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Realizing Our Leadership Potential

This blog is taken from Stephanie Hirsh's column in the December 2012 JSD. View more articles from this issue here, or become a Learning Forward member and get online access to current and archived issues.

Skillful leadership is essential to effective professional learning. Without it, professional learning will fail to achieve its intended outcomes.

Every staff member has a responsibility to exercise skillful leadership. And while it may not be part of a formal job description, all educators have opportunities to exercise leadership and impact professional learning. In fact, some of the most powerful opportunities to advance professional learning's impact are seized by those without formal authority or responsibility.

Leadership by educators surfaces in many ways:

  • A teacher voices a concern in a faculty meeting about plans for a full day of team-building exercises for an upcoming professional development day. She and her fellow teachers believe there are more pressing instructional challenges that demand the attention of the entire staff.

  • An instructional coach challenges a grade-level team of teachers to assume collective responsibility for all students in the grade level rather than expressing concern and empathy for the new teachers who seem to have been assigned a larger percentage of challenging students.

  • A mentor argues with senior teachers for greater support for new teachers, including smaller class size, more time for professional learning and support, and opportunities to observe and be observed by other members of her team.

  • A principal recognizes the value of teacher leadership and organizes a school leadership team. She ensures that professional learning is a regular part of each meeting.
Each of these educators exhibits one of the three key ideas outlined in the professional learning standard on leadership.

They develop capacity for their own learning and leading. As leaders, they are voracious learners. They assume responsibility for learning for themselves and their colleagues. They demand professional learning be effective and focused on substantive results for themselves, their colleagues, and their students.

They advocate for professional learning. As leaders, they make their own career-long learning visible to others. They participate in learning networks and other structures within and beyond their own work environment. They articulate their assumptions and beliefs, and their actions model the attitudes and behaviors they expect of all educators.

They create support systems and structures. As leaders, they establish or advocate for organizational systems and structures that make effective professional learning possible. As leaders, they influence other policymakers and decision makers to attain the support for professional learning necessary to achieve its potential.

Each of the big ideas represented in the Leadership standard is relevant for all educators. We have every right to expect them of others as well as ourselves. When all stakeholders in a system see themselves as leaders of professional learning, there is no limit to the results we can achieve.

Stephanie Hirsh
Executive Director, Learning Forward

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