Three Tips for Successful Teacher Leadership

By Rabiah Harris January 16th, 2014 3:45 PM

“How is it going?” she asked me.  She asked every day whether I had a smile or a frown. She asked and waited for my answer, never rushing off to complete her own tasks.  I was grateful.  Whenever I stopped in her room, she wanted to help and would offer countless resources and ideas.  When I came up with a new idea for the chemistry teachers to try, she, a 40-year veteran of teaching, would listen to me and try it out herself.

That woman was Ms. Petree.  She wasn’t my department chair, instructional coach, or principal.  She had no higher job title other than “Chemistry Teacher,” but she was more than a teacher to me.  She was a leader, defined as someone who guides a group, and she did it without the title or the monetary rewards.  She had many years of experience teaching what I had been teaching for just weeks, and I relied on her tremendously. When I look back at her mentorship during my first three years teaching at Wilson Senior High School, I feel nothing but grateful.

When I began teaching in DCPS almost nine years ago, I would never have imagined that I would one day be a teacher leader, helping to push achievement in academic areas and to build on the great work already being done. Yet, here I am. I am a science teacher and a TeachPlus Teacher Transformation Team (t3) member as the science team lead.   I have learned many things in my roles, but here are the three tips that led me to success:

  1. Be humble.  Whatever leadership position you take at your school or in your department, it’s not about you.  It’s about the work you do to raise student achievement.  Ms. Petree never reminded me of her many years of teaching experience when she was introducing her own ideas or listening to mine. She was humble in the work that she did, always focusing on the progress of those around her rather than herself.
  2. Maintain purpose.   Always keep sight of the reason you are doing the work. Whatever you team’s goal is, whether it is family engagement, positive behavior systems, or content mastery, keep what brought you to the position, school, and profession in mind.  When our chemistry division meets, we have goals in mind of what we want to do, whether it is making common assessments or reordering units. This keeps us grounded in the work of student achievement and tracking data across groups of students and teachers for equity.
  3. Grow capacity within your team.  Always remember that everyone on your team has something to bring to the table. Find ways to make sure that not only does each member feel included, but he or she also knows that their expertise is valued and needed.

Want to continue the conversation? Connect with Rabiah on Twitter at @dcSTEMspark.

 Rabiah Harris teaches science at Kelly Miller Middle School in Ward 7.