Over the past several months I’ve been reading about a topic dear to my heart — teacher leadership. At Augsburg, this concept undergirds our teacher licensure programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
What teacher leadership means to Augsburg’s Education Department is that the teachers we prepare have both the right and the responsibility to exercise leadership within their classrooms, schools, districts, and communities.
Recognizing that teachers lead within the classroom is not difficult; it is accepted enough to seem like common sense. But once you get beyond the classroom walls, the concept of teacher leadership is less well established.
Some would say “teacher leadership” is an oxymoron. Principals lead, not teachers. They would go on to say that teachers carry out the will of the school district by teaching the designated curriculum, following the standards determined by the state, and upholding the expectations of the community. Teachers, in other words, follow the direction of others who make the decisions, creating classrooms, in turn, where students learn what they are required to learn.
This philosophy exists, but it isn’t the one we believe in or work from. Certainly our vision incorporates the idea that teachers have a responsibility to the school district, the state, and the community to educate students in the best ways possible. That’s a given.
But rather than simply doing what they are told, we believe teachers must— truly must—see themselves as active participants in deciding what should be taught and how to teach it.
In our vision, teachers come to the table with administrators, parents, other community members, and sometimes students to define what it means to be an educated person and then to map out how that education will happen within a given setting.
Teachers count themselves among the grown-ups and accept the responsibility and risks from making the decisions they make.
This conceptualization of “teacher” that includes an element of leadership frightens some. Responsibility and risk bring with them accountability, but along with that they also can bring a fine sense of exhilaration, energy, and eminent satisfaction in a job well done.
Roland Barth, in Learning by Heart, says, “I think of a teacher leader as one who has a positive influence on the school as well as in the classroom … all teachers have the capacity to lead the enterprise down a more positive path, to bring their abundant experience and wisdom to schools.”
Like Barth, at Augsburg we believe all teachers can be teacher leaders and share in leading the collective “enterprise” of making schools positive places with learning at the heart. Teachers who understand their role in this way—risks and all—are more likely to define teaching as their vocation rather than simply their job.
Vicki Olson is associate professor of education.
Edited by Betsey Norgard, Marketing and Communications