During a conversation on the Teacher Leaders Network daily discussion listserv, Anne Jolly described several steps that teachers might take to begin leading change in their schools. Anne is a TLN member who currently works for the SERVE Regional Education Laboratory. She spends much of her time helping teachers create "professional learning teams" in many schools across the South. Anne was an Alabama State Teacher of the Year and an eighth grade science teacher for many years. In these comments, Anne emphasized the power of collaborative teacher leadership.
Remember that famous saying by Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. In fact it's the only thing that ever has."
Teacher leadership is a whole lot easier with supports, but consider the power of a group of teachers who commit to work together to bring about change. The key word is group, or team. Imagine a group of accomplished and determined teachers working together toward a common goal. There's an awesome force!
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Start by joining forces to work toward a common goal. Some key words here are "together" and "common goal." Don't try to tackle everything that needs fixing at once, but focus! And don't try to "go it alone."
- Accept one another's strengths. Interestingly, it's often easier to accept weaknesses than strengths, especially in a profession that is traditionally individualistic and isolationist. Don't let your efforts seem like a contest — make this a true collaboration.
- Know your stuff. Don't go to the administration with a problem — go with a plan. For example, if you want job-embedded professional learning time during the school day, don't just go to your principal with the idea. Get together, find out how other schools do it, decide on several options for your school, write the suggestions up, cost it out if it involves substitutes, and be prepared to objectively and calmly provide a rationale for the need and cite the benefits for teachers and students.
- So you gave it your best shot and it didn't work? Okay — no problem — go to your "new" best shot. There is absolutely no such word as "No" when a group of teachers unite to bring about needed changes that ultimately benefit students. The trick is to avoid drawing lines in the sand and making people defensive. The bottom line here is, is your goal worth doing? Then don't be easily discouraged and don't throw in the towel.
- Accept those roles in which you are effective. For example, don't try to present a proposal to the entire PTA if you are uneasy speaking to adults. Let a colleague who is comfortable with that role do it. A lot of emails that have come in on the TLN listserv say it best...sometimes you need to "Just say no." Say no to jobs in which you can not, for whatever reason, be effective. Support those on your team who are effective. And be sure to work hard in areas of personal strengths.
Powerful changes in education can't depend solely on an enabling administrator, or those changes may never happen. I think change should start with the folk who really know what needs to happen for kids — accomplished teachers!