My name is Rachel Sliwa.  I am in my second semester in the Teacher Leadership program.  I am working towards completing the masters and earning an endorsement in special ed.  I received my Bachelor's degree from Elmhurst College in 2010.  Most recently, I received my first master's degree in Educational Technology from Aurora University last year.

I have been a third grade teacher for four years and I look forward to being in this grade-level for a long time to come.  I love my team and I love the children I teach.  It is exciting to create lessons that inspire my students and challenge them to learn further.

The teacher leadership program fits nicely with my Education Technology degree.  It can open many doors for the future in an ever-changing career.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Benefits of Students Teaching Students Through Online Video

Schwartz, Katrina. (2014). The benefits of students teaching students through online video. MindShift. Retreived from http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/11/the-benefits-of-students-teaching-students-through-online-video/.

I really enjoyed this article.  Since our last course, I have been on the fence about making videos and Screencasts.  I love the idea but time is always a factor.  I see this vision of creating a math video for each lesson.  I like the Flipped Classroom model.  I don’t think, at this point, it works for every subject consistently.  However, I do see math as a subject that this can be used daily/nightly.  How am I going to make a video for each lesson?  Over the summer I guess.  But then I saw this article and it strengthened my feelings towards this idea.  

The article begins with a story of a high school student and her struggles with chemistry.  She realized that she was able to understand the content better from her classmates and friends rather than extra studying and resources online.  Once she understood the concept, she decided that she would make a video of her new knowledge and share it with chemistry students in a lower level. The reason students learn better from each other is because it applies to their lives.  It is relevant and meaningful.  She says there is a passion in their voices of having just recently learned how to solve/understand the material themselves.  There is an excitement in their delivery.  She says the best people to explain a problem are the people that actually faced them.

This idea extended past the high school level, and a middle school found it to be a powerful tool as well.  A website called Mathtrain is a collection of how-to videos created by mostly students on math concepts.  I am very interested in checking this out and perhaps bookmarking a few for my students (and parents) to view.  The creation of videos led to hard work but hard work that was warranted by the students and their desire to publish quality resources online.

My concern before about not having time to create all these videos was slightly alleviated when I read that the middle school teacher was offering extra credit for creating math concept videos.  I would love to have students create in class but again, time is a factor.  Some could be produced but would their be time for all of them?  Assigning it as extra credit is motivating and not dependent on time.  Definitely something to think about.  The bank of math videos will grow over the year and even years to come.  

The article talks about the growing need for videos like this.  Common Core has changed the way we think and students and parents alike struggle with this type of thinking.  Imagine the benefits of student-created videos.  

This article wasn’t really anything new.  Students teaching students has always been a good strategy but it just put into light for me how useful and engaging this style of learning can be.