How Teachers Can Lead and Drive Lasting Change

From Teacher to Leader: Navigating the Journey to and Through District Office edLeader Panel recording screenshot

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You may have new ideas on approaching math curricula. Or you might know a better way to include bilingual students or rally parental support. If you’re passionate about influencing how students learn and want to address policy issues, leadership just might be your calling.

Before making the leap, get the definitive advice that makes outstanding leadership possible, shared in the edLeader Panel “From Teacher to Leader: Navigating the Journey to and Through District Office.” Seasoned educators who transitioned to supervisor roles shared personal experiences and five in-the-trenches insights that stay true to teacher passion and keep students front and center.

1. Know Your Secret Power

As a first step, the panelists emphasized envisioning yourself in the position and taking stock of what you bring to the table. Ask co-workers and team members for support and valuable feedback for personal improvement.

Dr. Evelyn Robles-Rivas, Supervisor of Language and Community Partnerships at Meriden Public Schools (CT), said it’s OK to be vulnerable, ask questions, and make mistakes.

The leader’s journey is a learning curve and a lesson in finding commonalities. It requires a strong sense of self-value and a moral compass, added Isaiah Melendez, Principal of McCluer High School (MO).

2. Look for Mentors

There’s no doubt leadership presents difficult times and political, social, and emotional tensions that teachers may not have experienced or are not innately skilled to address. Dr. Robles-Rivas said having mentors is important—not just one, but many advisors. It helps to have an army of folks you can turn to for direction.

Fellow administrators and teacher leaders can provide guidance and support that supercharges decision making and crystalizes solutions faster than alone. To find a mentor, look to professional organizations and consider those currently leading in local schools, districts, or other areas.

3. Make Empathy and Communication Ever Present

All the panelists said authentic, empathetic communication matters. Start by asking those who are the boots on the ground. Bus drivers, custodians, and paraprofessionals can provide a different but just as valuable perspective as educators and supervisors.

As far removed as you are from a classroom, that first level of communication is always critical, said Dr. Kristie Brooks, Superintendent of Chattahoochee County School District (GA). Empathetic leaders can connect and understand in ways that make tackling complex, systemic issues possible.

Melendez said being a leader is a position of service. Understanding who you serve improves relationships while humble, compassionate listening and consistent follow-through build the long-term trust needed to drive change.

4. Empower a Great Team

At the end of the day, you can’t do it alone. It’s important to assemble a great group of people and build talent and capacity for tackling many things. Create a team that collectively shares the same vision and mission.

Gaining buy-in can be done in a number of ways. Dr. Robles-Rivas suggested beginning with data. Student achievement, for example, can become a shared goal when factual information creates a common understanding of the problem.

Knowing what fears create resistance also helps with coalescing different agendas. A hopeful plan of attack can be the antithesis to opposition, and excellent in addressing deep-rooted concerns. Ultimately, a team that believes together can be a powerful and inspiring force in today’s schools.

5. Take The Chance

There is an unprecedented shortage of educational leaders. “We need good people who understand how to teach and can lead for the future,” said Benjamin Mainka, Superintendent of Novi Community School District (MI).

When considering administration, the experts recommend getting familiar with the day-to-day routine of the position by observing local school or district administrators. Mainka suggested even going so far as shadowing a leader for a day.

Passionate, caring leaders are in high demand and everyone’s leadership journey brings a unique set of skills that can improve, reshape, and make a difference in student lives. There is no doubt leadership has its challenges, but the panelists all agreed that the rewards can be incredible.

Learn more about this edWeb broadcast, From Teacher to Leader: Navigating the Journey to and Through District Office, sponsored by Institute for Education Innovation.

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Article by Suzanne Bell, based on this edLeader Panel