What makes for a teacher leader? What qualities does a teacher leader have? Can anyone be a leader? What does it mean to have authority? These are hard questions for teachers who tend to think of themselves as “equal”. The teaching profession is very flat with few distinctions between the beginning teacher and the 40 year veteran. ‘Leadership’ positions are often rotated and sometimes democratically determined. They are not considered to have authority within the assumed connotations of that word. And yet, being an authority is an important part of being a teacher.

Lausanne Learning recruits teacher leaders as teacher consultants to work onsite directly with schools. They teach their peer colleagues, demonstrate practices in the classroom, plan collaboratively with the teachers individually and as a whole, act as an authority in a school not their own. To become a Teacher Consultant obviously requires a teacher to step forward and say that they believe they can accomplish good in the life of another teacher. As part of the vetting and training process, these teacher leaders subscribe to qualities that might form a summation of the idea of being authoritative:

  1. I know, understand, respect and support the school’s mission
  2. I believe that at the center of every conversation is meeting the child’s needs
  3. I believe that our stance is that we meet the child where the child is
  4. I am a servant leader in my approach
  5. I am expert in my area
  6. I am authoritative in my area
  7. I am facilitative in my approach
  8. I ask questions
  9. I provide solutions fitted to my school
  10. I am flexible
  11. I am committed to my own ongoing professional growth
  12. I am professional in my dress, speech, and actions
  13. I hold all information entirely confidential

We would like to suggest that these consulting principles might be worthy of consideration as Principles of Authority within the faculty culture. As part of the conversation around this, it is also interesting to see how we think of good leadership in parenting. Admittedly, parent leadership is in the context of infants, children, and adolescents. However, it seems that the research into how parents lead children also helps us in thinking about how we lead each other.

A recent review of parenting research found that this 70+ field of research has made more complex but not fundamentally changed the findings of the 1930s: parenting ranges from authoritarian to neglectful (parental control to parental support to lack of meaningful support). Diana Baumrind carried out pioneering studies in the 60s and moving forward where she “identified three groups of preschool children who showed very different patterns of behavior: (1) Assertive, self-reliant, self-controlled, buoyant, and affiliative; (2) discontented, withdrawn, and distrustful; and (3) little self-control or self-reliance, and retreat from novelty”. Recent research has corroborated the basic outlines of this research particularly as it relates to the outcomes experienced by children in later life: “In general, authoritative parenting has been associated with positive developmental outcomes (e.g., emotional stability, adaptive patterns of coping, life satisfaction); authoritarian parenting has been associated with poor academic achievement and depressive symptoms; and permissive parenting has been associated with poor self-control, low self-esteem, and aggression”. While there has been little research in this area, it also seems that parenting practices have effect dependent on the parenting style. This would fit with our observation of teachers. If all exhibited identical practices, some would succeed, some would fail, all based on the perception of the teacher by the students in terms of their teaching style. This style obviously includes the dimension of relationship and conforms to Baumrind’s dimensions of “responsiveness” and “demandingness”.

Are you a leader with authority amongst your peers? It is an important question as we strive to serve our children in a complex and changing environment. We need teacher leaders more than ever to help the faculty culture navigate, to ask the right questions, to be able to see the new issues rising up, to suggest pathways. Whether or not you think of yourself as a leader, consider these four dimensions and think how you exemplify and/or might learn to exemplify them within the context of the discussion above:

  • Warmth and rejection
  • Autonomy / support and coercion
  • Structure and chaos
  • Cognitive stimulation and boredom.

How do you lead on the left-hand side in daily interactions with your peers, in faculty meetings, in discussions with your administrator? As you go into the summer, resolve to be a leader and to be a better leader with your peers. Your students and your school need you to be one!