An investment in knowledge pays the best interest. ~ Benjamin Franklin
Putting It All Together
In the world of culinary arts, there exists a fascinating, even mysterious, concept called “umami.” Although commonly referred to as one of the five basic tastes, characterizing this way doesn’t do it justice. Umami, which is the Japanese word for deliciousness, refers to the savoriness often found in many foods.
Umami is a substance perfectly formed to create an explosion of taste. When we think of growing and developing leaders, we are searching for a similar substance that will transform the ordinary into the extraordinary–a unique blend of experiences, training, reflection, and development to help leaders become effective regardless of their situation. Throughout this month, we’ve identified the key practices for developing teacher leaders. Great school administrators know that they cannot be successful without a core group of strong, instructionally gifted, teachers who are also leaders.
We began the month by establishing the proper foundation necessary for our teacher leaders to grow, which consists of exposure to universal principles for the novice person. The fact is that every school leadership team should be doing an ongoing book study. In our second step of development we increased the sophistication of the training through specialized, experiential training. In this quadrant, the teacher leader is still a novice, but the training is very specific, such as joining a school-based team to do instructional rounds. The third quadrant is where the teacher leader develops through learning practical skills. Much of this quadrant hones in on self-development through feedback. In our model, we distinguish the difference between the skill level of the person and their learning needs regarding specialized training and specific concepts. We do so because education is a people business–influential leaders masterfully navigate both the people and the issues. This brings us to the fourth quadrant.
Becoming the Expert
Because we are pursuing umami–the perfect blend of seasoning that delivers the greatest satisfaction and results–teacher leaders need to “graduate” to the fourth quadrant, which is topical. So many of the issues faced by leaders are multi-dimensional with long tentacles and significant implications. Development within this quadrant demonstrates that the teacher leader is truly in charge–leading an initiative or department, making a real change in the school, and focusing on the people involved.
The training in this quadrant mirrors the complexity of the problem and the challenges associated with it. A great example of a complex change that we often make is through a restructuring or modification to a curriculum based on new standards. But, the truth is that even when standards change and the curriculum and assessments follow suit, that doesn’t mean that changes will be made at the classroom level. Policies don’t change practice; people do.
The skilled teacher leader, in our example, understands the team dynamics at various levels, communicates with administration, knows the standards, can lead changes to the curriculum, and, most importantly, empowers teachers to make the necessary strategy adjustments in the classroom. They are experts in both the teaching side and the leadership side of the equation. They know how to do the work and how to influence the group they lead. Great principals know that both skills are necessary and they develop the specialized topical needs of their teacher leaders. Take The Three Minute Challenge:
- Evaluate the depth and rigor of the training that you are providing your teacher leaders as a group. This should mostly fall within the foundational quadrant. But, because they are confronting and solving real issues that require a keen understanding of the problem and the people involved, they also need topical training. Identify one of the leadership topics where each of your leaders needs more development. Make a list of the topics.
- Find a leadership conference, local or nationally, that has strands that address the topics you listed. You may be able to send your whole leadership team or budget to send them in groups of twos and threes. The key is that the conference is not a typical teaching conference but an actual leadership conference.
- After folks have gone to their training on the specific topic, create a check-in calendar that establishes a clear timeline to evaluate practice and progress for the teacher leaders. These meetings should focus on pre-identified short-term goals that represent essential progress toward the desired outcome. The outcomes can be based on the change they seek to influence or a detail about how they are leading differently because they’ve been trained. Your job is to listen and provide feedback.
Technical Tip: Teacher leaders are teachers first. Their influence is born from their credibility and prowess in the classroom. As they continually develop as a leader, be sure that they are still enjoying what they love to do most—teaching! Although their role has grown considerably as leaders, their strengths remain within their love for teaching and learning. Not only do they need to grow as leaders, they need to continue to grow as teachers. The tip is to ensure that your teacher leaders are getting the leadership development necessary to lead better but also the teacher professional development to grow as teachers. Use the leadership continuum model as a teacher skill development model. Listen to what your teacher leaders want to learn next as teachers and find them the path to do that.
Leadership Continuum Model
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