5 Fundamentals for Effective Teacher Leadership

Getting personalized learning right isn’t just about the technology. A personalized learning environment requires a collaborative and data-driven culture among adults, student-centered instructional practices, and everyone involved must have a growth mindset. We'll talk about the role of teacher leaders in tying these components together.

They may have different titles depending on the school or district. It may be an official position or an informal role. In Teach to One, we call them Math Directors and they’re essential to successful implementations. In any case, they have a unique combination of mission-critical skills and competencies to support the implementation of any new learning model.

1. Building and Fostering Culture for Adults

Creating a shared vision for adult and student culture is the first piece of the puzzle when designing an effective personalized learning program. It requires thoughtful planning and meticulously plotting out ways to bring your culture’s vision and core values to life. Focus areas include:

Vision:
Imagine your ideal culture. Set goals and think about how to measure them. Write down specific action steps and make a plan for when and how you'll implement them over the course of the year. A collective vision is critical so that everyone feels invested and valued in this new journey so the involvement of your team is critical.

People:
Just like our students, team members have different strengths, knowledge, and levels of experience. Think about how to tailor support according to the different stages of each teacher’s professional development.

Early Warning Signs:
Look out for red flags that can derail culture. Teachers need to feel comfortable sharing their concerns in productive and transparent ways. Your feedback should be regular, immediate, and targeted—ideally delivered in person and in private. That means dedicated time to meet and discuss sensitive topics, and being prepared for difficult conversations.

Make the Vision a Reality:
Culture building isn’t a one-time event. Every day represents an opportunity to reinforce, promote, and celebrate your team’s culture. Look for ways to authentically motivate and celebrate accomplishments all year long.

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2. Building the Learning Culture for Students

At the heart of the adult’s culture, of course, is making sure students thrive in their learning environment. As a leader, you facilitate your teaching team’s development of coherent and effective classroom management systems and procedures including transitions, supplies management, student incentives, and grading.

This isn’t a one-person job. For students to feel ownership of their learning environment, there has to be clarity around what's expected of them. When possible and appropriate, they should also have a voice in what the culture looks, feels, and sounds like. This means making the core values for each component prominent and visible and working as a team to enforce these expectations consistently and with fidelity.

3. Building Relationships

School communities are complex ecosystems. Students are the most important stakeholder, but strong relationships are needed every level to ensure your team’s student-centered vision can be fulfilled.

Optimize your communication by focusing on these steps:

Schedule regular meetings with key administrators; make them meaningful by including regular progress reports and a standing agenda, as well as opportunities to visit and see students and teachers in action.

Engage parents early and often. Work with your team to plan out a series of events that invite parents into the classroom to see how their children are learning. Be flexible enough to give them options to come in during the day or after school for a more traditional parent night.

Keep your teacher colleagues briefed on pertinent information. Make it your business to know what’s going on in your classrooms, at your school, or around the district. Distill what’s new and relevant to your team—but don't overload them with information.

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4. Be Data-Driven

Teacher leaders like to geek out on data and make it the backbone of common planning meetings. To support this means to develop clear protocols so teachers can look at data in different ways, discover trends, and decide next steps as a team. Find ways to celebrate and point out data accomplishments, and shout out the contributors for their work.

5. Manage Operations

Shifting to student-centered learning models affects everything from the use of technology, time, and space to the instruction and content. It’s easy to overlook what can seem like small things, but small blips in the schedule, absences, or unforseen interruptions are all the kinds of things that can add up. Work through the list of issues and concerns that may arise through the day and create contingency plans to activate for each one.

Geoff Decker