What DOES Teacher Leadership Look Like in an #atplc School?

My good friend Brett Gruetzmacher — who is a fantastic middle school #atplc principal in Indiana –dropped me a question in Twitter the other day that I figured I ought to answer here in the Radical. 

He wrote:

Bill. I am in the process of creating a PLC teacher leader philosophy/description. Do you have a Tempered post that discusses it? Take care. Brett

While I've never written directly about Brett's question here on the Radical, I wrote about teacher leadership in an #atplc school in my first book — Building a Professional Learning Community at Work.

And the bad news is that there is no SIMPLE formula to determining who is going to make a good teacher leader in a learning community. 

That's because different teams will need different KINDS of leadership at different times — so a teacher who exerts significant influence and points a team in the right direction early in their work together may not have the right set of skills to move the same team forward after it has worked together successfully for awhile. 

There are a few tricks to identifying potential leaders — and to creating the right conditions for teacher leadership to thrive on individual learning teams — that I can offer, however.


Here's three:

Look for connected teachers who have a strong commitment to your school's central principles:

The most important prerequisite for teacher leaders in a learning community is a belief in a school’s central principles.  Find these folks quick.  You'll need them on your side, advocating for the new practices that define schools committed to ensuring learning for EVERY student.

It's equally important that those teachers have a high level of connectivity and influence inside of your organization.  Teachers who have already built strong networks of relationships can spread ideas a heck of a lot quicker than any principal working alone. 

Finally, be on the lookout for teachers that are tapped into a strong network OUTSIDE of your organization as well.  External relationships often become an invaluable source for support when the professional going gets tough. 

Just like Brett was able to turn to me when he had a question that he needed an answer to, teacher leaders often know peers beyond their buildings that can solve problems for their learning teams quickly and easily. 

 

Identify the different types of skills that individual teachers bring to the leadership table:

The way I see it, learning teams rely on different kinds of leadership at different times. 

Sometimes, teams depend on leaders who are relationship builders — people with an intuitive sense for how people are feeling and a commitment to strengthening the bonds between individuals on their collaborative teams.  

At other times, teams depend on leaders who are systems thinkers — people with a clear sense for how individual decisions play a role in either moving an entire organization (grade level, department, school, district) forward or holding them back.

Learning teams also depend on problem solvers — people with the ability to logically think a problem through to conclusion and a commitment to constantly asking "What if…" questions when collaborative efforts stall.

Finally progress on a learning team is impossible without innovators — people who are constantly imagining and creating and pushing their partners outside of the proverbial box.

Because teams go through different stages of collaborative growth at different times — and because collaborative growth is NEVER linear and neat — principals have to make a conscious effort to seed learning teams with a wide-range of teacher leaders.

While you probably can't do that all at once, as team structures change over time, it is ESSENTIAL that the unique leadership characteristics of new members are considered each time a position is filled.

This tracking worksheet from BPLC might help y'all keep up with the personalities in your organization. 

Make sure that there are discovery AND delivery oriented teachers on each learning team:

Poke through The Innovator's DNA and you'll discover that successful leadership in knowledge-driven organizations depends equally on dreamers AND doers — people with strong discovery AND delivery skills. 

Dreamers help organizations to constantly imagine a better future.  Their commitment to thinking differently means they are never satisfied with the current reality.  They push their peers forward and prevent stagnation from swamping a team. 

Doers, on the other hand, can look at a revolutionary idea and quickly identify the individual steps that need to be taken in order to turn a dream into a reality.  They are practical and determined — and they serve as the perfect counterweight to dreamers.

For the principals of #atplc schools, creating successful learning teams literally DEPENDS on monitoring the balance between dreamers and doers on individual teams. 

Stack a learning team with a bunch of dreamers — people with talented discovery skills — and they will struggle with a thousand fantastic ideas that they can never translate into tangible action.

Stack a learning team with a bunch of doers — people with talented delivery skills — and they'll have NO trouble moving forward with the kinds of comfortable, traditional practices that you're trying to change. 

Move a doer to a team of dreamers, however — or a dreamer to a team of doers — and you'll create the perfect conditions for another teacher to lead. 

This survey — which is set to come out in January of 2013 as a part of my second PLC book — can help you to identify the dreamers and the doers in your organization:

Download Handout_DisoveryDeliverySurvey

 

Very long story short:  The bad news is that there's NOT a single set of criteria for determining who the teacher leaders in your learning community will be.

But the good news is that there are a TON of opportunities for DIFFERENT teachers to lead at DIFFERENT times

Successful #atplc principals have a deep understanding of their faculties and can quickly find the right person to tackle each individual challenge.  More importantly, they have a deep understanding of the leadership strengths of each learning team in their buildings — and they're ready to use vacancies to address leadership weaknesses. 

Any of this make sense?

______________________________

Related Radical Reads:

What Can the Principals of PLCs Learn from Love Labs?

How Much DOES the Composition of a Learning Team Matter?

Evolutionary Lessons for PLC Principals

 

4 comments

  1. Michael D Parks

    This is awesome!!! I am truly excited about your description of the kind of leadership it takes to create a healthy PLC and the kind of leadership needed within the team necessary for the cohesion and growth of a healthy PLC. I have one addition to complement your point about dreamers and doers. There are even dreamers–doers.

  2. Stephanie

    Great information, thanks for helping us build our leadership team deeper and deeper! We are interviewing people interested in joining the leadership team, what are your top three questions you’d ask?

  3. jen

    Hi Bill,
    Thanks! Great info. I appreciate the Del/Disc survey. I’m going to pass this post along to my admin team. We’ve been “finding our way” with plcs.
    Thanks for sharing! I’m so glad Brett ^ asked this question.
    Cheers,
    jen

  4. BGruetzmacher

    Bill (@plugusin)-
    Tremendous post and I greatly appreciate your thoughts. The ideas in it will provide me with great direction as we move forward with the #atplc process. Teacher leadership is crucial in order for a school to be successful (culture and learning) and principals need to embrace and nuture it. Your post will be one of “those” that I will refer to time and time again. Thank you and take care.
    Brett