Thursday, December 17, 2015

Ending the "Just a Teacher" Mentality

All great leaders are teaching, and all great teachers are leading.  
Rick DuFour

Whenever I am in a new district or visiting a new part of the world with educators, I always ask this question, "What do you do?", and invariably I get the usually responses.  "I'm a principal."  "I'm a teacher", or "I'm a director".  You get the point.

But that's doesn't answer my question  

Your title doesn't tell me what you do.  It tells me the role of your residence.  The point for asking this question is to see how teachers view the potential in their role. Whenever I hear someone say "I'm just a teacher", or respond like their role isn't very important, I whence just a bit. The "Just a Teacher" response tells me that something or someone in the teacher's culture or in that person's experience has prevented them from seeing the value of their role as something bigger than merely being responsible for teaching kids.

Let's be real for just a minute.  Teachers are more than "Just a Teacher".  In fact the reason that education is becoming more successful every year is because teachers AREN'T just teachers.  They are changing the landscape of education, and as leaders we owe it to teachers to combat the mindset of minuteness by convincing them that they have a greater impact and play a bigger role than they could possibly imagine.  

Ending the Just a Teacher Mentality
Here are a few phrases that you could use with teachers through your daily interactions that could compel them to give up the mentality of "Just a Teacher".
  • You have expertise that I don't have.
  • You possess knowledge that others need.
  • You see things in kids that we can't possibly see.
  • You can influence your peers in ways that I can't
  • You have the potential to lead in ways that others can't.
  • You add tremendous value to our organization.
  • We need you to NOT be just a teacher
  • We need to you to help lead.
  • You ARE a piece of the puzzle.
What if every leader took a few minutes at the start of 2016 to have these kinds of conversations with every teacher?  What kind of place would we create?  What kind of potential would we discover?  What talent would we unleash?  What kind of leadership capacity would we build?  Can you see what would happen?


A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to see the results of this mindset throughout our district.  On a half-day dedicated to professional development, teachers at our high school were asked to lead their very first "TEDI Talks" (Tatum Eagle Digital Innovators).  We had 6 teachers of all levels of tech-expertise share their knowledge and wisdom on how they are embedding technology into their instruction.  The power of these talks inspired their fellow teachers to take risks, embrace their insecurities, and feel affirmed that their knowledge was essential to move the campus in the right direction.  

The beauty in this form of professional learning was that we didn't need to hire a consultant.  Our teachers unleashed what they had deep inside them, and as a result, these leaders are starting a movement where teachers see themselves as teachers and as leaders.  They have talent, knowledge and expertise that can help every person in  the campus improve.

Teachers are leaders of learning because they are the practitioners that can truly reform education.  Our job as district and campus leaders is not to impede their leadership but to tap into it and leverage it for the betterment of the organization.  After all, our moral imperative as leaders is not to improve the organization.  It is to create the conditions where the organization will improve itself, and that'll happen only when teachers see themselves as leaders of learning.

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