Developing Teacher-Leaders

How are formal, organized and appointed leadership models in schools adapting to teacher leadership initiatives that are self-organized, community oriented, and both deliberate and organic in nature?

From teacher training programs, to experienced teachers, to online learning communities  – teacher leadership is becoming the driving force behind some of the most authentic, current and innovative projects and evolving pedagogies in education.  Information is more available and accessible then ever before. Networks are connecting beyond schools, districts and Ministries. Educators are forming learning groups, communities of practice and support mechanisms even beyond the formal direction or moderation from a supervisor or evaluator directly in their organization.  Almost every night of the week educators around the world are learning and supporting each other through online chats, e-learning environments, ed-camps, unplugd retreats, collaborative blogs, and shared video resources.

As a teacher-leader, I am inspired and excited by the efforts and partnerships between the Ministry of Education and the Ontario Teachers Federation for nurturing, supporting and empowering teachers to take on leadership initiatives at the Ministry Level through programs such as the TLLP (Teacher-Leadership-Learning-Program).  I applaud Faculties of education such as Brock University for empowering new teachers through a blend of leadership and technology courses.  It is thrilling and exciting to see Directors of Education (ie: John Malloy – Director of HWDSB or Chris Spence, Director of TDSB) at local districts not only using and modeling social media tools to expand vision and build capacity within the community but to also encourage and show support to staff. Myself – I  am honoured and proud to be part of a community of learners (of practice) through the online network at the grassroots level with educators, teachers and leaders at all levels in education.

There are so many supports and structures in place that empower teachers!  However, I wonder if there is one a missing piece in the development and support of Teacher-Leaders:

How are formal leaders (Principals, Vice-Principals, Superintendents) in our organizations – the formal, appointed leaders – being trained or prepared to adapt to a changing landscape of leadership within their schools and organizations? How are they using teacher-leaders in their schools to empower the rest of their staff? How willing are they to participate in a distributed and shared leadership model within their schools?   Is our Principal training programs and our Ministry of Education training and supporting principals to adapt to a 21st Century Model of leadership? Are they modeling the same skills that many of their teachers are practicing themselves?

How much of our Teacher Professional Development and Training continues to revolve around what the Principal-Leader directs? And, is it an irony that often, this Principal-Leader is not participant in the e-learning professional networks along with his/her staff (or beyond?)

Ann Lieberman, Professor and Author from Stanford University explains to a group of teachers at the Teacher Leadership and Learning Program earlier this week the importance of nurturing teacher leadership programs as a way to enhance school programs and student learning:

“Research tells us that people learn on the job, which presents some dichotomy for the academic world between the theory, research and practice.  The “dailyness” of work is different that the kinds of questions that are asked in research. The TLLP, for example, helps form a community of like minded people who are willing and open to better their practice.  When given the support and structure to implement an action research and have built a community of practice, Lieberman emphases that , teachers in leadership programs use their “fist full of strategies” to transfer and apply their learning and reflection with their own students.

Resources and further reading and learning ->

Ten Roles for Teacher Leaders

21st Century Teacher Education and Leadership Training

Ontario Teacher Leadership (TLLP)

OTF (Federation Initiatives) TLLP

Edtech Cohort (Brock University) develops future Education Leaders

 Sustaining Teacher Leadership in Enabling to Inchoate Cultures

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Teachers Leading Teachers

These are a just few words that come to mind when I reflect on how I felt as I toured the hundreds of projects that were on display at the #TLLP2011 summit this past weekend in Toronto, Ontario. What an honour!

Together, teachers gathered from across Ontario’s 72 District school boards – all grades, disciplines, subject levels, departments and from across a diverse province of French and English learners, Aboriginal communities and Gay and Lesbian groups to share insights, perspectives, research and best practice. If the passion and energy of these leaders could have been bottled up and harnessed for power, I am certain that it would be enough power to get us through the next hundred years.


The TLLP is a joint venture between the Ontario Teacher Federation and the Ontario Ministry of Education and provides an opportunity, funding and support for teachers to engage in leadership initiatives within their schools and districts.

Although throughout the year we used an online network to share our progress, I don’t think that any of us were prepared for the magnitude of depth and detail that was on show at the summit.

As a participant and lead learner of the TLLP project, with my team -we too had a display that focused on a year long project that investigated the use of sound and ink and its impact on learning and we documented our learning on a collaborative blog called, “livewithlivescribe”. Being able to share and discuss our projects with other teachers across our province was incredibly empowering.

As I toured the showcase, it was hard not to feel overwhelmed with emotion. Over and over and over, I heard teachers talk about how their project helped engage their students. I heard teachers talk about how their project put confidence in the students, how their project provided opportunity for students, how their project gave hope to students. I tried to imagine how many students were impacted by the initiatives in the room. As one teacher excitedly explained to me, “we only thought, this project would effect the 10 people in our school that joined, but over 30 teachers were ultimately involved”. He repeated with a huge smile, “30 teachers”. I smiled when he said that and pointed out to him the people in the room. “Your project will impact 100’s of teachers”, I said with a lump in my throat just imagining how many children’s lives would be touched.


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Leaders – do you know your staff’s learning needs? Does it matter to you?

Over the last 10 weeks, I have had the most humbling opportunity to influence pre-service Teachers during their final year before they enter the profession. Having had a taste of instructional leadership in my grad studies, and within a school district and now in a Faculty of Education, I have noticed that the approach to adult learning differs greatly once these adult learners enter the field. Let me explain.


Just like in the classroom with children, these pre-service teachers differ greatly in their learning needs. In every one of my classes, I have some students requiring specific accommodations and/or modifications (even adults are on an IEP). I have noticed huge disparities in knowledge and understanding of tech use and problem-solving ability, of coping and stress management skills, of organizational skills and of resources. I have students who are privileged with supports from their family and I have students who are living thousands of miles away from anyone familiar. I have students who are coming to school hungry and living in poverty every day. I have students who are caring for terminally ill parents or who are taking care of their own families. I have students with reading disabilities, processing disabilities and anxiety disorders. As their teacher, just like with children, it is my duty to provide a varied approach to my instruction.

These are the teachers who will be soon applying for teaching positions.

These new teachers will NOT disclose their learning differences (I didn’t). They will NOT disclose their personal stressors such as poverty, or familial issues. When hired, they will be treated the same as everyone else. The accommodations and modifications that they were once provided will no longer apply. They will need to abide by the same time-lines, schedules, and instructional duties as all other teachers.
Is there a dichotomy here? On one hand, in the field of education, we are advocating and insisting universally designed instructional practices, success for all, differentiated instruction, and varied approaches to teaching and learning. On the other hand, we rarely provide a differentiated approach in our instructional leadership within the schools – in fact, learning differences in teachers are in most cases seen as a weakness (which is why our Unions suggest we NOT disclose this to our district).

Since it is my job to prepare these adult learners for the workplace, I cannot dwell on this real, and frustrating dichotomy. Instead, I need to help them find ways to self-differentiate – and to cope. So, I present them (and you) with three timeless, authentic and organic strategies: Network, collaborate and find a critical friend.
It is these very strategies that contributed to my own success. My network provides me with current, on-going, and varied forms of information. By collaborating, my learning communities balance out my weakness and strength and offer me shared rewards and success. My critical friend (s), provides me with real and authentic feedback, especially when I am feeling vulnerable and scared. Leaders today have the use of social networks, collaboration tools, blogs, websites, shared wikis, and more – all which can sustain a professional learning community, collaboration, and mentorship (critical friends).

What are you doing as a leader to model a differentiated approach for your staff? What are you doing as a staff to support the varied learning needs of your colleagues? What are we doing as a system to encourage diversity in our teaching population.

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New Teachers ‘…the times they are a-changin’

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’. (Bob Dylan, 1964)

There is a new group of teachers in town. For the next eight months, at Brock University in Hamilton, Ontario,  these teachers will learn and practice what it truly means to teach in the 21st Century. Nope. This doesn’t mean they will graduate as Information Technology Specialists. Nor does it mean that they will be computer programmers, or expert gamers, or trained ‘techies’.

What it means, is that they will truly understand how to work in a networked world, that doesn’t have the limits of walls, or buildings. They will learn why relationships, equity, environment and community are above and beyond anything in the learning model. They will practice a distributed leadership model by sharing their skills and knowledge across their program, their internship schools, and within the wider global community.  These new teachers will blog – not to just deliver information, but to share their learning, to reflect and to lead in an open and transparent way. Shawn, one Pre-service Teachers, explains,

“I have never integrated myself into a project of many people (strangers, really, though only for a short while) working collectively towards a goal larger than themselves. The fact of that now amazes me, because that is what 21st technology is all about. And with that realization, I find I’ve been incorrectly viewing new technology as an end in itself, and not the means with which I can make a contribution in “real life.” Touch screens, smartboards and live feeds are tremendous advancements, but they’re usefulness goes so much deeper then simple fodder for gadget hounds like myself. As a teacher, I am going to have to get very used to linking my life collectively with groups, and that is the first and easily the most important lesson this cohort has given me thus far.

A FEW GUIDING PRINCIPLES as we facilitate this journey of Teacher Education:

1. ALWAYS  participate in a  Professional Learning Network, be genorous and mentor others:

Virtual Associate Mentors/Teachers  have welcomed this cohort with arms wide open into an established professional learning network. Incredible demonstration of generosity of skill and time.


2. ALWAYS demonstrate that good teaching means learning together in a variety of ways, with a variety of tools.

Teacher Candidates using the Livescribe pen to make audio and digital ink recordings to capture their thoughts about Professional Teaching Standards. They ask, “What does Society expect from its teachers? They explore a variety of mediums – text, audio and digital as a way to express their thoughts and as a method to share with others.


3. ALWAYS demonstrate that good teaching means facilitating a SAFE, CARING, and EQUITABLE environment where everyone can learn using a variety of skills, and talents.

Teacher Candidates explore symbols in learning. Here, they personalize rocks in a deliberate effort to begin the process of relationship building. They begin to understand the power of CREATIVITY and ARTS when working within a diverse group.


4. ALWAYS collaborate and share

Teacher Candidates gasp as they see the power of co-creating for the FIRST time. They explore the content and pedagogy that is modeled to them and they relate this  to their own journey as Teacher Education students through the TPACK framework.


5. ALWAYS be open to learning new skills and new methods of learning and teaching.

All Teacher Candidates are required to take an Technology in Education course which provides them with an opportunity to explore a variety of new teaching tools. They work in classrooms with integrated Front Row Audio systems, Smartboards, Wireless internet. They are encouraged to bring in their own devices. They have access and can sign out projectors, iPods, Livescribes and Video Cameras. They are provided with class time to learn web 2.0 tools and they use blogs and podcasts to share their learning.


I find myself in complete awe of all of this. Is it really happening? Is this the change we need?

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Educon Conversation – Learning Spaces of Tomorrow

Learning Spaces of Tomorrow This past weekend, I had the opportunity to facilitate a conversation at #educon23 in Philidealphia with Rodd Lucier (thecleversheep).

Because we were presenting during the last time slot of the conference, Rodd and I felt is was necessary to give participants a chance to apply the knowledge gained throughout the weekend to our session. Ultimately to make the session, their culminating activity.

Performance Task: Capturing the Conference

We used a Livescribe Pen, a tool that records in both ink and audio we asked the participants to literally design a learning space using the themes and principles of Educon itself.

The results of the Pencasts are quite remarkable really and captured those conversations that don’t normally get the attention – the small groups and 1:1 discussions. The groups themselves consisted of a variety of stakeholders in education: principals, teachers, consultants, students, academics, writers, and designers.

These pencast also provide an example of another way to present and share information – not just the transcript or text but can hear the passion in the voices themselves. Take a listen.



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Teacher Engagement – Leaders – and the Netgens

As educators, we so often talk about student engagement and what it really means to be engaged.

According to Wikipedia – Student engagement occurs when “students make a psychological investment in learning. They try hard to learn what school offers. They take pride not simply in earning the formal indicators of success (grades), but in understanding the material and incorporating or internalizing it in their lives.” (Link)

In a classroom with kids, engagement requires a rich inquiry based learning environment. Every students needs a purpose and every student needs to to feel safe to make mistakes. Collaboration is essential in discovery and learning as is presenting to an authentic audience.

As an educator, teacher engagement has become essential to my practice. In fact, If I am not fully and authentically engaged in what I am doing, my performance in the classroom becomes dull, tedious and lacking in richness – similar to what happens to my students, when they aren’t fully engaged.

What if we changed the word “student” to “teacher” in the above definition? Would the research, and arguments also prove true?

After reflecting on this myself and, addressing this issue (teacher engagement) with friends, colleagues and my PLN, I discovered that the expectations of professional development, teacher training, staff meetings and committee meetings differ greatly – not depending just on age and generations, but also on one’s involvement with learning outside their immediate organization.

Overwhelming, teachers want choice, freedom, integrity and openness, entertainment and play, collaboration and relationship building and to be innovators themselves. Sound familiar? These characteristics are what Don Tapscott presents in his book, “Growing Up Digital” as the eight common attributes pertaining to the “Netgens”.

I am not a “Netgen”. I am considered, “Generation X”. However, I am immersed in a ‘Netgen’ culture and the attributes I listed above are applicable to how I life my life both professionally and personally.

I believe strongly that if teacher professional development and training were aligned with the characteristics presented by Tapscott, teacher engagement would increase, resulting in overwhelming openness and willingness to embrace new methods of teaching.

It is my hope that principals and leaders across our districts assess their own level of engagement and recognize that they will benefit greatly by democratizing their staff and embracing the 21st Century as it pertains to teacher training.

As an adult instructor myself this year, I am going to make it a priority to use the NETS*t as my guidelines. I do have an advantage, however. I am coming from what I would consider a 21st Century fluent classroom – student centered, differentiated, collaborative and one which prioritizes a universal learning environment. So I offer these suggestions to my fellow instructional leaders:

1) Do not start the first staff meeting of the year with a Power Point Of course, you have ‘house keeping’ business to take care of and your due diligence with informing staff is priority. Model new strategies, new skills, new fluencies. Inspire and Engage your staff from the beginning.

– Create a Wikispace and show staff how to sign in. You can call this the “Staff Room Wiki”. Staff can sign in at any time, any place and view the house keeping business, rules, timelimes.


– Like kids, your staff wants to enjoy what the are doing. Consider creating a COLLABORATIVE google doc, or form for staff to work on during the staff meeting. MAKE IT FUN.

– Consider starting a backhannel – – Pick one or two of your staff to ask questions throughout the meeting. Shy teachers or those who don’t participate often may be more willing to use a backchannel.

– Invite an expert to SKYPE into your staff meeting. There are MANY amazing leaders out there. JUST ASK.

2) Think – is there a better way to provide your staff information that is quick and to the point then through EMAIL?

– Open a SECURE school TWITTER account. Only your staff is approved to see posts. Again, this method of communication is quick, easy and collaborative. Learn how to use a #TAG. Promote ongoing, sustainable discussions.

3) Start the first staff meeting by showing your staff YOUR NEW BLOG. Even if it is the first, “Welcome” entry- Your staff wants authenticity, integrity and openness. Show them how it is done. Guaranteed, they will connect this to their own teaching practice. Be a model.

4) Survey your staff – find out who they are. As a classroom teacher, differentiated instruction DEPENDS on knowing the students. Do the same with your teachers. Ask them what kind of PD they want – ask for their input. You can use a Google Form for this.

5) Be willing to ask an expert – even if that expert happens to be a first year teacher. Many companies have had huge successes after using new staff as part of their leadership and decision making structures. These teachers are also coming with an advantage. They are the digital genaration.


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Educon2.2 – not just a technology conference….

From the beginning, Educon 2.2 presented by Science Leadership, asserted that it is not a “technology conference”, but a conversation for educators to come together from across the world to talk about strategies, best practices, changes, ideas and concerns relating to education for today and for tomorrow. This post will focus on my experience and how this experience satisfied the Guiding Principals of Educon, that:

– Our schools must be inquiry-driven, thoughtful and empowering for all members

– Our schools must be about co-creating – together with students – like the 21st Century Citizen,

– Technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around

– Technology must enable students to research, create, communicate and collaborate

– Learning can – and must- be networked (from: Educon, The Axioms)

The idea of Educon, in itself was built on the above ingredients and like chemistry, these Axioms rely on one another for the whole to function.

First – ‘inquiry driven, thoughtful and empowering’. I attended a conversation with Ben Hazzard and Rodd Lucier that was just that: A Field Guide for Change Agents. The main idea for this conversation was, that educators need to build trust with colleagues in order to bring about effective change in our schools. The presentors  asked questions like –  How can we ensure professional discourse effectively considers voices of students, parents and teachers? What is at stake if change agents fail to engage others? Continue reading Educon2.2 – not just a technology conference….

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