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. EducationalLeadership, 65(1), 8-13.