What do we really know about teacher leadership?

Teacher leadership is an area I have been focusing on more and more lately. Not only have I reflected on the ways in which I did not build enough capacity in my teacher leaders when I was a principal, but I am currently co-designing work in my district to support teacher leadership development.

I recently read a research article, thanks to a colleague who always shares relevant research with me.  The research:

The Theoretical and Empirical Basis of Teacher Leadership: A Review of the Literature by Julianne A. Wenner and Todd Campbell

Some points that stood out to me:

  • “Researchers have concluded that teacher leaders have the capacity to lead the school via increasing teacher collaboration, spreading best practices, encouraging teacher professional learning, offering assistance with differentiation, and focusing on content-specific issues”
  • Teachers get leadership training through professional development (more frequent) and/or college courses (few and far between); it is important to include leadership skills and strategies in any teacher leadership program
  • Teacher leadership within a school contributed to feelings of empowerment and professionalism for all teachers
  • Teacher leadership was defined by the researchers as “teachers who maintain K-12 classroom-based teaching responsibilities, while also taking on leadership responsibilities outside of the classroom”
    • Most of the studies they reviewed had no clear definition of teacher leadership
  • Administrative support seems to be paramount if teacher leadership is to be successful – providing teacher leaders with autonomy led to success

So what?  What does this research us tell us?  How we do better, be better, on behalf of the students we serve?

I believe it is important for any school, district, or system to define teacher leadership.

I believe that locally-created teacher leadership development programs need to include elements that support administrators to work with and support teacher leaders on their campuses.

I believe that teacher leaders can support site and district visions, missions, and goals, through strategic planning.

I believe that teacher leaders should be at the table when discussing teaching and learning at all levels within an educational system.

I believe that there are teachers waiting to be given an opportunity to lead, to be given a voice, to be empowered to step up… we just need to recognize and support them!


What do you believe about teacher leadership? 

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Challenge (OLW 2017) Update

My word of the year is challenge. In January I wrote this about the focus this year:

Here is what challenge means to me and what I hope it will bring in 2017.

  • Professionally, I want to challenge myself to continue to expand my skills and grow as a leader
  • Personally, I want to challenge myself as a writer, to get more focused on writing a book and using my writing as a form of action
  • As a citizen, I feel we will face many challenges in the coming year and I am ready – I feel like these challenges will be a call to action and I’m prepared to take action

Now that I am almost 3/4 of the way through 2017, I wanted to check in on my challenges this year.

Professionally, I have challenged myself:

  • by speaking at our Women’s Empower Hour about my leadership journey.
  • to attend a 6-day seminar on Women in Educational Leadership through our county.
  • to be a mentor, both formally and informally, to other women leaders.
  • to create a new teacher leadership academy for our district.
  • to continue to explore future leadership opportunities.

Personally, I have challenged myself:

  • to get focused on my book writing! I have my outline complete and the first 35 pages are drafted. I’m excited for what’s to come!
  • to write an article for the AASA monthly journal.

As a citizen, I have challenged myself:

  • to avoid political commentary at work.
  • to use my abilities (whether they happen to be time, monetary donations, or communication to my elected officials) to support causes that are challenging the issues I am most concerned about at this time in our country.
  • to stay current on the issues without getting so bogged down that I can’t see the through the negative haze.

I think that challenge was so fitting for my word of 2017.

On a related note, I recently had a weekend full of mindfulness, which was my word of 2015. I happen to listen to a lecture all about the value and importance of mindfulness for educational leaders. I was so proud that since 2015, I have continued a number of the healthy habits I created. I have a semi-regular meditation practice. I use mindful breathing regularly. I know how to slow myself down. I don’t go to sleep every night with a racing mind. This is still huge for me! Mindfulness really became a part of my daily life and continues to be important to me personally and professionally.

I wonder what 2018 will bring into my life…

Do you have a word of 2017? What is it? How has it impacted you so far this year?


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August ’17 Reading Update

This month I read 2 books, making my 2017 total 26.

  • Severe Clear (Stone Barrington Series #24) by Stuart Woods – Once I get on a roll with a favorite author, I can’t stop myself from plowing through a series. I am trying to alternate between Woods’ books and others so I don’t go through them too quickly and so that I read other things! This was one another fast-paced mystery. The main story took place in L.A., at the opening of The Arrington hotel, that Stone opened in honor of his late wife. There was a terrorist plot to blow up the hotel and most of L.A. I liked that as the reader, I knew about the plot before the main characters. It was interesting to know the specifics and then watch as they unfolded.
  • The Lying Game by Ruth Ware – I saw this book on celebrity and bloggers’ lists of must-read books this summer, so I had to add it to my list. This is the third book I’ve read by the author, and they’ve all been good mysteries in different ways. The Lying Game is invented by four teenagers at boarding school. Though it starts off as a way to ease their boredom and loneliness, it turns into a life of torture, as they are forced to keep a deadly secret that causes them to lie to everyone for decades. All of the characters were hard to love or even like, throughout this story, but I was glad when Fatima, Thea, and Isa figured out the lies that Kate had told them to keep them save over the years.
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Quotes That Resonate, Volume 7

Without fail, when I am reading something there are often quotes that feel like they literally jump off the page, demanding that I stop and reflect. These quotes resonated with me long after I finish reading the text.

“When educators fail to pay careful attention to teacher learning in schools, conditions of teaching and learning remain the same. Only through learning will individuals change and grow.” ~ Stephanie Hirsh and Tracy Crow, Becoming a Learning Team

As I read up in preparation for a number of professional learning experiences with teachers and leaders in our district this year, this quote jumped out at me. One of the reasons I made the transition from teacher to site and then district leader was my passion for support adult learning. The more invested I became in my own professional growth, the more excited I was to support the professional growth of others.

“How we influence each other through conversations is key to creating a healthy culture at work.” ~ Judith E. Glaser, Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results

I just started reading this book and this quote jumped out of the introduction.  I appreciate the message that what we say and how we say it impacts our culture. Many school systems today are working to address inequities and to enhance their organizational culture. Paying more attention to our conversations, our relationships, can make a positive difference in this work.

“These systems don’t require enormous amounts of money. What they do require is thoughtful professionalism on the part of educators and school staff who are given the time, knowledge, and resources to work together in a quest to ensure that every student is successful. That should be within the grasp of every school in the country.” ~ Karin Chenowith, from “What ‘Unexpected’ Schools Do That Other Schools Don’t

As I continue to work in systems that are trying to revise our PLC process to improve student learning outcomes, I am always saddened that all school systems in America cannot yet provide teachers with time and resources to collaborate. The knowledge is already there, but if educators don’t have time to collaborate, their collective knowledge will never be known.


What quotes are resonating with you this week?


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July ’17 Reading Update

In July I read 3 books, making my 2017 total 24. At this rate, I’m going to have to double my reading rate to beat my 2016 total. I’ve actually been reading and rereading a number of professional books for work, but all that reading (and working!) doesn’t count for this list yet.

  • Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson – I borrowed this book from the same friend who loaned me Hilllbilly Elegy, which I finished last month. It was quite an experience to read these two books in quick succession. What I appreciated about Dyson’s message was the balance between historical facts, modern day realities, and practical advice for white Americans. He speaks clearly from his own perspective and lived experiences, with concrete suggestions for ways in which we, white Americans, can begin to repair the damages done to black Americans since the beginning of our country. For anyone who struggles with the call of Black Lives Matter or the horrors of lives taken by police during random traffic stops, this is a must-read book. Really, it’s a must-read book for all of America, especially in these times.
  • Unnatural Acts (Stone Barrington #23) by Stuart Woods – This book felt like a story-within-a-story. There were elements from #22 (Shelly from the FBI) and Herbie’s story line as he moved up in the law firm, and Stone and Dino in and out of the stories.
  • Good as Gone by Amy Gentry – This was a random impulse buy! I went into a book store (!) to buy a travel book. When I walked past the table with summer paperback mysteries, this one jumped out at me. Julie was a 13 year old kidnapped out of her home, and she suddenly appears on her parents’ doorstep 8 years later. I liked how the author told us the backstory backwards while the current story moved forward. This was a quick, easy, fun read, though it was a sad and dark story.
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Appreciation Matters

*This story was originally published in Fueled by Coffee and Love, a collection of short stories by educators, edited by Mari Venturino. You can purchase a copy of the book here; all proceeds go back to educators and classrooms! The book is such a positive, uplifting reminder of why we all entered this amazing profession. Mari is seeking entries for Volume 2, so consider submitting your own story!


Being an elementary principal is as close to being a rockstar as I’ll ever be.  Walking around campus and hearing students call out, “Miss I!”was so much fun!

When I was principal, our school had a Friday Flag event each and every Friday morning. The entire school community met on the back playground where we did the pledge of allegiance, made announcements, and where one class would lead us in a song for the week.  These songs were often patriotic or fun kid-pop songs that we all knew the words to. This was one of the ways in which we built our community.

Each Friday I would make my way to the back of the school after finishing my morning supervision out front. [Don’t be jealous of the glamorous life of a principal!]

On this particular Friday I was the last to arrive out back. All of our students were gathered with their teachers and many of their parents, in a large semi-circle. There was our usual flag and microphone set up ready and waiting for me to begin. Only, before I could reach the microphone, a teacher was holding it and beginning her own announcement.

I can’t remember exactly what she said, but I remember that I began to cry almost immediately. She quickly explained that today was now known as “Miss I day,” and that today they were all here to appreciate me. All of a sudden, each class held up a sign the students had made. I saw “We love you!” and “Miss I-nspirational!” and many other cute messages on banners around the playground.

After the announcement, a group of teachers came up to the front and sang a song. But this was not one of our usual Friday Flag songs. The staff had rewritten lyrics to “Walking on Sunshine” to be all about me.  This was an inside joke that showed just how well my staff knew me. They knew that I had worked at Chuck E. Cheese as a teenager and that “Walking on Sunshine” was the song I was required to memorize a dance routine to as part of my job.

Hearing my hard-working teachers sing a song they had written to thank me for being leader was overwhelming.

When I returned to the office, still wiping away the tears of joy and gratitude, I was met by yet another surprise. My office staff were all wearing the same t-shirt, and the shirt had a picture of me on it! They had made their own appreciation shirts to wear just to make me laugh!

One of the best days I ever had was when my staff planned an appreciation day for me! But it wasn’t because it was a day all about me. This day helped me see the impact I was making as a leader. Leaders know how important trust is when building relationships.

Three years earlier, I came to this school as a brand new principal, new to the district, new to the elementary level, and just plain NEW. I worked hard to get to know the staff and I struggled with how to let them get to know me.  We, collectively, worked hard to support our students, many of whom came from rough situations outside of school.

As we got to know each other on behalf of the challenging work we shared, I learned how valuable appreciation can be. Leaving a simple hand-written note to thank a staff member for doing something didn’t take much of my time, but it brought me closer to individuals. Making sure that each of my weekly bulletins and Friday Flag announcements included some note of appreciation for a job well done by a student, a parent, or a staff member, became invaluable.

Receiving a thank you from a staff member or a hand-drawn card from a student also meant a lot. Being an elementary principal is a very isolating job. During most of my time as a principal I did not have any assistant principals, counselors, or other administrative support working alongside me. I relied heavily on my amazing secretary, my dedicated head custodian, my literacy coach, and my lead teachers for support with academic and operational tasks.

I tried to acknowledge hard work and dedication as much as possible, but it is never enough. Educators today work harder than any other profession, in my opinion. We serve as the teachers, counselors, nurses, therapists, parents, friends, and coaches for hundreds of students every year. We work long beyond “contract hours”  and our work follows us everywhere- sometimes in the form of stacks of papers to be graded and other times as a sleepless night spent worry about a homeless student and his or her family in crisis.

What I learned from “Miss I” day was that appreciation matters. No matter the role you play, please take time to share your appreciation with your colleagues, your mentors, your friends in the trenches with you, doing this work that is a calling for us all. Appreciate big and small things. Appreciate a kind gesture, a smile in a busy hallway, a functioning PLC, an empathetic leader, a supportive colleague, and anything else that helps you be the best you can be for our students every day.

I appreciate each and every educator I’ve worked with and learned from. I appreciate each educator who is reading this collection of stories. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.


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Taking Time to Build or Strengthen Relationships

It’s the beginning of a new school year in my district; we work on a modified year-round calendar. Many leaders have already hit the ground running, filling up their calendars, facilitating professional development, planning activities, and preparing for our students’ arrival. Today’s advice in the Time Management for Leaders Series is all about slowing down!

A new school year brings leaders the opportunity to build or strengthen relationships with individual staff members (and students!). While I am a big advocate for maintaining an organized calendar for efficiency sake, now is the time to step away from your office and lead by walking around.

As an assistant principal and a principal, I made a point to visit each teacher’s classroom during the opening set-up days before students returned. While these visits took me out of the office and away from the non-stop stream of emails and phone calls I received, they were a powerful way for me to build new relationships or renew past relationships with each staff member. Not only could I check in with people about their summer and their family, but I was able to see how their room set-up was going (very important in an elementary setting!), and I could offer my support physically, emotionally, or professionally. These short little personal visits told a story about my staff members as individuals and as members of our learning community.

My Superintendent is a great example of this throughout the year. She will pop in to various department offices just to say hi and greet staff members.  In a district with over 40,000 students, you can imagine how many staff members we have, and she makes each one feel like she knows them personally (and for many, she does!).

My advice to new leaders is:

  • make time to build relationships with new staff members (or all staff, if YOU are the new one!).
  • strengthen past or current relationships by checking in; don’t assume that one positive interaction last year is enough to maintain a good working relationship this year.
  • lead by walking around – make time to visit individual classrooms, departments, and other settings where your staff members work.
  • make time for this relationship-building by adding it to your calendar and prioritizing this work!

The time you invest in relationships leads to deeper trust, which can enhance your team, school or system’s culture.

What other advice would you offer leaders with regards to building or strengthening relationships at the beginning of a new school year?


Time Management for Leaders Series

Calendar 911

No More Inbox Ailment

Making Time for Classroom Visits

Organizing Resources to Share

Working with an Assistant


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