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Viewpoints: From troublemaker to leader

January 12, 2016 Joe Bower

What teacher leadership really looks like

Joe Bower was a middle school teacher with Red Deer Public Schools and publisher of the popular blog For the Love of Learning. He died on January 3, 2016 of a heart attack. This article was originally published June 17, 2015 on his blog at

The best schools have both a strong and healthy administration and teaching staff. Weak administration can leave even the most qualified teaching staff anemic — and a strong administration with a weak teaching staff leaves a school with a lot of talk and no walk.

I often think about how it is a systemic flaw that teachers have to leave the classroom in order to make more money or advance their careers.

In some school districts, being a troublemaker is one of the best ways to become an outcast and get fired, while in other districts it is one of the best ways to make a difference and become influential.

The best schools and school districts understand that the most innovative and inspiring teachers are first labelled as troublemakers until they become popular; then they are called leaders.

What are the best ways a teacher can demonstrate leadership in the classroom?

1. Idealism is not a character flaw.

Teacher leaders inspire others to see students and school for what they could be and might be. They find the perfect balance between preparing students for the world the way it is, and preparing students to make the world a better place.

2. Healthy and interesting people make the best teachers.

Teacher leaders know that the school year is a marathon, not a race. Slow, steady and sustainable effort is what schools and students need — teachers who burn out before the weekend or the summer don’t do anyone any good. It is unsustainable for teachers to take better care of other people’s children than their own children or themselves. Teacher leaders balance work, family and play so that their colleagues and their students are inspired to also balance work, family and play.

3. Teachers help teachers.

Teacher leaders know that too many teachers quit and that inexperienced teachers are too often preyed upon to do too much too soon. Teacher leaders don’t simply close their door and teach, nor do they use the staffroom as a complaint box. Teacher leaders make themselves available for their students and teacher colleagues alike.

4. Reject the blame game.

Teacher leaders understand that the blame game is as seductive as it is destructive. Schools that are marinated in cultures of failure are often plagued with blame — teacher leaders reject this culture by seeing success and failure not as time to reward and punish but as teachable moments.

5. Education is political.

Ultimately, great teachers make great schools, but great teachers can’t do it alone — they require the support of an equitable society. Teacher leaders are active participants in our democracy and work inside and outside of their classroom for equity and equality. ❚

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