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Globalization has created a world of interdependency and innovation where content knowledge alone is not sufficient. Rather, there is a need to be able to learn and relearn skills on a continuous basis. Thomas L. Friedman puts it this way, “Nobody cares what you know, because the Google machine knows everything.” It has become increasingly urgent for all students to be able to learn and relearn essential skills to meet the demands of the 21st-century marketplace. So, what does this mean for educators?

Shifting from Traditional to Collaborative

With the implementation of the today’s state standards have come paradigm shifts focused primarily on what capabilities students need to be college and career ready in the 21st century. This has also highlighted new supports that teachers need in order to support student learning.

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However, the traditional hierarchical models of school-site leadership cannot adequately address the skills our educators need to do the work necessary to prepare our students for the 21st century. The development of these skills is a big project and needs a team of stakeholders who can support one another in their learning. The distribution or sharing of leadership is essential. Leithwood and Reihl state it this way,

Leadership is a function more than a role. Although leadership is often invested in—or expected of—persons in positions of formal authority, leadership encompasses a set of functions that may be performed by many different persons in different roles throughout a school.

In other words, principals need teachers to be leaders within their classrooms and within a community of educators. Teachers need principals who can support their development as leaders. And, students need collaborative educators focused on increasing student achievement.

Utilizing an Untapped Resource

Katzenmeyer and Moller suggest that “within every school there is a sleeping giant of teacher leadership, which can be a strong catalyst for making change.” Teachers are an untapped resource. Because of the relationships built on trust and credibility that are created within departments or teams, teachers can lead successfully, especially during times of greatest change. And this is, indeed, a time of great change.

Research shows teachers want opportunities to develop and demonstrate effective leadership skills outside of the classroom. During a recent survey, a panel of expert teacher leaders said they need to have a voice in addressing current issues/needs, opportunities to participate in peer observations and debriefings, dedicated self-reflection, and mentoring and coaching with colleagues. This same research also shows that to develop effective teacher leadership, principals need to ensure that these elements must be in place:

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  • An environment that encourages and supports professional collaboration
  • Opportunities to talk with colleagues about the new strategies they have learned and the success or struggles of implementing these strategies.
  • Opportunities for practice and practical application of newly learned skills

These professional learning opportunities are essential elements to building a community of educators focused on increasing student achievement. We need our dedicated teachers to evolve as leaders in their classrooms and in their role in the community, therefore we have an obligation to provide them with the training, the tools, and the opportunities to do so effectively.

Our students deserve no less.

The Learning Brief

In this article you learned…
  • The demands of the 21st century marketplace necessitates transforming schools, and teacher leadership is an essential component for meeting the current needs of students and the future needs of the global community.
  • The development of the skills students and educators need is a big project which requires a team of stakeholders who can support one another in their learning.
  • Educators need professional learning opportunities to build leadership skills, to practice what they have learned, and to collaborate and learn from each other.
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