What is the Teacher Leadership Movement & Why Should it be Capitalized?

When I was a young boy, I had a wicked good impersonation of George H.W. Bush’s “thousand points of light” phrase; which could make my parents laugh on cue. Fast forward 25 years and that phrase pops into my mind continually.  I have no idea why H.W. used that phrase, and I am sure it is not in anyway related to Pee-Wee Herman’s “Connect the Dots, La-la-la-la-la” song; yet for me the two seemingly disparate contemporaries occupy a common childhood memory.

A few months ago, I presented on the power of Twitter for educators. My primary question for that presentation was “What happens when we connect the dots?”

If you are reading this, you are most likely a connected educator.  What purpose does that connection serve in your professional growth?  When we are smack-dab in the middle of our day-to-day routines, do we pause to realize what exactly we are doing when we connect with fellow teachers across time and space?

We are the many members of a Teacher Leadership Movement.  No longer in siloed isolation, we are the new drivers of our profession. We reflect the various needs of our local context, yet we have a single commonality:  We know the value of teacher expertise and the power of solution-oriented teacher voice.  We value each others’ perspective.  We probe for commonality.  We are grouped by interest.  We cluster based on common need.  We collaborate because we enjoy each others’ company.

Being an active member of the Teacher Leadership Movement is like sitting down to a five-course meal for the first time after eating bar food all one’s professional life.  Once you have had a Sancerre and mussels in a beurre blanc reduction, it is really hard to wash down pickled eggs with a Pabst Blue Ribbon.

All of this being true, what separates this teacher-led movement from previous teacher movements?

Perhaps I am biased after reading The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, but this is the first teacher movement (that I know of at least) that has systematically embraced a broadly decentralized organizational structure.  It does not matter if you are a Hope Street Group Teacher Fellow, a Center for Teaching Quality Collaboratory participant or perhaps both.  You have the freedom to pursue your own particular articulation of Teacher Leadership.

There is no one person driving the Teacher Leadership Movement.  Some may claim that the Gates Foundation or other shadow-players are pulling the marionette’s strings behind the guise of Teacher Leaders. The Teacher Leadership Movement is no marionette. It can’t be. Every Teacher Leader I know, in Kentucky, out of Kentucky, advocates for the students they serve, the local needs of their learning community.  Teacher Leaders have found a way to be a champion of their context while simultaneously finding ways to form and maintain deep connections to Teacher Leaders from across the nation.

Our Teacher Leadership Movement is driven by tribes, driven by collective pursuits and it is self-correcting.  Built on a culture of trust among peers, the Teacher Leadership Movement is a starfish. No centralized brain making strategic decisions. In order to move as a whole, each arm, each spiny outcropping, must find a common pursuit.  For Teacher Leaders everywhere, there is a hunger to professionalize our profession; to own teaching as, well, our own.  The value of teacher voice cannot be understated.  Our collective voice is the means by which we will achieve our ends.

It is easy to mistake a decentralized Teacher Leadership Movement for a centralized one.  Most of the organizational structures in our society are hierarchical, and education is no different.

You may expect to find a master-mind behind the curtain, but our open-system does not have a central intelligence. We do not have a centralized voice either. That would be far too simplistic.

Our intelligence, wisdom and wit are spread across multiple teacher networks, with various aims and thousands of connections to thousands of communities across the globe.

The Teacher Leadership Movement possesses a culture that values the strengths of individuals:  self-accountability and autonomy, purposeful mastery of teacher craft and the ability to assess problems at hand in order to continuously adapt to prevailing conditions.

Teacher Leadership culture is open source. Collectively, we have the most up-to-date information from active classroom practitioners.  Information and knowledge naturally filters into our discussions from classroom to classroom, from teacher to teacher across the expanse of America.

Do you know the beauty of decentralized movements?  They beget more decentralized movements.  We are in the business of transfer of concept; transfer to local policy needs, transfer to state legislation, transfer to classroom practice, transfer to parent communication.  We are the drivers of the new education agenda and we are just warming up.

George H.W. Bush, or at least my childhood version of H-Dubbya, would call us a thousand points of light.

We have the knowledge. We have the expertise.  We have strong voices for the necessary changes that must occur for local student learning and our profession as a whole.

It is time we begin capitalizing the T, the L and the M in the Teacher Leadership Movement.  It is happening.  Let’s make it official.

Next time… 10 Questions We Must Ask Ourselves about the Teacher Leadership Movement.

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  • LallaTPierce



    This is a terrific and inspiring post. You state,

    Every Teacher Leader I know, in Kentucky, out of Kentucky, advocates for the students they serve, the local needs of their learning community.

    So true! I haven’t met one teacher leader that I feel didn’t ultimately focused on the needs of students.

    So, what do you see as the necessary steps to make the T.L.M. official? You’ve got me stuck on the “drivers” analogy. The proactive and postive voices of the TLM are the gas to drive change…we need to “Begin with the end in mind,” to quote Sean and Steve Covey. We’ll never get to our destination if we don’t know where we are going. Once we define where we are going, we need to select the right vehicles for the trip and map it out.

    In my mind, part of the destination-

    A revolutionized educational system that focuses first on creating life-long learners who are passionate about knowledge, driven by highly-effective professionals willing to think outside of the box, supported by a culture that values students and respects teachers.

    Preliminary thoughts…going to keep pondering…

    Thanks for a great post!


  • JeanneSchleicher

    The American Educational Paradigm

    Lalla, absolutely!  I’ve worked with countless highly dedicated, student centered teachers over the years and one thing has held all of us back – the American Educational Paradigm.  I give it a name because I learned in a Cognitive Coaching class quoting Margaret Mead that, if something doesn’t have a name in a culture, it doesn’t exist.  

    Teachers intuitively get to know what a child knows, then figure out what the child needs to know in order to grow as learners.  They don’t stop within themselves – they research, collaborate with peers and do their own action research in order to help children move forward.  The stumbling block is the system.  Most of us have grown up in a system based on a set of predetermined objectives taught in a certain order.  What happens when the objective of the day isn’t what a child needs to know in order to “get it?”  They continue to struggle trying to make sense of what they are learning, unless the teacher can figure it out.  The numerous educational trends I’ve seen over the years tend to say, “If it didn’t work, you missed a step.”  Maybe it’s not a step. Maybe it’s helping the child make a connection between understandings the child already has.  Maybe it’s helping a child find a point of reference.  Maybe it’s allowing the child  time to talk through or process complex understandings in meaningful ways.  We need to work what great teachers already do into the system.

    I believe identifying what the American Education Paradigm as a first step toward meaningful change.   If we understand how our system differs from systems that have high levels of  success like math curriculum in Japan and literacy curriculum in New Zealand, we may find an AHA!


    • bradclark

      so many interesting nuggets

      You touch on a lot of interesting talking points all in one fell swoop.

      1) Perhaps naming the TLM empowers it.  The TLM has its own cultural norms and values, so perhaps it meets Mead’s definition in some way, which would be a great blog piece…nudge, nudge.

      2)  I think when we combine intuition with data/formative assessment literacy, we have the ability to better explain our pratice which brings us back to the need for TLs to articulate their craft to a broader audience…nudge, nudge.

      3)  There are plenty of other points to chew on in your post, but looking at comparative studies of effective learning is so interesting.  Have you checked out CTQ’s Global work?  Others can point you in that direction.  Great stuff.

      Thanks for jumping in.

  • KipHottman

    Connecting the Dots


    This post resonates deeply specifically because of the recent conversations  that I have had with educators about TLM.  I just participated in a VOICE webinar last night where we had an in-depth conversation about the Teacher Leadership Movement.  In my school last week, I was approached by another teacher asking why a role for a teacher leader doesn’t exist in our county.

    After the conversation with the teacher in my school, I began to ponder the barriers stopping the TLM.  All of the things that I began to focus on were the same barriers that have existed for years in the education world.  My problem, I think, was my focus.

    Lalla makes a great point when she says, “We will never get to our destination if we don’t know where we are going.”  When I combine this idea with your thoughts about the importance of teacher leaders being connected, it all makes sense.  We truly have to connect the dots (gotta give a shout out to Pee Wee) in order to figure out where we are going.

    Do you think that the conversation about TLM needs to change if the movement is going to become official?  How can we shift the the conversation and focus on what the end goal looks like, while also connecting the dots bringing everyone to the same conversation?  Any thoughts?


    • bradclark

      Maybe if we just start

      Maybe if we just start calling it official, it will gain traction:)  Our networks are large enough, we just need to spread the word.  The Teacher Leadership Movement has no clear, derivitive origin (though some will argue that point) but it is thick and substantive now.  In my mind, the TLM can turn its focus to whatever goal it deems necessary at any given time and rally to achieve its present goal. 

      So what is our goal now?  Do we have multiple goals?  Are they localized or state-wide or national?  We are like swarming ants right now and there are sweet morsels all over the picnic blanket.  There is a feast of opportunity for Teacher Leadership.

  • KipHottman

    TLM Has arrived

    Agreed!  The official TLM has arrived and can’t be denied, and we have to recognize that it is here.  There are so many involved that it makes me wonder what the daily routine of a Teacher Leader will look like in one, five, or ten years.  Are the visions of a teacher leader the same for everyone, or is this a topic that needs to be discussed? I have been asked what the role of a teacher leader looks like, and I have my own ideas, but I’m not sure if they fit the need for all teachers.  Where can I go to have this conversation with all Teacher Leaders across the state so that I have a true understanding of their vision?  

  • ScottEDiamond

    The American Education Paradigm

    Jeanne, you said that “Most of us have grown up in a system based on a set of predetermined objectives taught in a certain order….The numerous educational trends I’ve seen over the years tend to say, “If it didn’t work, you missed a step.”  Maybe it’s not a step.”

    I agree that this is a key feature of the American Education Paradigm. Other features that I would suggest are derived from the origin of mass schooling. Many aspects of the AEP are simply late 19th century social norms.

    School is a factory for learning (Ken Robinson has spoken of this).

    Teachers are unskilled labor in need of giuidance from above (as women were assumed to be)

    Leadership is reserved for administrators and professors, former teachers at best, and only men in the past. I wonder if the coach-to-principal phenomenon may be due to the percieved masculinity of coaching versus academic specialties.

    Students are property, essentially in the role of domesticated animals to be trained

    What do you think?

  • bradclark

    I would agree that it is an

    I would agree that it is an antiquated model, but I am reluctant to over generalize and oversimplify the American Educ. Paradigm.  Not sure if it deserves to be capitalized:) 

    • ScottEDiamond

      Generalizations = hypotheses

      Sorry if my generalization felt offensive to you. Scientfic generalization can sound appalling when seen as as description. It’s not. It is model building –  making sense of complex systems by simplifying to  essential parts. Useful generalization leads to prediction and then to  intervention. But it does not truly describe the system, and certainly does not describe specific individuals!

      I’m interested in understanding our prefession so that we can correct past mistakes and improve our future ability to save kids.

      • bradclark

        oh no

        I am not offended in any way.  I just think it is very easy to point a finger (I have done PLENTY of it throughout my life), but I am ready for solutions for the ills, and solutions that originate in the classroom, from the practitioners.  This is our common goal.

        I think that the system can provide plenty of cases, or pockets, where deep learning and a culture that values growth is the norm.  The issue in my mind is scale.  How do you implement the change that needs to take place systematically?  THAT CANNOT HAPPEN WITHOUT TEACHER LEADERS, which works out well for all of us:)

        • ScottEDiamond

          I agree with you!

          I completely agree with you that “the system can provide plenty of cases, or pockets, where deep learning and a culture that values growth is the norm.  The issue in my mind is scale.  How do you implement the change that needs to take place systematically?  THAT CANNOT HAPPEN WITHOUT TEACHER LEADERS, which works out well for all of us:)”


  • KipHottman

    So it sounds like

    So it sounds like we have a picture of what education has been like for teachers and students for many years.  It also appears that there are common goals/ideas for the TLM amongst many parts of the country.  The question of implementing a systematic change can’t be ignored so I wonder…

    Do we need a hook to implement the change?  If so, what is the defining hook and how specific does it need to be?

    • ScottEDiamond

      Systemic Change

      What systemic change do we want to implement? What concrete results do we hope to gain? What systemic forces must we plan to harness, what forces must we simply overcome?

  • KipHottman

    Teacher Leader Discussion



    You bring up great questions.  Just like we have goals and objectives for students it sounds like they may need to be more concrete for the TLM.  This conversation needs to take place virtually or face to face.  Where, how, and with whom?

  • ScottEDiamond

    Foundational Meeting

    I’d like such talks to be as inclusive as possible! I’m the newbie at this whole virtual thing – but a webchat would seem the ebstcompromise between face-to-face and inclusiveness. But I am up for travel this summer!

  • HeidiGivens

    Fascinating Subject

    Brad – your original discussion is inspring and empowering.  I see myself and many other special educators in your words.  Just yesterday I got inspired to write a Blog about finding time to Lead AND Teach.  

    Hybrid teacher roles seem to be the hot topic but implementation appears challenging. I see the barriers that Kip sees.  

    There are TLs all around us, including those who may or may not have a peer community in their school or district to “lead”.  What is to become of them?  How can teachers be given the time to lead when no one else does their job, when there is no one else to teach the students for the rest of the day?  Of course true leaders will connect with peers in any way they can, regardless if there are any close to home.  However, how can they support other teachers in their profession and continue to teach?

    Kentucky is at the precipice of something great in the TLM with the support of KDE.  How do we make systemic changes to get us to where we all need to be?

    Here is my Blog 🙂  http://heidideafed.blogspot.com/

    P.S. Sign me up for any TLM discussions!

  • migalam

    TLM, here we go!

    What a strong and powerful blog, thanks for sharing your insights and wisdom. Being part of the TLM must include spreading the word of what a teacher leader truly is. I feel that colleagues and administration are sometimes unaware of a what a teacher leader is and what their role is for their school, colleagues, students, and community. It will be interesting to see what comes of the TLM and how it will be truly defined and elaborated on throughout the current educational reform.

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