I love the line in Jerry Maguire where Jerry (sports agent) and Rod Tidwell (football star) are in the locker room and Jerry’s imploring Rod to work with him. Jerry pleads during the emotional exchange, “Help me… help you. Help me, help you.”, and in another exchange, “I am out here for you. You don’t know what it’s like to be ME out here for YOU. It is an up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege that I will never fully tell you about, ok?” Great movie. Great energy. Great lessons. Great segway into the challenges of teacher leadership.
Education is an interesting business. It’s costly and doesn’t directly generate revenues. However, it indirectly dictates the trajectory of our nation’s Gross Domestic Product, unemployment rates, price of commodities, happiness, infant mortality rates, and the list goes on. Education matters. Period. Given the deep and broad impact education has on society, it’s amazing how we respond to leadership within our ranks. Outside the hierarchical leadership structure of school and central office, leadership among teachers is often silently absent and primarily informal.
We know the master teachers and quiet leaders who people seek out in times of stress. They are the folks who offer sage advice on everything from classroom management strategies and designing new curricula, to accessing resources and using data to make good decisions. However, they do their leadership work without fanfare. Lest they upset the apple cart and draw the ire of less able, less confident instructors, these quiet leaders do their work primarily in isolation.But what happens when a school decides to target teacher leaders and stipend them to do the important work of instructional leadership? Can the system accept these newly “badged” teacher leaders complete with job descriptions and title?
How do the new teacher leaders stay within the ranks of teachers while also breaking ranks to push the system forward? How do these risk-takers garner the respect and willing participation of their colleagues? Stepping out and taking on instructional leadership is not easy. Ultimately, teacher leadership success hinges on how well they get Jerry Maguire’s message out to staff. Namely, “Help me, help you.” With the urgency of Race to the Top on every educator and principal’s mind, newly minted teacher leaders have a leveraged moment to demonstrate the service they can provide colleagues. Whether wading through Student Learning Objectives, Teacher Evaluation Rubrics, or Common Core Learning Standards Instructional Shifts, teachers desperately need the leadership support of their colleagues.
Teacher leadership can and will work when school systems recognize the value in helping teacher leaders help others. By surveying teacher needs, differentiating professional development based on data, and providing time for the important work of teacher leadership, schools can indeed cultivate an environment where teacher leadership thrives. We’re not talking about making photocopies or filling out purchase orders, but about systemic changes in instruction, curriculum, assessment, and most importantly, views on instructional leadership. It’s time to redefine leadership in schools and fully utilize our greatest resources: intellectual and social capital.