It’s been said that every teacher is a leader, and for good reason. After all, it takes leadership skills to organize lesson plans, inspire students, keep them on-task and maintain an environment of order and respect. But if you aspire to become a principal or union representative, you might want to extend your reach beyond the classroom to hone your natural leadership skills. With an already full plate, you can only tackle so much, so create a manageable course of study and challenge.
Become a student yourself and study the concept of teacher leadership. Educators have researched and written dozens of articles and books on the topic to guide you on your journey. For example, University of Minnesota researchers Jennifer York-Barr and Karen Duke studied the topic for 20 years before writing a scholarly journal called "What Do We Know About Teacher Leadership?" They define it as “the process by which teachers, individually or collectively, influence their colleagues, principals and other members of the school community to improve teaching and learning practices with the aim of increased student learning and achievement.” Taking the time to study the many resources available on effective leadership can help you deepen your knowledge and broaden your skills.
Find a like-minded workplace mentor among your peers and develop a learning relationship with her. Your goal is not necessarily to duplicate her style and approach so much as it is to discuss her rationale for using certain leadership techniques, model her good examples and ask questions as you hone your leadership skills. Don’t underestimate the value of spirited discourse, as this too is how leaders fine-tune their skills.
Challenge your comfort zone by periodically visiting other schools to learn from their policies, procedures and examples. Teachers often develop a tunnel vision that is fixated squarely on their own school at the expense of learning from a school that could literally be right down the street. Strike up a rapport with a teacher at another school, interview her informally and report your findings to your peers. Also, attend teacher workshops and seminars in your area that focus on developing and improving leadership skills in the classroom.
Seek out an opportunity to collaborate with a peer on a project. Focus your effort on solving a school problem, such as bullying, poor student attendance around the holidays or low parent attendance at teacher conferences. Test yourself further by choosing a partner you wouldn’t necessarily go out to dinner with. The goal here is to challenge your problem-solving, critical thinking and analytical skills while also addressing a school problem.
Look for an opportunity to resolve conflict. The goal here is to conceive of a meaningful and long-lasting solution to an ongoing source of tension at your school, such as between teachers who spar over differing philosophies or the “proper” amount of homework that students should be assigned each night.
Fashion your own distinctive leadership style. Draw upon the lessons you learned along the way and combine them with your own temperament and personality. This is an ongoing process. You will know you are well on your way to becoming a true leader when you feel comfortable in your own skin. To some extent, this means being able to handle criticism -- from students, parents or your peers -- while staying true to your convictions.
Many teachers say that children absorb information easily because they are naturally curious, while adults cease to learn the day they stop indulging their curiosity. Keep this in mind as you chart goals. You will continue to develop leadership skills as long as you remain curious about the pursuit.