When I entered the teaching profession, the prevalent mentality was that there were two basic roles an educator fulfilled: one was in the classroom with students, the other was leading the school as a principal. Often when a teacher reached a level of success with students, he or she was strongly encouraged to “move up” to the role of principal.
I became an educator to work directly with students. I love my time with them every day; helping each student find his or her voice and grow, not just academically, but as an individual. I couldn’t fathom getting up every morning and not having that direct contact. I know many teachers feel this way.
We have worked diligently to sharpen our practice. We have fellow teachers who have reached out to us and given us the benefit of their experience. All of us are the educators we are today because of others sharing with us, graciously providing encouragement and pushing us to grow—all for the betterment of the learning opportunities we can provide our students.
So the question begs to be asked: How can we lead, pay forward our expertise, and make a difference while remaining in the classroom?
As teachers, our plates are overflowing with responsibilities. Thinking about adding one more thing can be daunting. However, we know that as teachers, not only preparing our students for the future, but also paving the way for the future of the profession is important.
Here are a few ways I have found to fulfill those needs:
- Share your voice. In today’s digital world, there are more avenues for sharing your practice than ever before. This is an opportunity to reach a larger audience and pay it forward to those beyond your school. You have the ability to lead others by creating your own blog and posting regularly or offering to write a post for one of many educational organizations with print and digital publications. You can build credibility by sharing your successes and failures with students (and how those failures became great opportunities to grow as an educator).
Another powerful medium is Twitter. Regardless of your content area, grade level, or location, you have the opportunity to build relationships and share ideas with fellow teachers. Sharing your voice pushes you to become reflective and evaluate your own practice, making you a more relevant and effective educator.
- Host others. Telling your students’ stories is one thing; having people experiencing it firsthand is a totally different thing. Offer to host preservice teachers in your classroom, mentor a new teacher, lead a book study, or coach a teacher who is struggling. Open your classroom doors. So many of us are visual learners. With Skype and Google Hangouts, those unable to visit can still see (and hear) what learning looks like for our students.
One year, I had several teachers who wanted to grow in their knowledge of using technology tools to support authentic learning. We decided to meet each Tuesday after school for a 30-minute session. Each person brought either something he or she used with students, a question on how to meet a certain need, or an obstacle he or she faced. The session was a quick sharing of ideas. As the host, I became the facilitator—able to share, learn, and foster leadership in other teachers.
- Continue to learn. If we want to remain relevant and impactful in our instruction, we must continue to grow—whether it’s through a professional development event or learning from the comfort of home. What worked 5 or 10 years ago may not be the most effective way to reach students today. As a leader, our responsibility is to know not just what works with students, but why.
One of the most powerful ways I grew as an educator was by pursuing National Board Certification. I grew to understand deeply the why behind the choices I made, and I became a reflective practitioner. If we want our students to become lifelong learners, we need to model those same practices.
As a leader, you aren’t saying you know everything; you are saying you are on a continual journey in search of the best way to meet the needs of your diverse learners. You are willing to be transparent, pass along your experience, and search for the best way to guide your students—and your colleagues—toward success.
What will you do to lead others without leaving the classroom?
Julie D. Ramsay is a National Board Certified Teacher and the author of“Can We Skip Lunch and Keep Writing?” Collaborating in Class and Online, Grades 3–8. She teaches ELA to sixth graders at Rock Quarry Middle School in Tuscaloosa, AL. She also travels the United States to speak, present, and facilitate workshops in applying technology to support authentic learning. Read her blog, eduflections.