Why is Teacher Leadership Important During a Pandemic?
COVID-19 unexpectedly affected many educators in the United States during the spring of 2020. “There were no precedents or guides to leading schools in a pandemic for most leaders,” (Harris & Jones, 2020, p. 244). Schools immediately shifted to virtual learning with little time to establish effective systems. Principals were tasked with leading virtual schools without having pandemic experience. “Teachers and school leaders were engaging in deep job-embedded learning, trying, iterating and refining practices as they go” (Netolicky, 2020).
Teacher leadership is important now more than ever before. Unlike the traditional setting where administrators could walk to physical classrooms to observe instruction, now they rely on teacher leadership and technology to support instruction and professional learning communities. Strategies and systems can be established to ensure schools leverage leadership while surviving and thriving in one of the most trying times in the history of education.
Strategies to Promote Teacher Leadership
Several strategies can be implemented to enhance teacher leadership on campuses during a pandemic. Sample strategies are to implement direct coaching supports, teacher-led observation protocols, and social emotional supports and resources.
Teacher-Led Direct Coaching Supports
Teacher leadership assignments are crucial in helping administrators distribute leadership in schools. Teacher leaders can be assigned three to four peers to provide direct coaching support for planning lessons, guiding instruction, processing new change, and implementing social-emotional support. When administrators establish cohorts with teacher leaders, they can ensure every teacher receives support in the virtual setting during a pandemic and beyond. Sample questions that can generated for teacher leaders to coach and support their colleagues in efforts to leverage leadership across campuses during online learning may include:
- What online successes have you experienced?
- What obstacles have you experienced, and how can the instructional leadership team and admin better support you?
- Some things I noticed while visiting your course(s) were….
- Tell me more about how the learning experience helps students to demonstrate the success criteria.
- What collaboration opportunities have you provided to students?
- How are you utilizing the learning management tools to assign differentiated experiences to students at different performance levels?
- How are you assessing students and what evidence have you collected that is aligned to the success criteria?
- How are you communicating student progress or engagement with parents/guardians?
- What learning supports do you need? (Plan out next steps for support. Include a timeline.)
The contents of the questions can be collected in survey form and shared with administrators in teacher leadership meetings to help them make informed, collaborative decisions and to make adjustments to support teachers, students, and instruction. Administrators can identify and plan for specific staff needing additional support, professional development that needs to take place, and concerns that need to be addressed in faculty meetings, professional learning communities and teacher leader meetings. Colleagues must be aware that the information from the coaching and support survey led by their peers is not evaluative and only will be used to support them and to strengthen instruction and social-emotional support systems during a pandemic.
Implement Teacher Led Observation Protocols
Observation protocols before the pandemic aligned with face-to-face instruction and did not have the technology components and strategies needed to support virtual learning unless campuses were already using technology to deliver instruction with the classrooms. Observation protocols must now include digital tools, collaboration features, visual supports, and differentiation techniques to better support virtual learning for students. The observations can be conducted and led by teachers to ensure teacher collective efficacy is prevalent and to enhance instructional practices and maximize virtual learning for students. Teacher-to-teacher feedback from the observation protocols can directly improve virtual learning for students and build mutual trust among colleagues.
Social Emotional Supports and Resources
Teacher leaders must be empowered to meet with their colleagues to address social-emotional needs. Educators are performing tasks they have not done before the pandemic. Teachers who are technology savvy may strive but struggle with connections to their students. Teachers without technology backgrounds may feel defeated and start to think about their retirement options.
However, with teacher leaders assisting peers, all educators can be successful. It is important for administrators to identify the strengths of their teacher leaders and ensure all staff are aware of the master teachers of technology equipment, collaboration strategies, planning, digital tools, and wellness strategies to promote social-emotional awareness. Master teachers can facilitate virtual open labs to support their peers in the specific areas they are in need of growth. The teamwork and camaraderie of teacher leaders can minimize overall staff anxiety and make a clear statement that everyone is stronger together, especially when teachers are empowered by campus administrators to lead with authenticity.
Leading during a pandemic doesn’t have to be as challenging as it may seem when systems and supports are established by administrators of a campus. Teacher leadership is happening now more than before as teachers work collaboratively for their students (Netolicky, 2020). There may not be a perfect plan for administrators to empower teacher leaders during a pandemic, as each campus is uniquely defined. Administrators should continually assess the needs of their campuses to ensure teacher leaders have the tools and resources needed to reach all students. It is imperative for administrators to continue to empower teacher leaders to improve teaching and learning. Overall, teacher leaders can continuously lead, serve, and support their peers during a pandemic and for years to come.