Notes from Forward

Do Teachers Make A Difference?

By Sheryl Woods

I was asked, not that long ago, “Do teachers make a difference?”  The answer, to me, is obvious. Of course they make a difference. There would be minimal learning happening in schools if there were no teachers. But where exactly does the impact of a teacher end?  Do teachers only make a difference for students in their classrooms? Can they also create change at the school, district, state or national levels?

Maybe, just maybe, if we stop looking at teachers as merely teachers and start looking at them as leaders, we might have better insight.  Teachers, by definition, lead children in learning. But they show leadership in so many different ways besides just teaching.

In fact, the Kentucky Teacher Leadership Framework, published in 2015, outlines six spheres of teacher leadership: leading from the classroom, leading groups and teams, leading through modeling and coaching, leading to increase teacher voice and influence, leading to professionalize teaching, and leading to connect to a larger community and world.  The framework assumes that all teachers are leaders, whether they identify as one or not. Best of all, the framework also assumes that you’re still teaching a classroom of students as you undertake each of these roles of leadership.  Teacher leadership is all about using your influence as a teacher to affect change on many different levels.

So, how do you become a teacher-leader?  You don’t need a special badge or certification to be a teacher-leader, but you exude teacher-leadership by modeling it in a variety of ways in and out of the classroom.  For example you could do the following:

  • You model teacher leadership by how you interact with students and families, sharing positivity and a passion for working with students
  • You model teacher leadership through your interactions with colleagues and administrators by pursuing opportunities to lead within your building
  • You model teacher leadership by committing to being a lifelong learner and sharing those passions with your school family
  • You model teacher leadership every time you step up to the plate to take one for the team
  • You model teacher leadership when you get excited about the possibility of success for your students when introduced to a new strategy for doing something, instead of dwelling on the anxiety of a change
  • You model teacher leadership when you say “YES” more than you say no, but only to the right work
  • You model teacher leadership when you take time to look at all sides of an issue before joining the crowd
  • You model teacher leadership by connecting with others and growing your professional learning network
  • You model teacher leadership every time you put students first

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day stress of teaching and only see what’s within the four walls of your classroom.  But I encourage you to do some reflecting about your own teacher-leadership. What are you doing in your classroom to show leadership, but also how are you interacting with your colleagues at the school and district level to show leadership?  What steps can you take to expand your influence at the state or national levels? There is no optimal point at which you become a teacher-leader, only small steps that you can take to be more of a teacher-leader. If you’re new to teacher-leadership, start with your classroom.  Become the best leader there and then expand your reach. Teacher-leadership is a shifting landscape. It’s possible to be a leader in one sphere of the framework one day, yet lead in another sphere the next.

The Kentucky Teacher Leadership Framework is a great place to start if you’re looking for ways grow as a teacher-leader.  You might also check out the Teacher Leadership Competencies put out by the National Education Association.  WIthin our own district, JCPSForward has been instrumental in connecting, encouraging and growing leaders within the profession, myself included.  Across the state, initiatives like the Kentucky Hope Street Group Fellows and KyCTEPS have also cultivated teacher-leadership. You can find each of these groups on Twitter.  The #TLKY hashtag on Twitter is also a great place to find and share the great teacher-leadership activities taking place across the state.

What you do as a teacher – in and out of the classroom – has a lasting impact on others.  You DO make a difference. I’d love for you to share how teacher-leadership manifests itself in your world by leaving a comment below or sharing your ideas on Twitter.  If you share on Twitter, make sure you use the #TLKY hashtag and tag @JCPSForward.

Categories: Notes from Forward