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.  


  1. Thanks for raising so many issues in teacher leadership in one blog post, Rachel! I think the two issues that "stuck" with me were the idea that teacher leaders would stay in their classrooms and the challenge that exists to build relationships as part of teacher leadership in such complex and changing staff rotations. First, I would respond that if someone is not stepping out of her classroom she is not a teacher leader. If I have expertise in an area and I never share it, then am an expert but not a leader. Second, if I do step outside my classroom and really try to build those networks and develop the trust that is so important to teacher leadership but everything keeps changing and there isn't the opportunity to do this, then how can I lead? What I see as a major obstacle is that sometimes we have to apply our leadership skills to solving procedural problems (e.g., the lack of productive collaborative meetings) first in order to do the higher-level collaborative leadership practices that will most directly and positively impact our students.

  2. Rachel,
    Thank you for sharing your very well-written, educational and engaging blog post! As Deb mentioned, you did a great job covering several different teacher leadership topics. The first thing that truly resonated with me as I read your post was your discussion on trust. Trust is absolutely positively a major component in establishing a productive culture for teacher leadership! I have witnessed the bitter feelings that arise when new, less experienced teachers try to step up and lead, as I am sure we all have. When this occurs, veteran teachers lose trust in the new teachers and vice versa. It is the absolute worst and least productive environment for change to occur. In order to stop this from occurring, trust needs to exist and it needs to exist from the day that a new teacher walks in to the day that a veteran teacher retires. We each possess our own strengths, which when put together can lead to greatness. This greatness cannot arise if trust is taken away. Your advice in waiting to be called upon, not forcing your expertise on others and beginning with those who are willing are excellent strategies and ways to begin the trust building process.

    Thank you for discussing such an important topic! I look forward to reading your future posts.


  3. Rachel,

    I found myself relating to many parts of your blog entry. In particular, I'm looking at the leaders in my school and recognizing how many are in that second stage of their career. And many times it's the principal reaching out and asking teachers to lead as opposed to teachers stepping up and taking the lead.

    I think the biggest hurdle that I'm facing in my school is that of the established norms. We have lacked continuity in administration over the past 5 years. With that lack of continuity comes a lack of trust and direction. I think the hurdles outlined are extremely prevalent. The deeper question is, what do we do to overcome these hurdles? It seems we're so often caught up in the day-to-day issues that we lose sight of the big picture.

    Thank you for giving me much to think about!

  4. Rachel,

    Wow! You bring up several pressing issues on teacher leadership that I connected with. I think you hit the nail on the head when you say - a leader must step out of their classroom and build trusting relationships and network in order to successfully lead. I also like how you stated to begin as a collaborator and a support prior to coming off too strong "leading" - I think this alone builds trust. It is crucial as a leader builds these relationships that students are the focus and every change or action one advocates for must positively effect the students and drive their learning. Do you have any helpful tips for building trust that work for you in your school environment?

    Thank you for your thoughtful teacher leader reflection!

    1. Hi Amanda,
      Thanks for your question. One thing about my school that has always been a strength is trust among its teachers, many of which are formal or informal teacher leaders. One thing that happens frequently is going out together. Once a month or more, we go out after school and many times it's after things like conferences or curriculum night. Any teacher is invited. It just seems to build relationships and connections.

  5. Rachel,
    I really enjoyed reading your blog. Many of the issues that you brought up are things that are happening in my school right now. I tend to view those teachers who are not "cooperating" with the novice teacher leaders to not be leaders themselves and may feel threatened. I have learned that being a teacher leader has a lot to do with managing the teachers like they are your students. Each one is different and have different strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes it is hard for the teacher leader to understand that there are teachers who are not leaders. Are you experiencing this issues at your school personally? I liked the point you brought up about trust. It is so important and there is a very thin line that some teachers cross and it can be hard to remain trustworthy.Nicely done!

  6. Rachel,

    You bring up so many important points when it comes to creating teacher leaders within schools. While many (newer) teachers are ready to be leaders, it can be difficult being a new leader, especially when you're just appointed by administration to be one. Teachers absolutely need that "buy-in" so that there is a common understanding. I think principals can talk about these coaching or leadership positions at staff meetings so that that common understanding is established. That way, veteran teachers may not feel as intimidated in asking for help from a novice teacher, and a newer teacher likewise won't feel as intimidated offering help to a veteran teacher. It can be a very scary thing to lead when you don't have the support from everyone. Thanks for sharing!

    Laura Lupo