Navigating the Role of Teacher-Leader

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Navigating the Role of Teacher-Leader
By: Dana Carmichael / May 17th, 2016 / Blog

Sometimes AIW Local Coaches contact me for advice when their district is going through a major transition. Recently an AIW Local Coach reached out for thoughts about how her district could deepen its commitment to AIW, even though their new superintendent doesn’t have an AIW background.

After discussing her situation at length, we decided to share some highlights in this blog in case others find it useful. And, of course, if you do not agree or have additional thoughts, enter your comments below so we can post them.

Teacher concerns about sustaining AIW

 “How can we sustain AIW with fidelity”—This is my big question! I am wondering if our district even has it yet. Some of us do, but I am not sure the system does.

 I am not so worried about the new superintendent not having AIW experience as I am about our leadership team not having enough depth to fight for it.

…Our principal has “empowered” us with the idea that we are all leaders. It’s like everybody is a cook in the kitchen so-to-speak—it makes it hard to get anything accomplished. We do a lot of talking, but mostly about what the agenda for the next meeting will be.

Perhaps this is a better question: “How will the current our leadership team increase fidelity with the AIW process in order to show success and maintain its sustainability with changing leadership?” 

What should I do next? 🙂 Thanks for being my thinking partner.

My thoughts about impacting the system

Recently, I was a guest speaker at a graduate class where teachers have been researching problems in their schools. When I arrived, the students’ common concern was now that they had framed the problem and even found some solutions, what they should do next. I asked them to think about the difference between these two questions:

  • What is your goal?
  • What is your role?

Just because you’ve discovered a problem and researched it doesn’t mean it is your responsibility to solve it. In fact, thinking you can usually causes huge problems.

How you want to impact a system (your goal) and what you are charged to do (the roles and responsibilities based on your job) are not synonymous.

There are important distinctions worth considering with significant implications:

First, remember that the best solutions require group effort! One of the Center’s four guiding principles is the power of the collective. If we get too far ahead in our thinking, in isolation from others, it’s easy to become presumptuous about how problems should be solved and who should do what. Different perspectives should surface when a group of people look at the problem from different perspectives.

Implementing change at different levels
Skipping from the bottom stair (at Level 1) straight to the top to implement (beyond Level 3) never works. People get definitely get annoyed; but more importantly, it’s easy to start building solutions on false assumptions because you only have one perspective: your own!

Lastly, respect role differences. A good question to ask yourself is whether the scope of this problem falls under your job description. If it does, great! If it doesn’t, find out who is responsible. Communicating concerns to the people who have the power to bring about change might seem like a lost cause. But years of working both in-district as a teacher and administrator, and as an outside consultant to districts, has taught me to give people the benefit of the doubt. If your research has clarified a problem or uncovered some innovative solutions, someone will want to hear your insights as long as you stay humble and helpful.

In AIW districts, we support an “and/both” approach with teachers AND administrators leading the reform. Since your district is empowering teachers to be leaders, consider taking on a more formal role, such as volunteering to facilitate (or co-facilitate) the AIW leadership meetings.

These points may not be the most radical, but they allow for meaningful and long lasting change from WITHIN the system. REMEMBER…

  • You can only impact those parts of the system that fall within your role. If you are unsure what falls within your purview, ask!
  • Share your thinking with others. Advocacy has more power when there are more people invested in the issue.
  • Big problems are never solved by one person. Different perspectives add depth when analyzing a complex problem and ensure better solutions.
  • Lastly, everyone’s leadership matters—If you are passionate about the problem, be part of the solution.

Best of Luck.


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