One of the most heartening developments I’ve seen in American schools is the growth of teachers taking on responsibilities throughout their schools. These extra-classroom roles enable excellent teachers to keep one foot in the classroom while capitalizing on their strengths to work with students and colleagues.
What makes this so welcome is that it lets school administrators foster leadership skills in teachers who have strong potential, and it helps talented and gifted educators to develop as professionals. While there’s no single extra-classroom model, three of the most common extra-classroom roles are lead teachers, classroom coaches and team leaders.
Today I’ll explore what it takes to do well in extra-classroom roles and advise on how school districts can ensure the success of lead teachers. In a future article I’ll discuss classroom coaches and team leaders.
What it takes for teachers to thrive in extra-classroom roles
Extra-classroom roles are non-standard, which makes them prone to misunderstandings. Everybody in the building has to adapt to new relationship dynamics as classroom teachers begin to fill different roles in the school. If you’d like to take on an extra-classroom role, keep these points in mind:
Outline your responsibilities clearly
Before agreeing to take on any new role, be sure to sit with your principal and review the exact parameters. Be as specific as possible in what your new tasks will be and, if possible, get a written job description.
Go over the tasks and be sure to ask follow-up questions. You’ll also need to clearly explain the role to your colleagues. Clarity up front will save a lot of confusion later.
Extra-classroom roles can create suspicion and concern among less-enthusiastic colleagues. Make it clear to your administrators that you are not an extension of them — and that your work with teachers will be based on trust and confidentiality.
Be strong in your understanding that you cannot discuss anyone’s performance without their permission. Trust and faith are paramount in your relationship with the staff.
Be supportive, not judgmental
As a strong teacher, you may feel frustrated with the progress of struggling teachers you are trying to help. Rather than be overly directive in how you think they should grow, work on being as supportive as possible, modeling strong performance and offering a listening ear. Develop your trust with them, and then feel free to make stronger recommendations.
Lead teachers: how school districts can help them succeed
Lead teachers usually are tenured teachers with strong classroom skills and leadership potential. They use their success in the classroom to help veteran teachers and mentor newcomers. They succeed by establishing trust with their colleagues — not acting as a conduit of information to the school administration. Strong analytical and problem-solving skills are hallmarks of successful lead teachers.
Lead teachers are indispensable to principals who have ambitious curriculum goals and are focused on school improvement. Here’s a quick look at how school districts can get maximum effectiveness from lead teachers.
In general, lead teachers provide administrative support for the building principal while hanging onto classroom duties. Many lead teachers spend a half-day teaching and a half-day working with colleagues, supervising students or completing other duties as needed by the principal.
As you can tell from this broad description, the role of lead teacher depends on the needs of the school. I know of a district where one lead teacher provides student supervision and parent outreach in one building, while another offers professional development and supports technology usage. This illustrates why flexibility is mandatory for successful lead teachers.
Establish ground rules and protect confidentiality
Once the lead teacher role has been established, the precise nature of the job must be shared with the staff. Lead teachers should not be involved in teacher evaluation, and the confidentiality of their work with the staff must be protected.
For all the authority a lead teacher may gain, it will be nothing if the teaching staff feels the lead teacher is a proxy for the principal.
Communicate to parents
Few of today’s parents attended schools that had lead teacher roles, so they’re often unfamiliar with the concept. Schools need to tell parents about the importance of the lead teacher and describe the job responsibilities.
This should happen when you’re informing parents about the school’s communication structure. Who do parents reach out to and when? Having a published and easily accessible document will make life a lot easier for everyone. This is good information to include in a beginning-of-the-year packet.
Create opportunities for growth
Lead teachers will most likely be staff members who have shown leadership and initiative. They should be able to pursue work-related topics of interest. Examples include redesigning parts of the school schedule, working on the school website or establishing a new program.
The chance to do this will enrich the experience of lead teachers and give them the opportunity to play a large role in the improvement of the school. The autonomy to pursue an outside project and then enjoy the related growth will be of great benefit to the lead teacher.
Treat it as a semi-internship
Most lead teachers aspire to grow beyond the role — moving into administration isn’t too far down the road. To help lead teachers expand their capacity, the school administration should include, where appropriate, lead teachers in discussions, decisions and situations that will help develop their understanding of administrative matters.
Getting lead teachers heavily involved in multiple facets of school management is an incredibly growth-oriented way to develop potential school leaders.