Teacher Leaders—Middle Leaders - Steve Barkley

Teacher Leaders—Middle Leaders

I was asked to facilitate a day-long session of middle leaders for a K12 school. As I gathered information about the participants, I found that they all taught full time with some duty- free periods. The elementary leaders oversaw a curriculum (math, science, etc.) and therefore worked with all the teachers in the school. The secondary members were content focused and worked with a department of teachers.

Exploring the term “middle level,” I found a download  from the New Zealand Ministry of Education that defined middle level leaders as teachers with a focus additional task such as:

  • pedagogical leaders at the subject, curriculum, and faculty levels;
  • team and syndicate leaders;
  • teachers with specific or designated whole school responsibility, such as for sport, information and communications technology (ICT), assessment, literacy, special education needs, or mentoring;
  • coaches and mentors who help lead professional learning.

Here’s a description from Teacher Leaders Fellows program :

“Middle leaders lead teams of teachers – turning senior leadership’s strategy into outstanding classroom practice on a daily basis. They are closer to the action than senior leaders. High-performing middle leaders drive consistent teacher quality in their areas of responsibility through curriculum leadership, data analysis to identify pupil underperformance, lesson observations, holding staff to account and developing staff. They also ensure consistency across the school by collaborating and challenging their fellow middle leaders, influencing whole school behaviours through sharing, coaching and mentoring”

 Most United States public school teacher leaders would question the terms “lesson observations” and “holding staff to account” as being evaluative and existing outside their teacher leader role.  I would suggest that even these items can be approached non-evaluatively. Feedback from peers is extremely valuable if the school culture is one of continuous improvement. Accountability to a teaching team’s decisions can often be more “demanding” than accountability pressure from supervisors.

Jose Vilson identifies that a middle leader struggles between winning everyone over and positioning him- or herself as a true liaison for administrators and teachers. He provides some “do’s and don’t’s” for teacher leaders.

Ultimately, transformative teacher leadership means elevating your colleagues along with yourself.

                                                   José Vilson

As I worked with the middle leaders in this and other schools I realized that in many cases the expectations of their role was often unclear with senior leaders and therefore unclear with the teachers. Were the middle leaders expected to implement, facilitate, collaborate, and/or innovate?

As a school leader, how do you communicate expectations of the middle leader to those leaders? Equally important, how do you communicate those expectations to the staff? I worked with one leadership team that purposefully redesigned middle leader roles from implementing to facilitating and collaborating. Many teaching staff resisted, not understanding the new role they as teachers now played in the school’s decision-making and the increase in personal as well as collective responsibility.

I believe we must move to middle leaders driving innovation if we want to have schools that create success for each student. It’s why I often state that as a principal you know your PLC’s are effective if they are raising problems for you. These PLCs in their drive to gain success for each student are continually identifying the need for changes or modifications in schedules, programs, space, staff assignments, etc.

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