ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Principals and Teachers: Partners in Leadership

Post submitted by Whole Child Blogger Carole Hayward

In a session at ASCD's Fall Conference in October, Phyllis Pajardo, human resources assistant superintendent, and Brandon Wolfe, principal, both from Fairfax County, Va., asked participants to think deeply about leadership and what it means to be an effective leader, as well as to honestly assess their own leadership skills.

Pajardo asked participants to define in their own words, "teacher leadership," "building capacity," and "partnership," and to also consider how much time their schools currently invest in teacher professional development.

Pajardo discussed the ways the job of the teacher has expanded and changed over the years to include acting as leaders of school improvement, facilitators of professional learning, facilitators of student transitions across grade levels, mentors to students as well as other teachers, and more. "This is a paradigm shift," said Pajardo. "I don't think anyone would disagree that the role of the teacher has changed."

Based on shared data from Fairfax County's climate survey as well as student achievement data, Pajardo explained that schools that had been identified as failing in her district were able to make strong improvements through a new focus on professional learning communities, increased time for teacher professional development, and an enhanced focus on teacher collaboration. Wolfe shared examples of how teacher leaders were developed at his high school without using additional funding for such an initiative.

"The answers lie within," said Pajardo, meaning that within the building teachers and leaders have the answers to how to improve student achievement, if only they could be given the time to collaborate and partake in high-quality professional development.

She also noted that teachers need training to become effective leaders. "How do you run a meeting? How do you ask great questions to further the learning of colleagues? How do you give feedback to your colleagues?" she asked. "We have to be intentional in our development of teachers because I would assert that teachers don't come to [teaching] with that knowledge," says Pajardo. Developing these skills in teachers takes time and effort, and professional development should not be a one-shot deal, she added.

Participants discussed how challenging it is to make the time for teacher leadership, partnership building, and other collaborations. Wolfe encouraged participants to create proposals that they will take to school leadership that outline ways to create time for additional professional development. If outside help is needed, Wolfe said teachers should go out into the community and develop partnerships with local businesses that can facilitate training for teachers to help them close learning gaps.

To learn more about teacher leadership, Pajardo recommended the resource Teacher Leader Model Standards.

Watch the archived video of Pajardo and Wolfe's presentation:

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