Teacher Leadership and Vulnerability - Steve Barkley

Teacher Leadership and Vulnerability

Nancy Flanagan wrote a blog for Education Week examining a definition for teacher leadership. She included this picture from Twitter which I recall seeing and retweeting.


Flanagan connected with the role of great teachers being risk-takers but felt that an administrator stepping into that risk taking role was not very common and that teacher leaders probably didn’t wait for the school leadership to set the stage for the teacher’s risk-taking.

Cindy Harrison and Joellen Killion writing in Ed Leadership identified Ten Roles for Teacher Leadership 

Resource Provider
Instructional Specialist
Curriculum Specialist
Classroom Supporter
Learning Facilitator
School Leader
Data Coach
Catalyst for Change


The Teacher Leadership Exploratory Consortium developed Teacher Leadership Standards consisting of seven domains, describing the various attributes of teacher leadership:

Domain I: Fostering a collaborative culture to support educator development and student learning

Domain II: Accessing and using research to improve practice and student learning

Domain III: Promoting professional learning for continuous improvement

Domain IV: Facilitating improvements in instruction and student learning

Domain V: Promoting the use of assessments and data for school and district improvement

Domain VI: Improving outreach and collaboration with families and community

Domain VII:  Advocating for student learning and the profession

I am presenting an upcoming webinar for school administrators and teacher leaders in Iowa where they have identified the following as possible roles for teacher leaders:


I will be using this backward planning model as people examine how teacher leaders can impact student achievement beyond their own classrooms. How does the work of the teacher leader influence teacher behaviors that impact student learning behaviors? How do building level administrators support the work of teacher leaders? What expectation do principals communicate to staff regarding their work with teacher leaders?


A key expectation that I have for teacher leaders is a willingness to be vulnerable. Leaders go first. They take risk by engaging in actions or behaviors before the safe environment has been created. Their vulnerability creates the climate and trust that encourages others to step forward.

* A teacher leader serving as a mentor to a new teacher invites the new teacher to observe in the mentor’s classroom. Her vulnerability is shared as she identifies that she has struggled to facilitate student problem-solving in math rather than lead them to “right answers.” The mentor asks her mentee to observe and record her questions to students as she facilitates conversations among their cooperative groups. (The mentor teacher leader implements this at the beginning of the mentor/mentee relationship)

* A teacher leader serving as a science department head asks for input at the beginning of the department meeting. He provides copies of a recent lab that he completed with students and shares that lab did not result in gaining student understanding. He’s wondering if the problem exists in the design of the lab or the set up and debriefing elements that he conducted. (The department teacher leader is the first member of the department to request such feedback openly from the entire department)

* A teacher leader serving as a professional development leader guides a book study with her grade level team examining mindfulness strategies for increasing students’ ability to focus and increase learning. She asks the principal to video her early exercises with students. She shares the clips with her team, noting that her initial practice is stilted and clumsy but she is anxious for the team’s input on the value they believe students could gain and the options for initiating the practice. (The teacher leader models the uncomfortableness of learning new skills publicly.)

The belief that I feel motivates teacher leaders is a commitment to the learning of all students along with the desire to continually develop their own teaching effectiveness. The risk and discomfort of being vulnerable pales in comparison to the desired outcomes of their actions.

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One Response to “ Teacher Leadership and Vulnerability ”

  1. Cathy Says:

    Your explanation of the specific areas of teacher leader focus was well defined.

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