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What's the No. 1 Thing That Holds Teacher Leaders Back?

I have a hypothesis that I'd like to throw out to the blogosphere. It involves the one thing that holds teacher leaders back, preventing them from stretching their leadership legs.

I should clarify: this is the one thing that teachers can control. There are systemic barriers to leadership, and we can unpack those another time (more like a series of other times).

But I think there is something that is within our profession's control that acts as a self-imposed barrier to leadership.

It's a lack of confidence.

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Case in point: I work with teachers, supporting them and helping them develop the skills, knowledge, and dispositions to lead the profession (from in or outside the classroom). I see tons of brilliant ideas from masterful expert teachers. But these ideas stay in the concept form for far too long, with a lack of confidence acting like a dam to a river. Like a racehorse waiting for the gates to lift, these ideas are rip-rearing ready to go, but don't always get their release. I think about how many great ideas are out there floating around, just looking for the right person to give them legs. 

So what can we do about it?

  • Encourage our colleagues. We must nudge each other forward when we are scared.
  • Act in collaboration. You know what's less scary than acting alone? Having a tribe by our side. There's power (and confidence) in numbers.
  • Read more Amy Cuddy (or watch her TED talk here). You know what I'm talking about (I've seen you do the power poses before a big meeting!).
  • Embrace failure as adults. This is something we are not good at, but need to practice. I think about Google's mantra that "done is better than perfect" and that out of the slew of projects and ideas that are implemented, a majority of them will fail. Should fail. Otherwise we aren't stretching and thinking outside of the box enough. There's a certain element of risk with new ideas. We need to shift our culture in school buildings to one that is more accepting of those risks.
  • Remember that courage and confidence are two separate things. That even though we might not have the confidence to move forward with ideas to improve education for our students, we should dig deep and find the courage to do what is right for our students. I think we use these terms interchangeably, but they are two distinct things. We don't need confidence to have courage.

Photo courtesy of Jukka Zutting

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