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Teacher Leadership or Teacher Extra Duty?

Spring 2007: I'm standing in front of the school buses during afternoon dismissal holding a walkie talkie, posed in the "look I have a walkie talkie stance" with my arms crossed. I'm required to be an "assistant principal for a day" as part of my administrative portfolio requirements for an Ed.S. in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies.

But, as I stand in front of the buses hoping that "no children get left behind" on a sunny Friday afternoon, I realize that this feels eerily familiar.

Flashback to spring in the late 1990's: I'm standing in front of buses during morning bus arrival. As a new special education resource teacher who team-teaches first period, I'm the convenient candidate for this morning responsibility since another teacher is in my first period class ready to greet the students.

Both experiences are bus duties, but is there a way to tell the difference between which bus duty is a leadership opportunity and which is an extra responsibility?

Those Infamous Teacher Extra Duties

Teachers know challenges of being assigned extra duties that can impact their instructional time. These duties can include bus duty, monitoring the cafeteria or hallway, serving on a committee, organizing a field trip or event, chaperoning an after school activity, and serving as a lead teacher or department chair, etc...

Being assigned an extra duty is almost a "right of passage" into the teaching profession, especially for many new teachers.

Fortunately, many schools and administrators balance these extra responsibilities carefully.

At the same time, many teachers also seek opportunities to gain professional experiences outside the classroom. I've known many teachers that are excited about these additional opportunities to work with others. In these situations, these teachers are chosen because of their instructional expertise and professionalism. They see these experiences as a chance to demonstrate their abilities through successful management or completion of these necessary school related tasks.

These teachers see these responsibilities as opportunities for "teacher leadership".

On the other hand, I have known other teachers who have told me that committee work or becoming a department chair at their school is a result other circumstances, such as "being someone's turn" or the one who gets "stuck" with the duty for that year. Some duties are assigned only because of convenience. In these examples, these responsibilities aren't seen as teacher leadership, but as "extra duties."

Is there a way to distinguish between which opportunities are teacher leadership and which are teacher extra duty?

The Teacher Leadership Exploratory Consortium recently released their The Teacher Leader Model Standards to "stimulate dialogue among stakeholders of the teaching profession about what constitutes the knowledge, skills, and competencies that teachers need to assume leadership roles in their schools, districts, and the profession."

Teacher leadership is composed of seven domains:

Domain I: Fostering a Collaborative Culture to Support Educator Development and Student Learning.
Domain II: Accessing and Using Research to Improve Practice and Student Learning
Domain III: Promoting Professional Learning for Continuous Improvement
Domain IV: Facilitating Improvements in Instruction and Student Learning
Domain V: Promoting the Use of Assessments and Data for School and District Improvement
Domain VI: Improving Outreach and Collaboration with Families and Community
Domain VII: Advocating for Student Learning and the Profession

Each domain outlines specific functions that teacher leaders should exemplify.

A common theme that runs throughout all the domains is the focus and impact on instruction and student learning.

Perhaps, the degree to which an opportunity focuses on instruction and student learning could determine the difference between a "leadership" and "extra responsibility" experience.

Questions to Consider

So, the next time you or a teacher you know are presented with "an opportunity" to assume additional responsibilities, consider:

1) Is the opportunity focused on instruction?

More importantly.......

2) How will the opportunity develop your abilities and contribute to your professional growth?

My first bus duty, a decade ago, did not have an instructional focus. This responsibility fulfilled a specific purpose for the school and was not part of any plan for my professional development. Being a new teacher, I was not at a point in my career to learn from the experience. One could even argue that this responsibility was an additional challenge since the time could have been spent preparing for students or planning with teachers.

This was a classic example of an "extra duty" that concerns many teachers.

More Than Instruction

My second bus duty also did not have any instructional focus, but it was part of an integrated set of leadership development experiences designed to enhance my skills and understanding of school management.

Leadership skills encapsulate so much more than just having an instructional foundation. An educational leader must be organized, flexible, understanding of multiple needs and priorities, and be able to communicate clearly.

So, while the Teacher Leadership Standards are important in having an instructional focus, there are other contributing component skills that will facilitate the transformation to teacher leader.

Ultimately, teacher leaders need similar skill sets as administrators, especially since teacher leaders are leaders among equals without formal authority.

Not all these skills will be learned through instructional contexts.

So when is an opportunity for "teacher leadership" versus an "extra duty?"

Perhaps the distinction depends on the individual teacher, and maybe.......how the administrator presents the "opportunity" to the teacher.....

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