Becoming a Teacher Leader

By Jennifer Krystopowicz March 11th, 2014 10:30 AM

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” –Steve Jobs

At any moment in the day you can walk past Room 304, one of the classrooms where I co-teach, and see other teachers from my school observing, taking notes, debriefing, or interacting with me and Mrs. Jennings, the general education teacher. This year, Room 304 has taken on the role as the “model classroom” at Tyler Elementary,  where teachers at any skill level can come to observe highly effective colleagues who excel in a particular skill. The observing teachers take notes, process what was observed, and then meet with the lead teachers for a debrief session.

Thanks to a new District of Columbia Public Schools initiative called Teacher Leadership Innovation (TLI), I have the opportunity to serve as an innovative leader at Tyler Elementary.  TLI enables teachers and school leaders to design and implement innovative teacher leadership roles that allow a teacher to spend part of the day teaching and part of the day leading other adults in the building. Designed at the school level, with support from central office, the TLI roles are specifically tailored to a school’s needs and priorities.

As one of the teacher leaders selected to pilot this program, I have developed the concept of a model classroom at my school.  The theory of action for the model classroom at Tyler is: teachers have been attending valuable, hands on, and resourceful professional development during their careers at DCPS.  However, many still lack the skills to implement these lessons and strategies in their own classroom. One reason why teachers, especially new teachers, lack the ability to incorporate these new strategies is because they have not seen them utilized and put into practice in front of students. For example, one of the initiatives this year at Tyler is to focus on improving the inclusion model, which consists of a general education and special education teacher working together in the general education setting to support students with special needs.  To support this initiative, teachers can sign up to observe me and Mrs. Jennings model a lesson following the expectations of our school and IMPACT, the district’s teacher evaluation system.

This experience has been invaluable for my development and has directly impacted multiple teachers at my school.  I have gained further insight into effectively aligning the common core standards from the general education side to creating a successful curriculum for students with special needs. In addition, I work with three new special education teachers at my school where I lead weekly special education meet-ups and create times for classroom observations and debrief sessions.  These meet-up are designed around the needs of the new teachers.  For example, meetings have focused on creating math centers, leading guided reading sessions for students with special needs, and behavior intervention plans. As a result, participating teachers have transformed the way inclusion works in their classroom and performed well under IMPACT in their first year of teaching!

My recommendation for those of you who want to take on new leadership opportunities and become an innovative leader is to start within your own school. I was not selected to participate in TLI because of the work I do at the district level.  Instead, my leadership involvement has blossomed within Tyler the last seven years, thus leading to district level leadership opportunities. Be an agent of change by focusing on a specific need, and your leadership abilities will naturally evolve.

Jennifer Krystopowicz is a special education teacher at Tyler Elementary School and a 2012 Rubenstein Award Winner for Highly Effective Teaching.