I’ve got an interesting speech to give this week.  I’m talking about what exactly teacher leadership means to a group of teachers in my district who just earned certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards

In it, I begin a list of things that I would consider to be examples of “teacher leadership.”  My goal is to provide concrete definitions of teacher leadership for teachers and principals to refer to. Read through my speech and see if you can add some more specific roles that teacher leaders fill in the comment section:

First, whenever I speak to a group of teachers like this, I like to be completely sure that I’m actually speaking to National Board Certified teachers.  Call it my own little “letter of verification.”  So I’m going to share a collection of statements with you, and I want you to raise your hands each time you hear one that resonates with you.

Let’s start simply:  Raise your hand if you thought the little blue box that landed on your doorstep last fall looked pretty harmless when it first arrived.  Now raise your hand if your mind changed round about December when your spouse and children were distant memories and your computer had replaced your best friends.

Yup.  National Board Certified Teachers.

Now raise your hand if the term ‘assessment center’ still gives you nightmares.  Me too!  Raise your hand if you ever cursed the margin and font size rules of the Board, just knowing that if you had a little more space you would be SURE to certify.  Raise your hand if you ever panicked after sealing one of your entries in those seemingly indestructible plastic baggies because you weren’t sure that you put the right entry in the bag.

Those guys are National Board Certified!

Now for the real test, though.  Raise your hand if you drew a few strange looks when you stumbled completely exhausted into the post office last spring clutching your little blue box and willing to pay $10,000 to guarantee on time delivery to San Antonio?  And raise your hand if you nearly wore out the mouse button on your computer in November hitting the refresh button trying to get your results to load.

Definitely National Board Certified teachers!

Let me start by offering my sincere congratulations on a job well done!  As a fellow National Board Certified teacher, I know only too well exactly how much sacrifice and commitment that you had to invest to get to this point in your profession.  The countless hours of reading, writing, revising and reflecting culminate here where you get the public praise that you so clearly deserve.

And you definitely deserve it, don’t you!  After all, you were willing to take a risk that few others are willing to take.  The chances are good that before you even attempted to certify that you felt pretty good about what you were doing in your classroom.  But you weren’t satisfied with good feelings.  You chose to make what you do transparent and to set it open for critique.  Imagine how you would have felt had you not certified.  That’s a fear that keeps hundreds of teachers from diving in the National Board waters.

The good news is that along with great risk comes great reward.  I mean, think about this:  You no longer have to wonder whether or not what you’re doing in the classroom is right for kids.  Your practice has stood up against the most rigorous standards of excellence in our profession and been deemed accomplished.  What a good feeling, huh?

I think you’d all agree with me, though, that along with great reward comes great responsibility.  Our county, state and nation have set some pretty ambitious goals for public education.  You can see that ambition in the language that surrounds our profession.  We’re charged with “Leaving No Child Behind,” and “Ensuring Student Success.”  “Failure’s Not an Option” for us because failure means that students struggle—and that’s something we cannot be okay with.

Sometimes this language just plain scares me.  It’s intimidating to think of how much is expected of me as a classroom teacher.  I often have to remind myself that these challenges are really opportunities to be embraced.  The only hitch is that in order for us to succeed, each of you needs to be willing to step forward and lead.

That’s a catchy little phrase, isn’t it?

Ever since I certified back in 1997, people have been telling me that I’m a teacher leader.  The funny part is that no one ever bothered to explain to me exactly what being a teacher leader meant!  So I’ve spent the better part of the past 12 years stumbling through the professional dark trying to figure it all out, and luckily for you, I’ve got a definition to share with you today:

Teacher leaders are practicing educators who are committed to driving change.

Nice, huh?  The only hitch is that the first group of teachers that I presented my definition to hated it!  “That doesn’t help us at all, Bill,” they said.  “What we really need is for someone to tell us exactly what teacher leaders do.  What does teacher leadership look like in action?”

So I decided to put together a list:

For me, teacher leadership started by simply engaging my colleagues in meaningful conversations about teaching and learning.  I figured that it was impossible to drive change unless we had some real transparency around what it was that we were doing with students.

Teacher leadership probably also means supporting new colleagues, don’t you think?  No matter how good university education programs are, nothing can really prepare you for this gig!  Driving change means lending a hand to the teachers on our hallway who need us the most.

And I reckon that driving change requires a deep and meaningful understanding of current practices, too.  Teacher leaders, then, are constantly researching and reading about effective instruction.  They’ve got an almost unsettling fear of stagnation!

Driving change also requires a willingness to raise your voice a bit.  Teacher leaders are always willing to speak up in faculty and team meetings to lend guidance or expertise.  They’re presenting at conferences and finding new ways to use digital tools like blogs and wikis to share ideas and resources with the world.

But most importantly, driving change means having a steadfast belief that reform rests in our hands.  Teacher leaders don’t stand around patiently waiting for others to take action.  Instead, they’re always acting.  They don’t see National Board Certification as an ending.  Instead, they see it as a new beginning–as an invitation to become a forerunner in our profession.

I can honestly say that I’m jazzed to welcome you as my Board Certified colleagues because I’m confident that there isn’t anything that we can’t do as long as we’re willing to walk forward together.

And what an incredible journey that could be!

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