Regardless of where an educator falls on the leadership spectrum, if they inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, they are leaders. Leadership is not about position, paycheck or prestige and is therefore, not limited to administrators. The term “teacher-leader” has become a ubiquitous term, commonly found on teacher evaluation rubrics, résumés, and publications. Leadership is no longer limited to principals, central office personnel, or superintendents. It has become an expectation of all educators. But what exactly is a "teacher leader?" Commonly referring to those teachers who have taken on leadership roles and additional responsibilities in their school communities, teacher leaders are perceived to be visible, vocal and impactful - individuals that are often found chairing committees, mentoring beginning teachers, leading professional development sessions, and involving themselves in decision-making alongside the administrative team. But how should we define being "visible, vocal and impactful?" Do we need large crowds to make an impact? Do we need to undergo mentor training and be official mentors? Does leading professional development require a large group? Must the decision-making be part of a school improvement team or school leadership committee? If you concur with John Quincy Adams’s thoughts, your answer to these questions might be, “not necessarily.” A teacher leader is one that identifies a need, steps up and attempts to find solutions.
Whether or not we are vocal and visible, sitting on committees or taking on additional duties, we are all leaders. Our work as educators is less about curriculum, standards and student data, and much more about connecting with learners. Effective teachers not only impart knowledge, but they also inspire students to, as John Quincy Adams purportedly stated, “dream more, learn more, do more, and become more.” Regardless of your official title, from the teachers’ lounge to PLCs to formal professional development sessions, we are leading our peers in larger and smaller ways. We are also leaders to parents who entrust their children to our care. To other stakeholders, we are leaders who foster their support for the children, the schools, and the community at large. Teacher leadership is about relationships. It is not necessarily about how visible or how vocal we are. It’s about seizing every opportunity to make a difference in the life of another human being. Adams’s quote sits on my office wall serving as a reminder, to me and the teachers I serve, that every day we have the opportunity to lead - to make a difference. Just as oxygen is not seen or heard but is critical to our existence, quiet leaders are the invisible force behind the learning process. Their efforts may be seldom acknowledged, their accomplishments may be rarely recognized and their voices may not be heard loud and clear, yet without their leadership, our schools could not survive. If you are a quiet leader, know that you are invaluable to the school community. And for those who are at the front and center, let’s not fail to affirm those who are leading from behind.