Not Just a Teacher: A Path to Teacher Leadership

Not Just a Teacher: A Path to Teacher Leadership

Kate Zimmerbaum (Hunterdon Central Regional High School, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0669-0.ch009


In this chapter, the author reflects on her development as a teacher leader. Using self-study based in narrative inquiry, she describes the current interest in teacher leadership and why it has become such a prominent topic in education. By exploring her own experiences in light of current research on the topic, she analyzes how teachers become leaders, the benefits to the profession of teacher leadership, some of the challenges teacher leaders face, and possible paths forward for teacher leaders. In addition, she delineates new expectations and challenges facing today's literacy leaders.
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The first time someone introduced me as a teacher leader, it caught me off guard. Like many teachers, I initially found the notion of identifying myself as a teacher leader somewhat uncomfortable. Me? A leader? I’m just a teacher.

Over time I came to understand that others did perceive me as a teacher leader. When the position of curriculum director opened in our district, at least a dozen teachers and other staff members expressed their conviction that I would or should be moving into the position. Although I had no intention of applying I was still curious why so many people thought I should. A colleague asserted that I had earned the respect of my peers by demonstrating my commitment to learning to improve my teaching, but especially by what she termed my “generosity”—the fact that I share my time, ideas, resources, and learning because I care deeply for my own students as well as the other students throughout the school. My coworker pointed out that my enthusiasm for teaching translates to luncheon conversations, emails, tweets, and Facebook posts about new possibilities for use in my classroom. I considered how another colleague, an algebra teacher, shared that even though I teach English, she loves to receive articles I pass on to her about teaching mathematics. I’ve learned about my field through various professional organizations and with the educational network I’ve become part of over time. Eventually the idea that I am seen as a leader—that I might be a leader—seemed more plausible.

I was left wondering about the term teacher leader and what exactly it meant. I’d been hearing it a lot, but I wasn’t really sure what the term referred to. This spurred me to search for more information about teacher leadership. I created a research project to investigate questions that would help me define the term: What is teacher leadership? What does it mean to be a teacher leader? How can a teacher become a leader? In what ways is teacher leadership important? Why now?

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