Everyday Ways to Lead in Schools

There are many paths to leadership. If you’re feeling like you want to do more but are not sure how, here are a few strategies to get you started.
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Want to grow your leadership this year, but you’re not quite ready to move into a new role? That’s okay. There are all kinds of everyday ways for teachers to lead. 

There are also plenty of opportunities to grow your leadership in schools. Here’s why: The best school leaders are not go-it-alone superheroes. In order to surround themselves with leaders, they intentionally seek out and build the capacity of those around them, like you. Everyone in the school community plays a vital role in moving a school forward. A great principal values and respects this.

Perhaps this school year is the right time for you to stretch yourself as a teacher and learn some new leadership moves. Sometimes it's the little changes that add up to big wins over time. Here are a few tried-and-true approaches to doing so:

Join a school team and share your perspective

One way to grow your leadership is to join a school team and step into  shared or distributed leadership roles. Distributed leadership means the decision-making is the responsibility of a collective group, and not just the principal. Teacher teams, instructional leadership teams (ILTs) or data inquiry teams are some of the most common expressions of distributed leadership. These teams work to advance the priorities for the new school year and generate solutions to the challenges that arise along the way. 

Once you join, challenge yourself to contribute more to the team. Maybe you volunteer to be the recorder or the time keeper. Perhaps you lead a data discussion for your team’s first quarter benchmark assessments. Or you recommend an article or book for the team to read that can help to inform the team’s approach to a particular issue. When you speak up, you motivate others to add their voices too.

Be a champion for equity-focused work  

As an educator, you are likely aware of the inequities that exist within our K12 public education system. These disparities mean that far too many students of color and students from communities with lower incomes do not receive the education they deserve, resulting in lost potential in academic outcomes, high school and college graduation, and lifelong success. This does not have to be the reality. 

Take time this year to deepen your understanding and become a champion for the equity work in your school. There are several, well-researched inequities that students face beyond the technology divide that became evident during the pandemic. Did you know, for example, that students of color are disciplined more frequently and more harshly? That they are less likely to have access to rigorous student work? 

There are education leaders across the nation that are transforming those inequities and accelerating student growth. Make it your professional learning goal this year to discover how they’re doing it so you can champion the same at your school. Growing in awareness is always a good first step for any leader. 

Advocate for what works and let go of what does not

We hear from teachers and education leaders all the time about how they want to prioritize what is working, but they continue to see practices and programs that persist year after year despite not having any positive impact on students. It’s time to change that. Before adding more programs, effective leaders lead the charge to stop implementing programs that no longer serve students. 

Known as a subtractive approach rather than an additive one, this kind of leadership helps schools focus on what matters most for student learning and the overall well-being of the school community. No matter your role, you can advocate for the importance of data to drive decision-making. You can suggest ways to increase the initiatives that do work, like collaborative planning time or a resource bank for last-minute coverage plans. Being consistent in what you value is important as a leader. 

Find and share inspiration 

We know how demanding, and unpredictable, the past two school years have been. Education leaders have shared many lessons learned from the pandemic and are planning for this school year based on them. Perhaps you can be an added source of inspiration.

This summer we shared ways to restore, retool, and recommit. Find a good podcast and listen to it on your drive to work. Maybe read that book you mean to read before the summer is over. Or if time is short, listen to a good TedTalk that sparks your passion for why you chose education. For a full list of our summer resources, check out:

Moving into leadership

Above all, remember that leadership is learned. At New Leaders, we believe that everyone has untapped leadership potential. Of course, some people may seem like naturals, demonstrating behaviors that are associated with leadership, but most leaders develop their skills over time.

It might be tempting to wait to be tapped on the shoulder but the best way to grow your leadership is to take the initiative. Perhaps this year is your year. 

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