I’m a baseball fan. In particular, dare I say it, I’m a Mets fan. In any case, one of my favorite movies was Field of Dreams with Kevin Costner. It was a fun baseball fantasy movie, and I saw it a long time ago. The part I remember best was the small town farmer who heard a voice telling him to build a ball field out in the cornfield, which he did. Ultimately, baseball players walked from the corn stalks and out on to the field. They were the infamous Black Sox, including one Shoeless Joe Jackson. The movie ended happily with hundreds of people driving to the farm to watch the players play. I simplify, but the point is the farmer took a risk, invested money and time into something he believed was the right thing to do, and was rewarded for his efforts. Hmmm.
So, how does this all apply to teacher leadership? I’ve been harping on the need for distributed leadership in schools for months now, and as the stakes and pressures on principals to be instructional leaders increase with school reform, it is time to empower teachers to share the burden of instructional leadership responsibilities. With that empowerment comes a commitment at the district level to compensate teacher leaders with time and money. The work is too hard and teachers too vulnerable when stepping out of the fold for districts to rely solely on a teacher’s good will and intrinsic motivation to lead others. No. What’s needed is time and financial incentives to draw our schools’ finest educators into the realm of school leadership.
I just read research by Jason Margolis and Angie Deuel (2009) on teacher leadership. Their qualitative research centered on three questions, “(1) What motivates teachers to take on leadership roles? (2) What does the official designation “teacher leader” mean to teachers? (3) What approaches and strategies do teacher leaders use to impact colleagues’ instructional practices?.” The authors found three factors that drove educators to take on leadership responsibilities: an intrinsic desire to do what’s best for the school and students (moral imperative), self-directed growth and learning, and financial compensation. The title of “Teacher Leader” held little value to the teachers when compared with moral imperative, self-directed growth, and financial compensation.
Money matters. Time to do good work matters. Teacher leadership matters. If we hope to transform schools and put the square peg in a square hole, then districts will need to rethink how instructional leadership happens in schools. In particular, district leaders must ante up with financial incentives, time, and support to encourage teachers to take on greater instructional leadership responsibilities. We know teacher leadership works, and now it’s the simple matter of allocating resources appropriately. If schools build the organizational structure and incentivize leadership, teacher leaders will come.
MARGOLIS J, DEUEL A. Teacher Leaders in Action: Motivation, Morality, and Money. Leadership & Policy In Schools [serial online]. July 2009;8(3):264-286. Available from: Education Research Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed September 8, 2012.