Teaching is the land of zero promotions. Charlotte Danielson states in her article, The Many Faces of Leadership that “the 20-year veteran’s responsibilities are essentially the same as those of the newly licensed novice” (p. 14). Many great teachers are content to spend the rest of their lives as teachers. Most teachers continue their education, taking graduate level classes and attending endless amounts of professional development opportunities, but then don’t pursue promotions or even opportunities to lead.
Great teachers use these classes and professional developments to perfect their craft and apply what they learn in the classroom. Great teachers constantly put themselves and their lessons/activities in a trial and error experiment year after year. They tweak them each year to try to perfect them or to simply meet the needs of a new population of students. It may not automatically make them great leaders, but it does give them a competitive edge. The best player doesn’t automatically make the best the coach, but that doesn’t mean the best player should not try his/her hand at leading others in their game. So why not put this knowledge, experience and expertise out to a larger population of people for the good of education?
Terry Knecht Dozier points out in the article, Turning Good Teachers into Great Leaders that, “by helping good teachers become great leaders, we plant seeds that will enhance our profession and enable students to reap the reward” (p. 59). Years ago I started following Paul Andersen, a teacher who posts Biology videos on YouTube. At the time I was just watching them to stay fresh and keep ahead of my students because I was new to teaching science, but the more I watched, the more I learned. I probably learned more from this “Youtuber” then I did from my own high school science teachers. My science teachers were wonderful teachers, but Anderson seemed to have a way of simplifying difficult topics. I am also a very visual learner, so I benefitted from just being able to sit back and take it in like it was a television show. Andersen could have stayed in the classroom and been an amazing educator to the one hundred plus students he saw every year, but after 20 years and many recognitions he is now an educational consultant who “has provided training for thousands of students, teachers, administrators, and professors around the world” (Anderson, n.d.). Those audiences can now pass that knowledge on to the thousands of students and colleagues they will have an impact on.
Every great teacher is not going to start a YouTube channel or write a bestseller or even be a principal, but in my experience they almost all have something to offer in the way of leadership. Charlotte Danielson also writes in her article that “in every good school, there are teachers whose vision extends beyond their own classrooms—even beyond their own teams or departments.” You could make the case that the truly great teachers already show signs of being a great leader. They are the ones leading the professional development opportunities and teaching other teachers. Some are already serving as their department head. The teachers in their department, and often teachers in other departments, are using many of their lessons. Most are already spending time on extracurricular activities, such as serving on a committee, coaching or sponsoring a club. They are already mentoring new teachers because their administrator asked them to. They are the experienced teachers who came out on top in a profession that demands success in improbable situations, and gives very little in the way of supervision and guidance. Many great teachers spend time being a part of the school outside of their normal class time, sponsoring clubs, tutoring for free, coaching, or going to plays or concerts.
In my experience they are also the trailblazers. They are the first ones to seek out new ways of exploring how to disseminate the content to students. Project based learning, differentiation, working in teams, getting students out of their seat, and getting students to talk instead of getting them to be quiet, is the new thought process in school. Most great teachers are not afraid of trying these new strategies and trying them right away. They are not even afraid to fail at using some of these new strategies if it eventually gets them to successful strategies. They are usually the first ones to incorporate a new technology in their class. Principals will go to them first, ask them to try it and then for their opinion before the suggesting it to the rest of their staff.
Leaders in education do currently seek out these teachers. Great teachers are encouraged from time to time by administrators to pursue a career in educational leadership or extending their reach beyond the classroom. Schools need to not only provide more leadership opportunities for teachers — career opportunities apart from and in between “teacher” and “principal” — current administrators should observe current teachers in the classroom more often than the usual once or twice a year. If they are going to be the ones leading teachers and in charge of helping teachers improve in various areas, we need to first make sure they are masters of those same areas and then provide opportunities for them to lead others.
Danielson, C. (2007, September). The Many Faces of Leadership. Educational Leadership, 65(1), 14-19.
Dozier, T. K. (2007, September). Turning Good Teachers into Great Leaders. Educational Leadership, 65(1), 54-59.
Anderson, P. (n.d.). Bozeman Science. Retrieved November 20, 2017, from http://www.bozemanscience.com/