The Potential to Lead


by Freeda Pirillis

Teachers strive to foster leadership and initiative in their students, as they recognize the future workplace will require a different set of skills. Our students will need to collaborate, to problem solve, to compromise, to craft conversations and articulate their thinking in a manner that persuades others to follow. There are those students who naturally lead and those who willingly follow. Yet our goal is the same. Teach to lead, and lead to inspire.

Teachers differentiate their classrooms to reflect their students’ personalities with the understanding that some students shy away from the limelight and quietly resist, while others actively participate in the social construct and community of the classroom. There are those outliers who do not lead, who neither resist nor follow, but sit restlessly awaiting recognition of their unique contribution to the world.

As educators, we have a heavy responsibility to identify in our students the leadership qualities they possess in order to ensure a successful transition into adulthood. And for those students who don’t naturally lead, we work to foster a strong sense of self so they are able to constructively contribute to the workplace and the social world.

Teachers, much like their students, strive for recognition of their strengths, their unique contributions to the world, and for opportunities to participate in collaborative conversations that are grounded in their experiences. Teachers specialize in content, in developing students’ social/emotional needs, and in developing curriculum that is reflective of their students’ interests. Yet, in talking with teachers I meet across the country, the meaningful opportunities for teachers to lead themselves are not easy to find, particularly in their school building.

Leadership is not often fostered, encouraged, recognized, or valued by administrators and district leadership. Teachers who naturally want to lead are not able to find the space to do so in their school buildings, so they look beyond their classrooms and past their administrators for what might lie ahead. Why aren’t teacher leaders being celebrated in their schools? Is there a potential for administrators to harness the power of a teacher’s passion to act and drive their school forward?

Examining the culture of a school directly reflects an administrator’s ability to identify the strengths each teacher possesses and tap into their potential to lead others. Likened to a classroom, administrators must recognize the natural ability of teachers to lead their peers in collaborative discussions, to develop and drive new initiatives, and to lead outside of their school building as an advocate for their students, their colleagues, and the profession as a whole.

Further, administrators must identify multiple ways to engage, recognize, and distinguish those teachers who may quietly resist the limelight or traditional leadership roles. Their leadership may be reflected in their classroom practice, in the mastery they’ve achieved over their career that inspires their students to follow. That, too, is teacher leadership.

As the teacher leadership movement grows in the U.S. and educational organizations look to identify the greatest, most passionate, and most driven individuals to inform educational policy, administrators, too, must begin to look inward towards the teachers in their school community for the positive distinctions that demonstrate leadership.

Imagine the potential for students, parents, and the school community when teachers are being sought out for their expertise, celebrated for their contributions to the profession, and elevated. Classroom teachers can attest to increased student engagement and learning when students are recognized for their strengths.

Imagine a school culture that celebrates, elevates, and promotes leadership. Imagine the possibilities.

freeda_300Freeda Pirillis, NBCT, First Grade teacher, 2015 Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow

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