The TCs emphasized that leadership must be earned. Being a teacher-leader means receiving (often informal) recognition from one’s colleagues for commitment to children, for high-quality teaching, and for willingness to share ideas (a rare quality among teachers working inside isolating school cultures).These teacher-leaders noted how their colleagues turned to them for advice about teaching writing. For example, Paul Epstein described what happened after he facilitated a schoolwide benchmark-setting process. Teachers from all grade levels sought him out informally for advice about how to teach writing; he was then able to share what he had learned from writing project colleagues as well as what he knew from his own classroom.
While a teacher-leader’s credibility stems from the quality of his or her teaching and commitment to continuous improvement, teacher-leaders work in realms outside their own classroom walls. The TCs repeated the refrain of “stepping up to their responsibility” to share their practice with their colleagues, to contribute to the “bigger picture,” to stand up for what they believe in, and to “do what needs to be done.”
The TCs also emphasized that teacher-leaders work collaboratively and in an egalitarian manner. They recognize the knowledge and expertise of their peers; they reiterate that they are teachers who may have spent a little more time studying the piece of practice they are sharing; and they share knowledge with the hope that their colleagues will adapt it to meet the needs of their own classrooms. These TCs argue that true teacher-leaders “do not have all the answers.” Rather they see teacher leadership as “bringing in others and getting help from others and getting contributions from others.”
When the TCs redefined the term “teacher-leader” to mean these things—making a commitment to children, taking responsibility for contributing beyond one’s own classroom, working collaboratively as a fellow teacher—they felt more comfortable claiming the mantle of leadership.