Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Teacher Leaders, Principals, and the Firewall

Last week we spent time discussing the role of the principal in this new era of teacher leadership and how it has changed their paradigm. One reader commented that teacher leaders are a resource for building principals. I thought this was a great way to look at the relationship between the building principal and teacher leader--but we need to make sure that resource is used in the right way. Recalling this idea that the principalship has become more complex, that it had not 'taken anything off the plate', another reader agreed stating, "it doesn't take items off the plate, it makes a more 'balanced diet'." I was appreciative of both comments and want to take some time to further explore the principal-teacher leader relationship, and to remind principals to use these resources wisely.
Let's remember first the original premise of this discussion. Unless the principal is supportive of teacher leadership and willing to partner with these teachers in collaboration, the system is doomed to failure. This starts with open lines of communication and clearly articulated roles. Without these fundamental building blocks in place, it can lead to roles being re-invented in ways that were not intended, which can lead to disastrous consequences such as mistrust and resistance to teacher leadership from practitioners.

We begin by providing clarity to one incredibly important aspect of teacher leadership: Teacher leaders are not administrators. But make no mistake, those who are currently serving as teacher leaders or aspiring to one day will be viewed differently by their peers. A good reason indeed to ensure that you have a clearly defined role that ensures no crossover into 'No Mans Land'!
It also shouldn't be assumed that practitioners are going to welcome teacher leaders with open arms into their classrooms, even if well-intentioned. A more likely scenario is that teacher leaders will be viewed with skepticism, and in some cases downright resistance. If teacher leaders are unsure of the role they play in the school or how they fit into the organization, it will only exacerbate the problem. Or if there is a perception that teacher leaders exist to fulfill a more sinister role: Spy for the principal.

Principals, it is important to remember that you are the administrator! As such, you are the only person licensed to conduct evaluations of teachers. Please, do not ask your teacher leaders to report on how a particular teacher is 'doing' in their classroom, or how well they manage the students. I would suggest that if you want that information, by all means walk down and check out the classroom!
Teacher leaders, don't allow yourselves to be trapped into this role! A clearly articulated and well written job description can be helpful. You can check out Hudson's description of teacher leadership roles right here. As you read our job descriptions, please take special note that nowhere in this document is there a discussion about providing data to the principal to be used for the purpose of evaluation. If you have additional questions about how we have worked to ensure this firewall exists, I might suggest you contact our building principals, Mr. Schlatter or Mr. Dieken. They have not only embraced teacher leadership, but have worked incredibly hard to make certain everyone stays in their lane!

Nevertheless, it will take time to build trust, Even when this firewall exists, you may be met with skepticism or resistance. I would encourage you to continually remind the teachers that you work with of your role....and theirs!

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