by Dr. Christina Melton, Superintendent for the School District 5 of Lexington and Richland Counties in South Carolina

Too often we assume leadership is a title or a position. I believe leadership is a frame of mind, an attitude, and a willingness to serve.

Teachers are natural leaders. They lead students every day and have opportunities around them to lead their peers and influence the culture of their schools. We know that teachers who engage in these everyday leadership roles are more satisfied with their work and have students who achieve at higher rates. Yet, I find that too often teacher leadership is not at the forefront of our reform efforts.

I reached out to several successful teacher leaders to see how they might respond to the question, If you could tell someone about teacher leadership, what would you say?

I believe that a teacher leader is someone who energizes and inspires other teachers with the goal of improving the school’s performance. A teacher leader is engaged in school and community activities. A teacher leader can also act as a mentor to other teachers but never stops learning. All of this is tough to do while still teaching your own students but with good planning and discipline can be accomplished. — Kevin A., Award-winning Band Director

I believe that leadership is all about being a servant. I tell my children every day to show their hearts… by shining bright and being kind to others. I truly believe that if serving is below you, effective leadership is beyond you. — Ann Marie Taylor (former South Carolina State Teacher of the Year)

Serving isn’t based on the worthiness of the recipient- it’s based on the heart of the servant.” I believe that when you lead with love and a servant heart, people will want to follow you – even through your mistakes. — Emily B., Special Education Teacher and Leader

Teacher Leadership allows teachers to grow in their own profession without making the switch to administration. Teachers have the opportunity to serve as leaders in their own schools. They may serve as specialists in their discipline, mentor teachers, cooperating teachers or even technology experts. I have grown the most as a teacher leader through our opportunity to serve as a Professional Development Facilitator for teachers across my district. Teacher leadership opportunities are vital to allow teachers to feel like they can continue to grow in our profession. — Billie W., Social Studies Teacher and Multiple State Champion Cheer Coach

Teacher leadership is incredibly important for growing teachers — both new and experienced. It is something that needs to be discussed but somehow isn’t. There is so much focus on formal training and relationships between administrators and teachers that I think we forget how important teachers are to one another. Teacher leadership allows teachers to be vulnerable, to share their successes and failures with fellow colleagues in an effort to grow their practice as well as other teachers around them. It is iron sharpening iron. There is naturally more buy-in when a teacher listens to and grows from someone “in the trenches” with them each day. However, it is,,, more difficult to ‘get rolling’ because it means teachers must open the doors to their classrooms and allow others to see what they are doing and not a lot of teachers think they have anything to share (though on the contrary they do!). — Ali H., Government/Economics/Government Teacher

Dr. Melton, Superintendent of School District 5 of Lexington and Richland Counties, is a partner in our work for SC-TEACHER.

There are two words that make me cringe: ”just” and “only.” That is, “This is just my (insert a number) year” or “I am only a (insert a position).” I never want a teacher in my district to feel they are too new or in a position that does not afford them the opportunity to make our schools better places for learning and growing. I challenge all teachers, new and veteran, to be  leaders within their own schools. I also challenge school administrators to establish the conditions needed for teacher leadership within their schools.

I leave you with some questions to consider:

  • What are you doing to engage in teacher leadership?

  • How are you setting the stage so that others can engage in teacher leadership?

  • How are you preparing beginning teachers to demonstrate the capacity for teacher leadership?

Lead. Influence. Inspire. YOUR way.