Teacher Leaders In the 21st Century
As we find ourselves standing on the fault lines of shifting paradigms in education question about how we lead and will be lead seem to surface with between each mini quake and aftershock. The reoccurring rumbles to develop a mindset and culture that embraces failing, thinking outside the box, and risk taking, feel shaky when they originate from a group specifically selected because of their lack of failure, ability to maneuver within the box, and their skill to mitigate risk. New pedagogies require that we follow differently as much as that we be led differently.
In a building or culture cultivating 21st-century teaching strong leadership will be more dependent upon open communication and honest feedback from trusted voices in the fray, lynch pins, teacher-leaders that are applying design thinking in real time, managing innovation in action, and proving the value of deep learning daily. One of the unexpected consequences of a personalized learning culture is that for the first time there are multiple paths to access the demonstrable power of teacher-leaders. Academia has grappled with how to harness the magic of master level classroom craftsmen for more than a decade now, moving them into administration, linking them to mentorships, and persuading them to present their work in various ways. While each of these routes has offered opportunity none has offered a way to capitalize effectively on the skill set that makes those classroom maestros as valuable as they are. However, in a 21st-century learning environment where the leadership is multi-directional teacher-leaders can become a celebrated conduit for what works, and testing ground for new best practices.
In a world obsessed with leadership skills and a profession built upon a limited hierarchy it can be easy to not recognize the necessarily complex infrastructure of successful schools. Educational institutions are what economist refer to as weak link systems1. A structure more dependent on the best performance of the weakest link. (ie: soccer teams rather than basketball teams, where the best player is dependent upon the skill of the lesser known players for success.)
As we explore the multitude of roles and aspects of leading a school or district in a digital age, where change is a constant theme and innovations and risks are goals then identifying, accessing and amplify those lynchpins is essential. As a district administrator explained it, “Personalized learning is a healthy virus we want to spread as systemically and infectiously as possible…” Leadership within this kind of educational system is then no longer a title it is a distributive model2.
Following that analogy through a slight modification of Malcolm Gladwell’s The Law of the Few,2 which theorizes that The success of any kind of academic epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of teacher-leaders with a particular and rare set of pedagogical gifts:
Marine: These are the first into any new challenge, idea, or program. They are the risk takers, the ones that can and will fall in the valiant effort to try new learning.
Maven: Especially valuable in the digital age these are information specialists that know what apps and extensions are new, where to find the best list research on STEM projects and when AI will be ready for the classroom
Media Moguls: 87% of teachers are on some kind of social media, these are the ones on all kinds of social media. To go back to the epidemic analogy these are they carriers.
McGyvers: With an inherent understanding of how to hold extract the useful elements of any lesson and modify or even redefine them with digital wonderment.
The odds are good that you have these people sitting in hard chairs reading an email from you almost daily. These qualities are not in their personnel record, Finding them and allowing them to bring a whole new skill set