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Follow-Up: Positive Teacher Leadership

Cheryl Suliteanu

The common thread I find as I read articles and blogs on teacher leadership is that "teachers are the experts." So why, as Justin pointed out, aren't teachers leading the way with creating standards? Why aren't teachers discussing ideas, suggestions, concerns, questions, and solutions with district administrators?

Jessica asked me how teacher leaders might go about bringing their ideas out in the open. There's a simple answer and a complex answer. The simple answer is responsible action: I recognized a need that I wanted to address. I considered potential solutions. I researched current practices locally and nationally. I researched test scores for my school and district. I chose an associate superintendent to talk to. I emailed him, and he agreed to meet with me. We started a conversation.

The complexity of starting important conversations is intangible—it's the idea that I know I can make a difference and I want to be the one to try. As teacher leaders, we must face the reality that we are the experts, yet most of us are not invited to share ideas. Instead of complaining about the wind, it's time to adjust our sails. As Jose Vilson stated recently, "We can be our own advocates individually and collectively. Let's use our voices. Loud and clear."

The perception from teachers is that sharing ideas is going to create a problem; that speaking about changes means you are causing trouble. Where does this negative assumption come from? The expectation of negativity is a roadblock to progress.

If I start from a positive assumption, and share ideas with positive intentions, and speak with responsibility and respect, then I am fostering a climate of dialogue and collaboration. I went to my associate superintendent and later our district superintendent with ideas that support my district. My ideas are about how to help students achieve their greatest potential. I listened to my superintendent with positive assumptions, I accentuated the positives I heard, and in return, I was given the same respect.

If I could give one piece of advice to my highly accomplished, deeply respected colleagues who read this is to be positive. Approach others with solutions-focused ideas. Speak with good intentions, and be an active listener with a positive perspective. And finally, seek opportunities to share your ideas, don't wait to be invited.

"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. " ~ Theodore Roosevelt

Cheryl Suliteanu has taught elementary school students in Oceanside, Calif., for 15 years.

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