ISTE Panel QOTD 2 – Finding leaders in your “pockets”

Via the #cpchatq stream came this question from Justin Reich: “Most schools have pockets of innovation-a handful of teachers doing great work-How do you scale up the best in your school?”
Great question!
Just as with any program or innovation, there may be some teachers that immediately take to the ideals behind the initiatives and run with them. They take the lead in modeling and implementing the strategies in their work with students. They are the leaders. We need to honor their work, recognize and celebrate their dedication to students, provide them with time and autonomy to pursue their goals, and enlist their guidance and help in working with other staff members to bring about positive changes.
Widespread change and influence is unlikely to result unless the organization as a whole embraces the philosophies behind the innovations and truly believes the resulting changes are in the best interest of students. As Seth Godin stated,
“‘A movement has an emotional heart. A movement might use an organization, but it can replace systems and people if they disappear. Movements are more likely to cause widespread change, and they require leaders, not managers.”

As an example, in working with small groups of teachers every month in our elementary technology cohort group (they volunteered their time), I saw teachers become truly excited at the possibilities of using technologies in new ways to enhance teaching and learning. They shared openly, took risks, and changed practices as a result of their learning. They then became my “go-to” people in all of the elementary buildings to help inform, influence, enthuse, and support their colleagues. At a district-wide in-service day, these teachers planned and facilitated sessions for their peers. When a teacher would come and ask for my assistance with a certain tool or technique, I’d try to instead steer them in the direction of their knowledgeable colleagues.

I am interested to hear how you have empowered the teachers in the “pockets” in your own organizations. Please comment below!


  1. Dave Meister said:

    Finding a way to scale up the innovations of teacher leaders is one of the most important challenges leaders (superintendents, principals, and teachers) have to tackle. I have watched several young teachers over the past year take off with both their innovative teaching styles (think @stumpteacher and many others) and their leadership capacity. I think building and district leaders have to work to cultivate both these teachers and their work. Pam Moran, an innovative district leader, makes it her work to find a ways to say yes to her innovative teachers and their ideas. We have to get out of the way and not let fear keep us from letting teachers do great things for our students! I think we also need to encourage the innovative teachers to get out and take the lead. Motivate them to make proposals to lead sessions at conferences like the annual ISTE get together (thanks @TeacherMelissa). The leaders have to lead by example. We have to be consumers of the medicine we push, but we also have to realize that sometimes the teacher who is making it work in their classroom has more “cred” with the staff when showing how to integrate it. We need to build time into the teachers’ already busy schedule for the teacher leaders to show what they are doing and in turn make it alright for those teachers that are ready to start making changes to do so.

    July 2, 2011
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Dave, thanks for commenting. It was fantastic having the chance to interact with you this week! Natural leaders definitely emerge, and they need to be supported. I also couldn’t agree more with your thoughts, David. Too often the teachers who go above and beyond, share their successes with others, and live by a growth mindset are seen as those who are trying to out-perform colleagues or become a principal’s “favorite.” They can be treated downright unprofessionally by colleagues. This mentality MUST stop. Not only is it detrimental to collegial relationships, but the impact of such behavior is detrimental to students and their learning. You make an excellent point that a leader has an obligation to develop and foster a nurturing environment where all teachers feel supported and safe to take risks. Thank you both for sharing!

      July 2, 2011
  2. David Britten said:

    It’s not just enabling teachers who show they are willing to take risks, but creating an environment that helps make them feel safe around peers who might not like it that some members of the “herd” are trying new innovations that might either (a) impact them in a way they don’t want (or aren’t ready) to be impacted, or (b) are just plain showing off and making everyone else look bad.

    Now I don’t advocate leaders cowering to this type of response from other members of the staff but it is important that administrators at the building and the district be aware of this and provide public support to the innovators and risk takers.

    July 2, 2011
  3. Lyn,

    I absolutely was inspired by you at ISTE and am glad you reiterated your thoughts here. Empowering your teachers to share great practices, tools, or ideas that promote learning-centered classrooms is needed.

    One way I can can empower the “pockets” of teachers is to write about them on my blog. It’s even more rewarding when the students visit my blog and share how wonderful their learning environment is.

    Kind regards,
    Tracy Watanabe

    July 3, 2011
  4. Dave Bircher said:

    When administrators enable others to lead an initiative, it creates a sense of ownership and will [hopefully] provide the opportunity for others to follow and possbly lead as well. One mistake I have made is that I will lead an initiative, and others will follow. However, when your ataff continually look to the admin for the lead, the process will eventually break down, and staff really do not take full ownership.

    A school’s learning improvement plan should include goals, where administrators guide the process but have teachers lead specific goals in the plan. They can set the goal, the specific targets that need to be met, and assess for improvement. When this occurs, the teacher leaders can critically look at the data gathered and set future directions. This cyclical process is very beneficial to both students and staff as learning improvement is the focus, with many members involved, not just administration.

    Good Post. I look forward to the next set of issues discussed.


    July 4, 2011
  5. Ryan Schrenk said:

    Agreed. Nice post with one addition/clarification needed to drive home your point that it’s not the innovative technology that is the thing we need to support…rather, it’s the (person) innovative tech using educator that makes a difference: “We need to honor their work, recognize and celebrate their dedication to students, provide them with time and autonomy to pursue their goals, and enlist their guidance and help in working with other staff members to bring about positive changes.”

    …you imply but don’t state what some of the ways to recognize and honor these innovators are… It’s with tools and cover. I always look at it like investing in R&D with this group of innovators. First, we must provide them with the technology needed to innovate in order to feed the effort then also be able to provide cover for them from others who may be jealous in what they get to work on. The reality is that we need to differentiate what the innovators have in their hands vs. the ones lagging behind. Eventually, the ones slower to come around may use the same stuff but it will have to be vetted and technically supported, etc. for them to use it. So… if we invest in everyone having it across the board and out of the gate we end up purchasing them great paper weights and doorstops rather than innovatively used technology.

    July 7, 2011

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