All Teachers Can Lead: Why Few Do & Most Don’t

John Quincy Adams

Why would a teacher want to be an educational leader? If you are considering becoming a teacher leader, you must have lost your mind. Yes, it’s true that all teachers can lead.

That’s easy, if you are willing to work hard and sacrifice your free time. Nonetheless, it is important to openly talk about why the act of just thinking about being a teacher leader might cause others to question your sanity.

Firstly, most teachers learn quickly that if they just stick to teaching, they have fewer problems to deal with. Go in the classroom, close the door, and teach. When the last bell of the day rings, your day is done. You can go home now and enjoy your family and free time.

So, again, I ask: Why would any teacher in his / her right mind want to give all of this up? More money? Prestige? Respect? Is your sanity and your health worth anything to you? What about your social life? Your personal relationships? Your family?

After all, you are someone’s friend, father or mother, uncle or aunt, brother or sister, son or daughter, aren’t you? Being a teacher leader will cut deeply into the amount of time you have available to maintain these relationships. A 60-hour-workweek will be a “light” week for you. I’m not kidding, and I know you wish I were. So, again, I ask: You can’t be serious about giving up all this, can you?

Look, here’s another question for you. What about your colleagues? You like them and they like you. You get along well with them. They talk to you, invite you to sit with them at lunch, even help you out when you need it. They see you as an equal.


However, when you become a teacher leader, all this changes. If you are lucky, they will cooperate with you, sometimes. If you have bad luck, they will sabotage your efforts, sometimes. As a leader, you can not accomplish anything without the support of others. You have to have a team working with you, not against you.

Now, let’s talk about failure. Failure is not tolerated very well these days. Students have trouble dealing with failure. Parents, principals, administrators, and politicians also have difficulty with failure. As a failure, you will do irreparable harm, permanent damage, to your career as an educator.

You will be required to think long term, and at the same time, deliver immediate results. Always. Year in and year out. The search for excellence, continuous improvement in student learning outcomes, continual success, is your never-ending quest.

And if you are lucky enough to get some autonomy, independence in the way things are done, guess what? You will also be held accountable for the results. The more freedom you have, the more completely you will own the outcomes.

It’s like playing roulette, and betting all you have every single roll of the dice. Are you that kind of a gambler? Well, trust me, no gambler would play roulette by betting everything they have every single roll of the dice. Sooner or later, you lose.

Now, let’s look at leadership in a different light, that is, if you are still interested. Yes, I agree that “All Teachers Can Lead”. If you are truly interested in being a teacher leader, I’d like to share with you some ways you can be a teacher leader. Right now, right here, every day.

First, here’s a definition of teacher leadership that most likely describes you: “Making happen what you believe in. Teachers believe strongly in many things, and those who dare to follow those beliefs and make them happen choose one of many paths available to them.”

1. Be a follower

I was only kidding when I said you have to gamble everything every time the dice rolls. Remember what I said about leaders needing the support of others? Well, if you give your support to another leader, you help to make things happen that you believe in. Leaders can do nothing alone, they need supporters, followers, like-minded people to achieve results. Consequently, being a follower is the same as being a leader. In the end, you make things happen.

2. Join

Join a committee, join a team, join a project. Join anything that your efforts can combine with others. As a committed group, you can make great things happen. To make things happen that you believe in, allies are important. As a group, you increase the likelihood that you will be noticed, that someone will listen to you, and that you will not be ignored. Single voices are often ignored, but the voices of the masses calling for change or some form of action, must be attended to. So again, I urge you, join…

3. Make things happen…alone

Let’s face it. Sometimes, you are the only one. You look around, and for whatever reason, you are alone. You have the vision, and the others don’t get it. You know what needs to be done, and the others won’t support you. Maybe you realised you needed to do things your way, because the groups you joined, or the people you followed, frustrated you by something they did or did not do, or made you impatient by the slow pace they were working at. To make things happen, you take the bold step of working…absolutely…alone…


4. Be the change

This one is easy. Don’t just talk about what you believe in. Live it, make it really show in everything you do or say. Model the behaviour and attitudes that you believe in. As Ghandi said: “Be the change you want to see in others”. Let your light shine. Set the example…and others will follow your leadership….in due time…

Opportunities for teacher leadership

Here is a list of conditions of schooling that affect a teacher’s
ability to work with students, and they are, indeed, among
the domains in which teacher leadership is most needed and
least seen
, according to Barth (2001):

* choosing textbooks and instructional materials;
* shaping the curriculum;
* setting standards for student behavior;
* deciding whether students are tracked into special classes;
* designing staff development and inservice programs;
* setting promotion and retention policies;
* deciding school budgets;
* evaluating teacher performance;
* selecting new teachers; and
* selecting new administrators.

Finally, what you do now, the rest of the story, is all up to you. You can play it safe, just be a teacher. That’s a good thing, because a teacher influences eternity. Your reach into the future is exponential, much greater than your ability to imagine it.

Did you know that 3 out of every 4 teachers never, ever take on a leadership role, in their entire career? So let’s face it, playing it safe makes sense. And you will have plenty of company. Everyone, it seems, plays it safe.

Almost everyone, that is. However, if you are really special (out of your righteous mind), if you are in that unique group of people, that 1 out of every 4 (the 25% group) then you will make the world of the future become whatever you believe it was meant to be, for all the rest of us. Above all, never forget: “All teachers can lead.” Even the “crazy” ones…




About profesorbaker

Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family.
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