By Josh Agpalza
This past weekend I had the privilege of attending the Teach to Lead Conference in Denver with other teachers and educators from around the nation. As I was listening to stories and presentations of teacher leaders making a difference, I realized they all had 5 things in common.
- Teacher leaders are innately progressive. This should not come as a surprise because teachers are professionally trained to reflect and refine their lessons every day. So teachers being empowered to make changes is inevitable and built into their gut. At the conference, one teacher leader after another kept reiterating their natural urge to improve systems that would help student growth. They also spoke about their passion to revolutionize professional development, education policies, and their communities. This innate progressivism empowers teacher leaders to keep moving education forward.
- Teacher leaders are committed to their ideas. I had the opportunity to work with a 12-year veteran teacher from Arizona. She came to the conference to share her ideas on building positive relationships between teachers and administrators within her district. I asked her how long she had been working on the project, and she said, “Well, for 12 years now.” It took me a second to realize that she had that idea the day she started teaching. She further explained that she wanted to improve on the idea of building positive relationships, despite the growth and progress that the district had already made. She was also determined to expand her project at the state level. Her relentless commitment exemplifies the unwavering spirit that is common among teacher leaders.
- Teacher leaders are not afraid to fail. Unfortunately, we often see people, including our students, give up on complex ideas or difficult tasks on their first try. However, a teacher leader is willing to learn from their mistakes, improve on their ideas, and try again. During a breakout session, a teacher from the state of Washington shared his experience with an administrator who shot down his innovative plan for student growth. He said he wanted to give up, but he was just too passionate to let it go. Through trial and error he learned who to go to for the proposals, what to say to people, and how to effectively implement the project. No matter how many times he failed, he kept on trying, and eventually his idea became a reality. Teacher leaders learn from failure.
- Teacher leaders never do it alone. Throughout the conference I never heard a teacher leader say they successfully implemented an idea all by themselves. In fact, teachers acknowledged that their success couldn’t have happened without the support of other teachers, educators, parents, students, and the community. Furthermore, the collaboration framework of the conference provided teachers with the opportunity to seek help, ask for support, and learn from one another. This structure gave teacher leaders the confidence and expertise to make their ideas real. It also supported the concept of making sure teachers never do it alone. Teacher leaders understand the significance of “power in numbers.”
- Teacher leaders do it all for their students. I am a diehard Seattle Seahawks fan. I could have chosen to stay home for the weekend to watch the Seattle Seahawks defeat the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Playoffs, but I didn’t. I chose to go to Denver to share my experience, my story, and my life as a teacher leader. I did this because I am passionate about creating change in a complex education system. I did this because I learn a lot about other teacher leaders making a difference in their communities. But most importantly, I did this because of my students. My energy to move education forward draws from their stories of struggle and success. Everyday I am inspired by their lives, their thoughts and dreams. It’s the students that push teachers like me to give a presentation on leadership. It’s the students that inspired the teacher from Arizona to keep building relationships with administrators. It’s the students that helped the teacher from Washington persevere and commit to his idea. It’s the students that made it possible for the 200-plus educators from around the nation to come together to make a difference and inspire change in education.
These 5 attributes of a teacher leader were a common theme this past weekend. I challenge teachers and other educators to identify other attributes of a teacher leader. Share your story or a story of another educator trying to make change by leading.
Email your stories here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Josh Agpalza is a Cambridge World History and AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) teacher at Federal Way High School in Federal Way, Washington. He participated in the VIVA NEA Time in School Idea Exchange.