Imagining Leadership: Discovering an Identity as a Teacher-Leader

Susan Drake

Leaders are a  valuable asset to any organization. But what makes a teacher-leader and how do we recognize that person in our system? How can we encourage teachers to take on such roles? This is the story of an informal study group that found answers to some of these questions.

For over 10 months, Sonja Upton, Melissa Dixon, and Ellie Phillips, teachers with the District School Board of Niagara, gathered around my dining room table on Saturday mornings.  They were in their first five years of teaching and were completing an internship for a master of  education degree. We intended to create a fully integrated grade 4 curriculum and to present a paper on this experience at an academic conference. But long after the internship was completed, we were still meeting. The sessions were so rewarding and stimulating that no one wanted to give them up.

The meetings were similar to those of a study group. A key component was the double-entry journal that we decided to write after each session. On one side of the page, we wrote stories, often about classroom experiences, that were connected to the topics we explored. On the other side, we connected our stories to educational theory. We reasoned that in this way we could connect practice with theory and that the journals would provide data for our academic paper.

We read the journal entries aloud at the beginning of each session. Our reflective dialogue was triggered by the journal entries and revolved around topics of central interest to new teachers. They were curious about how to teach most effectively, how to assess, how to manage their time, and how to develop leadership skills. The weekly journals provided a focus: each individual was encouraged to try out further ideas for the next session, which resulted in our conducting a mini action research project each week.

Our  discussions  directly  related  to  improving  day-to-day  practice. Melissa, for example, was swamped by her marking practices. Sonja was keen to “teach for understanding” and was distressed when her students wanted to be told the answers rather than solve the problem themselves. Ellie was leading a schoolwide integrated curriculum on the Olympics and was encountering obstacles.

During the course of  our discussions, teacher identity emerged as a burning issue. Bright and eager, these teachers were all involved in activities outside their own classrooms, which led them to experience internal conflict. They were bringing new ideas to their schools. They questioned how far they could or should go, and how veteran teachers would respond to them. They questioned their own authority to suggest improvements in practice and to initiate innovative programs involving their colleagues. Where was their involvement in boardwide initiatives such as the Four Blocks



Teachers helping young student read

Last year Bobbie Chatha became a coach at her school, supporting colleagues as they looked for ways to improve literacy instruction.

General Secretary Sharon O’Halloran

This issue of the magazine reminds us of the work we do in our classrooms and communities every day for equity, and of the tremendous amount of work that has yet to be done.