Academic journal article The Professional Educator

Growing Teacher Leaders in a Culture of Excellence

Academic journal article The Professional Educator

Growing Teacher Leaders in a Culture of Excellence

Article excerpt

Abstract

Viewing teachers as leaders requires a paradigm shift about the concept of leadership in a school system. The Teachers as Leaders program of the Mountain Brook, Alabama Schools represents that shift and is empowering teachers to utilize their leadership skills and contribute to the system as it fulfills its mission to offer education to its students that is effective, challenging, and engaging.

The Mountain Brook Schools established the Teachers as Leaders program in order to develop a culture of continuity in leadership as many administrator retirements were predicted for the near future. The program, however, was not designed as a "Teachers as Future Administrators" program. Rather, it was an intentional plan to prepare teachers for continued leadership, whether that is demonstrated in their classrooms or in administrative roles. The school system partnered with private consultants, a restaurant business, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham to deliver the Teachers as Leaders program. This article, a report from the field, allows the reader a glimpse of the culture of excellence in the Mountain Brook Schools through the description of the Teachers as Leaders program and reflections of several participants.

How do you create a district pool of future principals who understand and honor the culture of a school community? How do you also increase the leadership capacity of teachers so that they can effectively lead from the classroom? The central administration and elected board of the Mountain Brook, Alabama school system sought to answer this question as a continuity plan for leadership that was being developed. The answer was to continue to shift the paradigm about the concept of leadership in the school system and intentionally promote a culture that would empower teachers to lead at all levels. The Teachers as Leaders program of the Mountain Brook, Alabama Schools represents that shift and is training teachers to utilize their leadership skills and contribute to the system as it fulfills its mission to offer education to its students that is effective, challenging, and engaging. This article describes their exemplary program.

Background

Growing teacher leaders needs to be an intentional act in our nation's school systems. The principal's job in schools is becoming more complex, and it has been established that school leadership can no longer reside in one person (Ballek, O'Rourke, Provenzano, & Bellamy, 2005). Further evidence for the urgency to grow teacher leaders is the fact that public school principals are leaving the profession in increasingly high numbers. According to the Educational Research Service, nearly 40% of all principals will retire or leave the position for other reasons before 2010, causing vacancy numbers to soar (Ballek et al., 2005). Principals nearing retirement must prepare to pass the torch of leadership to those who come after them (Weller & Weller, 2002); those who will carry the torch in the future are the classroom teachers of today. It is imperative that schools invest in the leadership capacity of the teaching staff.

Schools that have high leadership capacity are those that amplify leadership for all. The guiding paradigm is that the principal is only one leader in the school community (Lambert, 2005). Schools in which teachers are becoming significant leaders have structures in place that provide opportunities for broad participation in teams, study groups, vertical communities, and action research teams. According to Danielson (2007), there are three main areas of school life in which teacher leaders can have a role: within a department, across the school, and beyond the school. In an extensive study on the work of teacher leaders, Lieberman, Saxl, and Miles (1988) focused on what teachers actually did when they took on leadership positions. While the evidence proved that the work of teachers as leaders was varied and highly dependent on the individual context of the school, Lieberman et al. …

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