You are on page 1of 8

Running Head: LEADERSHIP 1

Leadership for Action Essay

Laura J. Frericks

Viterbo University
LEADERSHIP 2

Personal Assessment: Who am I?

Before I dive in and “be the change [I] want to see in the world,” my first step is

recognizing who I am and how I fit into the greater context of leadership. After taking the

“Readiness for Teacher Leadership” assessment found in the text, “Awakening the Sleeping

Giant” by Marilyn Katzenmeyer and Gayle Moller, my score showed that many of my attitudes,

values and beliefs are comparable those related to teacher leadership. Statements that I strongly

agreed with all came from the same idea of the importance of helping and mentoring others and

feeling I have earned respect as an educator. I also scored highly on working well with others and

having great knowledge and insight to share. However, sharing insights has been a secondary

concern since I am new to my district and teaching in a brand-new district and understanding

how this system functions is all consuming. I was not as willing to check “strongly agree” with

statements that required a commitment to working outside of school hours. However, after

working through the literature on leadership, I recognize the need and importance of additional

school meetings and school involvement that help structure a strong culture of leadership.

Another facet I did not score highly on was my willingness to be a facilitator at meetings and

present information to a large group. This may seem inconsistent with someone whose job entails

presenting information to a large group daily, but since I am new and one of the younger

teachers, I hesitate to facilitate a meeting where more seasoned teachers might have better

insights. In a journal article written by Tanya Judd Pucella, titled “Not Too Young to Lead,” she

speaks to the problem that young professionals deal with in regards to leadership. Providing

opportunities for these individuals helps to shape them for leadership knowledge, skills, and

disposition. However, it just may be that leadership disposition is something one has, not

something one learns. Regardless of how young or old an educator is, the qualities Pucella
LEADERSHIP 3

describes--such as risk taking, persistence, and deep listening-- suggest leadership potential.

(Pucella, 2014). This article taught me that leaders are not just the teachers that have been at

school the longest or the ones that know the most about leadership; great leaders must want to

lead and must have certain intrinsic qualities.

Moving from teaching to administration has never been on my “radar” as an educator. I

have always accepted the decisions made at the top and have been good at being dutiful to those

decisions. Even throughout my time earning my Master’s degree, I never thought about being a

principal or a grade level leader in any capacity. In my mind, principal equaled leader. After

reading “Awakening the Sleeping Giant” and numerous other articles from class, I realized that a

leader isn’t always at the top giving orders to those below. Often people lead without even

knowing it. This realization allowed me to become more open-minded about improving my

leadership qualities.

I’ve learned leadership is not one-size-fits-all. Teachers can lead in a myriad of ways, not

just from the top down. Teacher leaders can lead by modeling appropriate behavior, mentoring

new teachers, sharing ideas with others, or leading group problem solving meetings. There are

formal and informational leadership positions. A formal position could be leading a team meeting

on conferring while an informal position could be sharing resources with colleagues or even

modeling appropriate teacher behaviors (Pucella, 2014). These informal leadership positions are

ones any teacher willing to improve school climate can succeed at.

Changing Schools: Where am I?

At my school, the expectations for teachers are high. From the vast amount of data

collection to the number of meetings we must attend to the thorough way in which we are
LEADERSHIP 4

required to deal with behavior issues, teachers are expected to give and then give a little more.

The silver-lining to these seemingly (at times) impossible tasks is the level of support educators

at my school receive. We have support with student behaviors, curriculum needs, making copies

and laminating, students’ academic and organizational needs, and playground supervision. The

amount of support the teachers have makes those expectations much more manageable.

Despite all this support, the overall attitude of the staff is exhaustion. Challenging work

still demands our time well past the last bell. The hours teachers, administrators, social workers,

and staff invest in our students do not guarantee an antidote to disruptive student behaviors. Free

cookies do not guarantee parents will come to conferences, and, most certainly, new lawmakers

do not guarantee an end to the time-consuming Educator Effectiveness system, and the frequent

iterations of new implementations.

Given my exhaustion, my own limited capacity for teacher leadership is simply taking a

role in supporting another person (or group of people) to better the school culture. This less than

intimidating definition allows me to be open to leadership. I, and many other educators, have the

right set of skills and enough energy to take that on. In addition, this definition of leadership is

necessary for change: overwhelmed teachers need extra support; overwhelmed teachers first

need this rejuvenating support before they can take on traditional leadership positions. In fact,

the act of informal leadership can be a stepping stone for teachers reluctant to take on more

formal leadership positions. Becoming an informal mentor for a new teacher for instance, does

not have to start with wrangling a weekly meeting time and filling out complicated forms.

Mentoring can be simple check-ins to see how the new teacher is doing and possibly sharing

resources and tips to help his or her year run smoothly. School wide leadership can also be

effortless. Leadership is initiating wearing certain colors for a spirit day for a favorite sports team
LEADERSHIP 5

or sending out an email to invite staff to participate in a faculty pot luck or participate in a winter

coat drive. The skills necessary to implement those activities are often the same ones necessary

for formal leadership, per Purcella’s article.

Based on the need for informal teacher leadership at my school and the results I gleaned

from the “Readiness for Teacher Leadership” Assessment, I am most interested in taking on the

role of a mentor for new teachers. I am new to my district, and one of the younger teachers at my

school; however, I taught in a foreign country and for four years in an inner city, so I have great

insight, advice, and curricular ideas to share. As a first-year teacher, I had a phenomenal group of

teachers supporting me by being my sounding board and by providing me with possible solutions

to the challenges I faced. My gratitude runs so deep; I have always known I would find a way to

give back. Now, as my first year at Whittier is almost half over, I am ready to look for ways to

give back. I look forward to discovering ways I can use my talents outside of the classroom,

finding a way to support my colleagues.

Everything teachers do in the spirit of strong leadership benefits our students. Every data

meeting, phone call home, guided group, and figurative collegial pat on the back lends itself to

making our students better. Becoming a new teacher mentor will greatly impact the achievement

of students. Even though I wouldn’t be working directly with new teachers’ students, I would be

giving sound advice that the new teacher could implement. New teachers need assistance with

behaviors, academics, data, small groups, school expectations and school orientation.

Understanding how the school works as a collective unit is no small task. A strong mentorship

program reinforces a positive school climate and school excellence in terms of behavior and

academics.
LEADERSHIP 6

Mentoring new teachers is what James Heskett calls a “servant leadership position.” The

main purpose of servant leaders is to serve those around them. There is no agenda, no specific

type of group, and no time at which servant leaders act. Servant leaders serve often, and they

serve well. In his column titled, “Why Isn’t Servant Leadership More Prevalent?” Heskett

suggests that servant leaders are regarded highly, feel better about themselves, and are more

productive. Servant leaders are recipients of insights and information that make them more

efficient and productive leaders (Heskett, 2013). Becoming a new teacher mentor will allow me

to take part in servant leadership.

Influencing Strategies: How Do I Lead?

Good teacher leaders need to take stock of their skills. To become a proficient new

teacher mentor, many of the skills and dispositions I need are reflected in the attitude I have. I

will need to inspire new teachers to develop the following skills: inspiration, passion, patience,

open-mindedness, and positivity. Many of these attributes can be developed when a new teacher

feels supported within a positive school climate. As an individual, it is my responsibility to

especially model positivity. When new teachers feel frustrated, the worst thing a mentor can do is

fan those flames of negativity. The need for new teachers to feel supported is an integral piece of

my school’s culture. Establishing and program that allows for leadership and support will benefit

the whole. I will lead by sending that first email, or making that first call and proving that this

leadership opportunity exists for our staff. More importantly, proving that putting a supportive

mentoring system in place, could greatly impact the climate of our school, and even district wide.

Planning for Action: What Can I Do?
LEADERSHIP 7

I feel confident I can become successful in the role of a teacher mentor. During my first

year of teaching, I was lucky enough to have a co-teacher who was incredibly supportive. I also

had an entire staff guiding me through one of the biggest learning curves of my life. Since I had

such a positive group of mentors when I started five years ago, I know how important this role is

and I want to “pay it forward.” To implement a new teacher mentoring program (my school does

not have one) I would need the support of my superintendent, principal, and dean of students. I

believe I can gain the support of my administration and the staff since this program will infuse

positivity amongst new teachers, make them feel welcome, provide school continuity, and

reinforce best practices for both the mentor and mentee. What I do not want (nor does any new

teacher want) is another thing to do, or another meeting to rush to. I want this program to be

integrated in a common-sense way so that it encourages productivity and staves off potential new

teacher pitfalls. Even if the only accomplishment of the program was a cup of coffee between a

new teacher and an experienced teacher before the start of the school year, I would consider it a

success.

References
LEADERSHIP 8

Heskett, J. (2013). Why Isn’t Servant Leadership More Prevalent? Forbes. Retrieved from
http://www.forbes.com/sites/hbsworkingknowledge/2013/05/01/why-isnt-servant-
leadership-more-prevalent/#5e40fd784c36

Katzenmeyer, M., & Moller, G. (2009). Awakening the sleeping giant: Helping teachers develop
as leaders. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Pucella, T. J. (2014). Not Too Young to Lead: Handbook of Research on Professional
Development for Quality Teaching and Learning, 202-228. doi:10.4018/978-1-5225-
0204-3.ch010