“Leadership is an action, not a position.” – Donald McGannon
Leadership feels familiar to me. Not that I’ve received the title in an official capacity, but it has informally been my experience throughout my life. Starting from my family, I’m the eldest with two younger sisters that followed me around everywhere I went. As I grew up, that added a pressure, albeit self-imposed, to be the responsible one, make sure I follow the rules to set a good example. Extending beyond my family, I was the one my aunts and uncles would point out to their kids to be like at gatherings. I was a role model from a young age.
Throughout school, I joined various student clubs, and started a few. Planning social events and taking charge of the 2008 yearbook, it all felt natural. To the point where my Grade 11 English teacher sat me in the centre of 5-6 other students and asked me to help them with their work for the rest of the semester. I loved that, and was proud of myself.
It wasn’t until teacher’s college, where I started doing classroom practicums, that I realized I wasn’t fairly balancing my attention between all students. It happened around the same time that my youngest sister started high school. Her being a shy and introverted person, very different from how I was as a student, I saw the world differently through her eyes. She struggled with aspects of her schooling experience that never even crossed my mind. As I heard her story, I learned that a good leader is one who can exercise empathy, consider viewpoints different from their own. There’s a context that frames why they see their world a certain way. Observing students from different background through my practicums helped me adapt my teaching style to be more inclusive.
When it comes to my roles as a teacher-leader, I had a similar idea to the three participants in the Sinha and Hanuscin’s (2016) study. Because I never held a formal leadership position, I did not consider myself a leader amongst other staff. Because I felt inexperienced, I was hesitant to consider myself a leader in my professional life. The readings as part of this course helped put into perspective how teacher leadership can come in a formal and informal capacity, as mentioned by Duke and York-Barr (2004). Thinking back to my previous workplace, I was teaching at a fairly new private school in Toronto. Most teachers were new to the field, with limited experience teaching in the classroom, let alone aligning their curriculum with the Provincial guidelines. I was moving from another private school that had just completed their inspection from the Ministry, so I worked along-side the Vice Principal to help prepare teachers’ binders. I lead staff meetings, shared many resources and checklists to keep everything organized. I found myself really motivated to put my experience into practice in a new setting, where it was highly valuable, as explained by Harris (2005). Even though I wasn’t compensated for it, nor did it count towards any performance metric, receiving the Vice Principal’s support and encouragement was enough of a validation to do it. I agree with Campbell and Wenner (2017) that having support from the administration is paramount in making teacher leadership successful. However, beyond support, it needs to extend to autonomy to fulfil the initiative how the teacher saw it fit. In my case, if I have an opportunity to take on a leadership role for the long-term, I would expect to be given adequate time to fulfill those requirements, to not detract attention and energy from the classroom (Harris, 2005).
Harris, A. (2005). Teacher leadership: More than just a feel good factor? Leadership and Policy in Schools, 4 (3): 201-219.
Sinha, S. & Hanuscin, D. (2017). Development of teacher leadership identity: A multiple case study. Teaching and Teacher Education, 63: 356-371.
Wenner, J.A. & Campbell, T. (2017). The theoretical and empirical basis of teacher leadership: A review of the literature. Review of Educational Research, 87 (1): 134–171.
York-Barr, J. & Duke, K. (2004). What Do We Know About Teacher Leadership? Findings From Two Decades of Scholarship. Review of Educational Research, 74 (3): 255–316.