Growing into Leadership as a Teacher~

This week, I have engaged not only in reflecting on the assigned readings, but also much reflection about teacher leadership examples I continue to observe in those about me, as well as within myself.  As offered within Teacher Leadership, by Hilty, authors , Smylie, Conley and Marks, provided highlights of changes in education throughout the past twenty years—two  of the three decades that I have been teaching in the public school setting. I found the reading of this article to create a bit of a trip down memory lane. My personal entry to the system of education occurred during a time when the emphasis of school improvement was focused on the strength of principals and superintendents. I was comfortable with this system because it represented what I had literally “grown up” with—coming from a family with a long history in education including teachers, principals, superintendents, and even college presidents (plural).

Throughout the article, I thought about my personal experiences that accompanied the descriptions of changes taking place, such as “By the late 1980’s….District-level initiatives abounded. Opportunities for teacher leadership came in the form of career ladder and mentor teacher programs, the appointment of master and lead teachers, and policies to decentralize and involve teachers in school- and district-level decision making” (Hilty, p. 266). During this time, I was invited for the first time to become department chair for special education in my high school. Additionally, I became involved on various committees and developed faculty presentations. On two separate occasions—I gave presentations to the staff, two days before giving birth! (My first two children were born in February—six years apart—and February just happened to be the scheduled time for these in-service days!)

Hitly goes on to note additional changes that evolved over time: “Since the mid-1995s there has been a shift away from individual empowerment and role-based initiatives toward a more collective, task-oriented, and organizational approaches to teacher leadership” (p. 267). A number of people during these years strongly encouraged me to consider pursuing an administrative degree which might enable me to take on an eventual administrative position to support special education district-wide.  One consultant working with our district said, “Laurie, you are already performing the role of a quasi-administrator—you should get the degree to make it official…”. Although I continued to teach full-time and serve on various committees, by this time, the birth of our third child and the need for personal balance, led me to make the decision to postpone any further education.  In spite of my efforts to pursue “balance” in the midst of a busy life, I did experience what the research showed and what Hilty refers to as, “…work overload, stress, role ambiguity, and role conflict for teacher leaders as they tried to balance their new school level responsibilities with their classroom responsibilities” (p 268).

In retrospect, my experience is similar to what authors Herzog and Abernathy refer to in their article entitled, Inch by Inch, Row by Row: Growing Capacity for Teacher Leadership:

Both formal and informal leaders have often risen to their positions without any training in leadership skills. They learned on the job, through trial and error. Intuitive leaders can be effective, but they could be more successful with leadership training in facilitating group problem solving, team building, effecting school change, and curriculum development (p. 190).

I am thankful, to at last be involved in a master’s degree program which will allow me to increase and refine natural abilities while I continue to gain new perspectives and learn from those about me. I am truly encouraged by the Professional Learning Community approach embraced by my district and to see that it dove-tails beautifully with both the themes as well as the job-embedded projects required for this course.

Hilty, E. (2011) Teacher Leadership: The “new” foundations of teacher education. New York: Peter Lang.

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