International inspiration for building teacher leadership

Megan Allen is a National Board Certified Teacher, 2010 Department of Education/Macy’s Teacher of the Year, and finalist for 2010 National Teacher of the Year. She is a member of the Hillsborough County New Millennium Initiative.

Last week, the best-of-the-best countries from around the world gathered in the Big Apple to discuss education at the Second International Summit on the Teaching Profession. One of the most intriguing topics of discussion there was teacher leadership.

In a thoughtful Education Week essay published in January, Marc Tucker pointed out that top-performing nations do “everything necessary” to recruit, prepare, and develop their teachers, while here in the U.S. we put all our policy emphasis on “accountability systems.” Top-performing nations take teacher leaders seriously—as leaders of assessment reform, partners in research, and teacher education faculty who prepare the next generation of recruits.

I attended the summit virtually, following along with streaming videos and Twitter. One of my favorite tweets came from the USDOE and speaks to the power of teacher leaders:

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So let’s dive right in: What are some of those pathways and roles for teacher leadership?

More Than Administrators

Teacher leadership encompasses far more than moving into administration. There is nothing wrong with that, but it’s too narrow a definition. There is an enormous spectrum of teacher leadership, some roles defined, some forming, and some yet unknown. But we must have open minds to these new ideas and be solutions-focused in developing ways to make them happen. We must change the culture and climate of teaching as the definition of what a teacher is evolves.

Many teacher leaders—myself included—want to be involved outside the classroom walls in areas that affect students. But at the same time, we want to keep one foot in the door with the people we love most: students. This calls for out-of-the-box thinking and the development of new hybrid roles. In the book TEACHING 2030, a group of amazing educators dreamed about what these roles could look like. And it’s slowly happening.

Teacher Leaders in Action

I am going to take a moment to brag about some of my favorite teacher leaders who are blazing the path as we speak:

  • Sarah B. Wessling is a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) who works with the Teaching Channel to record her classroom daily in Iowa, allowing a deep look at highly effective teaching.
  • Jessica Keigan spends half her day poring over literature with her high school students in Colorado, and the other half as a CTQ teacherpreneur, advocating for positive change in education policy.
  • Two of my colleagues currently sit on school boards: Michael Flynn, an amazing Massachusetts elementary school teacher, sits on his local school board, speaking for children in his district. And Holly Boffy, an NBCT from Louisiana, sits on her state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

International Role Models

We can also look to the lessons learned from other countries. They see teacher leadership roles as ways to effectively recruit candidates and build respect in the profession. In the Netherlands, the prime minister still teachers a half day a week.  Denmark offers a “taster course” for aspiring leaders to see the range of available leadership pathways. Singapore prides itself in never leaving its teaching talent to chance, continually assessing its teachers for leadership potential and providing opportunities for teachers to develop and use it.

So here is my charge: We must reshape the way we think about teacher leadership. Teachers must be at the helm of effective reform if we are to get it right. Teachers are the experts. We must realize that new roles may not fit neatly into the little cubbies that we’ve had for decades, but we must be flexible with finding ways to make them work. And we must recruit and cultivate leadership, finding that hidden talent that may be hiding behind each and every classroom door. It’s time to start knocking…

  • lupdegrove

    Problems with the links

    Hi Dave,


    I don’t know if other people are experiencing similar problems… but many of the links I tried brought me to the error “We hope you never see this” page…. Just wanted to let you know!