Tips for Teacher Leadership

Who do you look up to as an effective leader in your school?
Do you consider yourself a leader in your school? Outside of school?
Leadership doesn’t require you to have a certain title or role. Many educators exhibit leadership in a variety of small and big ways every day in their classrooms and schools. As an assignment for my Teacher Leadership Part 3 AQ, I’ve been asked to create a guide that supports teachers on their leadership journey. I’m choosing to publish it here on my blog as well. 

For myself, I have a very loud, direct style of leadership. I am a strong organiser and communicator I think. I like to share my own learning with others. My personality is not for everyone. Some folks find my outspoken, direct manner off putting (I’ve occasionally been called aggressive – but is that because I’m a strong female? A topic for another day …) and so I work to … I want to say soften? But that’s not it … but calibrate my passion and forthrightness because I always want the folks I work with, as well as our students, to see me as approachable and helpful.

We need strong, loud leaders. We also need quiet leaders. We need visionary leaders. We need organisational leaders. And because there are so many ways to be a good leader (of which my own style is only one) I asked my colleagues at school for their ideas on this topic as well so I could have a well-rounded look at leadership. 

So here’s a list of some ways (I know we won’t cover everything) that teachers can be leaders in education:

  • Traits & skills of an effective leader:
    • Organised
    • Understanding & empathetic
    • Fair
    • Passionate
    • Authentic & genuine (be you!)
      My colleagues put it best: “I think teacher leaders should be brave, and do the right thing whether it is popular or not.”
      Another colleague said “be kind AND firm”.
    • Approachable
    • Proactive
    • Solution-oriented
    • Life-long learner; growth mindset
    • Friendly & respectful with all colleagues; ability to put personal feelings aside
    • Timely & clear communication
    • Delegation (you can’t do it all yourself; that’s not being an effective leader)
    • Prioritize (you can’t do it all at the same time! What do you value? What are the values & vision for your school? These will help determine your priorities & where to spend your time).
    • Being a leader to support and promote staff & students (not for your own career benefits)
    • Verbally greet and smile at colleagues & students that you meet in the halls
    • Be social with colleagues; helps the sense of belonging to a team as a staff
    • Be a visible presence around the school; get out of your own classroom/office space
    • Consult colleagues before making important decisions; seek out feedback, including critical feedback. You may not make the decision others want, but make sure they feel their input is heard & considered in the process.
    • Lead by example
    • Be vulnerable; admit mistakes, share your struggles, nobody is perfect
    • Be a team player (in actions, not just words); work WITH people
  • Have a vision or goal
    Otherwise you are rudderless in your purpose. What is your why?
  • Supervise a club or team
    Start a new one. Help out with one that’s already running. You’ll help create more opportunities for your students. You’ll get to know your students in new ways, and get to know students that aren’t in your classes.
  • Join a committee
    What are you passionate about in education? Is there a staff committee or group you could join to help with? Early on in my career, I was advised to join our subject council that met monthly and whose main role was to plan our union-funded annual PD Day for the teachers in our subject area across the board. This allowed me to meet colleagues from other schools and learn a lot from them as we planned our PD offerings. I used my leadership skills to help plan, host & MC the PD days. 18 years into my career, and I am still a member of Subject Council, albeit for a different subject now (library) than when I started (science, then math over the years). 
  • Get to know people
    Be it colleagues or your students, it is so important to get to know the people you work with. What are their strengths? Weaknesses? Passions? Aversions? Structure your classroom or your school so that you play to people’s strengths. Help them develop in their weaker areas, gently & kindly. Support them.
  • Share resources
    When I started teaching I was so grateful to colleagues in my school or in my online PLN that shared their resources with me to help me get started. A colleague shared their entire Grade 11 Biology course materials with me when I taught that course for the first time. I think back to folks like Dan Meyer who were sharing all sorts of activities and pedagogical strategies on their blogs & Twitter. All these folks allowed me to spend less time reinventing the wheel (creating resources from scratch), and instead focus on my students and their learning. This can be as simple as sharing a link to your Google Drive folder or inviting a teacher into your Google Classroom space so they can follow along. Did you create a useful tool – such as a letter to parents, or progress report template – that you can email out to your colleagues for them to adapt & use as they see fit? Another way to do this is to volunteer to lead workshops and/or presentations during PD Days or at conferences.
  • Invite colleagues into your classroom
    We can all learn great tips, strategies and tools just from being around our amazing colleagues. You might choose to keep your door open so folks can pop their head in, or perhaps you’ll more explicitly reach out to staff & tell them about a cool upcoming lesson they come see in action. In the past I’ve engaged in the #ObserveMe movement and posted a sign on my door inviting to folks to come spend some time in our classroom and to offer me any feedback they think could help me improve.
  • Mentor colleagues (formally or informally)
    In Ontario we have the formal NTIP program “that provides new teachers with professional learning” by pairing them with a mentor teacher (these days – in my board at least – a retired teacher). But you can also offer help to teachers with tech tools, teaching strategies, etc. on a more informal basis also. As teacher librarian I have set my office space up with a variety of comfortable seating options so that staff can come and we can sit side by side to figure out new technology together, co-plan or simply discuss an important school issue. The added bonus of mentoring others is that you often learn from your mentoree too!
  • Give recognition to others
    A pat on the back goes a long way to staff & student morale. Make an effort to notice the great work being done by colleagues and students around the school and give them kudos for it; in private or publicly if appropriate. A thank-you email or a “hey, I really love the what you did with … and thank-you for doing so” will be well appreciated.
  • Participate
    With staff. With your students. Teacher vs student intramural sports games. Clubs. Food Drive with your class. School-wide door decorating competitions. Get out there & be a part of it all. The relationships you build with staff & students while participating in these events & activities will pay dividends in your work with them in the classroom.

There are many paths to teacher leadership and many different types of leaders. How do you – or will you – be a leader in your school?

What tips for teacher leadership do you think are missing from the above list? Leave them in the comments below!

Update: Listen to Doug Peterson & Stephen Hurley discuss this post on their podcast This Week in Ontario Edublogs from VoicEd radio starting at 14:15

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

🚽 #LearningInTheLoo: Feedback w/ Voice Notes feat. @DeannaToxopeus

Deanna is an Itinerant Teacher of Assistive Technology in our board and sends out a weekly tip to staff. I have turned her latest tip into an issue of Learning in the Loo!

As always, all my past editions (including this one) of Learning in the Loo can be found here.

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

What I read in 2022

Ever since attending my first OLA Superconference I have kept a thread of books I read each year pinned to the top of my Twitter feed, inspired by Michelle Arbuckle who share the idea there. I also keep a visual of my current reads/listens in my email signature for work:

I thought I would share my list of reads (physical books & audiobooks alike) for 2022 sorted by my rating from top to bottom here on the blog. I’m just pulling this order from my Goodreads list so within a given star rating, they are not in any preferential order. And I should probably throw in the caveat that I always struggle with assigning star ratings to a book, so take it all with a grain of salt. But the general hierarchy is more less correct. Here goes . . .

Goodreads says I read 51 books. My twitter feed says 53. But I don’t have the patience to go find where the disparity is 😂.

I try not to worry about how many books I read in a given year. It can vary so much depending on length of each book, how many are non-fiction and thus I listen as audiobooks while I drive, … I just want to read as often as I can. I try to make sure my last 30 minutes before sleep are reading off-screen.

And for 2023, I’ve decided to add 3 days per week of zone 2 cardio on my spin bike to my exercise routine and I’ve been reading while I pedal!

Have you set yourself any reading goals for 2023? What was your favourite book of 2022? Leave a response in the comment section below!

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

2022 Review of My Year on Twitter

Each year I try to look back at my top tweets as a way of reflecting on what I’ve shared on Twitter. Twitter analytics is a great tool for this. It uses stats of views, replies and retweets to determine your top tweets. Some I include here because they got a lot of views, others got fewer views but had a high “engagement” rate. Here we go . . .

At my first OLA Super Conference in 2020 Michelle Arbuckle shared the idea of keeping a thread of every book she reads in a year. I started doing this right away & have kept it up. Here’s my start for 2022:

And of course we all went a little nuts with Wordle:

I taught BTT (Introduction to Information and Communication Technology in Business) a few years back – what a great course!

The first few weeks in January we were back to remote learning from home. I can’t even remember which teacher friend posted this now, but it seems they were at school in person?

February saw the “Freedom Convoy” move in and take Ottawa hostage.

I took an AQ (additional qualification course) to start the year; the Junior division AQ w/ a leadership focus & this tweet hit a nerve:

In March I started considering the possibility of creating a teacher planner that could be sold from a site offering print on demand:

March must have been a slow month for me because one of my weekly workout recaps made the top cut for the month 🤣

The province of Ontario announced masks wouldn’t be required in most indoor spaces (including schools) when we returned from March Break. However, there seemed to be no talk (especially from our board) about the fact that anyone that travelled out of country WOULD be obliged to be masked at all times in public for 14 days upon their return:

April is Autism Awareness Month and this tweet wasn’t top for views, but had higher engagement (click through on the link I think?) than most:

This spring our board offered PD with Peter Liljedahl’s Thinking Classroom framework to help folks get ready for destreaming many courses next year. And despite seeing him present many times already, and illustrating his book, I learn something new every time I hear him speak:

And related to the Thinking Classroom is the whiteboard vs chalkboard debate:

And a little political engagement for the month of May:

Sketchnotes always increase a tweet’s stats:

And then a series as the school year wrapped up:

July got a little more quiet for teaching content on my Twitter:

Near the end of July I took my first ever solo paddling & camping trip ever:

We started to see the beginnings of a new round of negotiations this year & the MoE is already starting to scapegoat teachers:

Each week I post a round-up of my workouts & activities:

With the return of the school year in September I decided to make a Tik Tok series of my Getting to Know You Question of the Day list; 1 per day all semester long. Are you on Tik Tok?

And the return of the #BFC530 chats:

Our staff tends to pick a Hallowee’en costume theme for those that need inspiration. My goal is always to avoid buying much new stuff that is costume-specific & can’t be reworn. This year I bought some face makeup and a toque:

Another Tik Tok video tweet that did alright:

This year I’ve noticed a marked increase i the use of the N-word by students around the school. And not always (but mostly) our BIPOC students. I haven’t heard it used with the intention to insult yet, but still …
And I’d still like to hear more thoughts on this from folks within the community but older than teenagers.

A retired friend & colleague asked me this question & I when I didn’t know the answer I went straight to the hive mind of my Twitter PLN:

Perhaps a fiting last tweet to include: I was scheduled to fly to Florida at 8am the first Saturday of break. Our board called a snow day for Friday before end of day Thursday. Westjet cancelled all flights but never notified me. I found out from folks texting me – only getting said texts by placing my phone in the one window of our house that sometimes gets cell reception as our hydro, internet & landline phone were all out due to the snowstorm. My husband had to drive into town for an urgent errand so he dropped me at the airport so I could deal with the issue & arrived to find this:

The lovely agent at the 1 desk, working past the end of her shift b/c others didn’t show up to work is my guess, rebooked me for a boxing day flight and I made it South for winter break 🙂

Wishing you all the best as we start 2023. I hope it’s a great year for you.

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

#LearningInTheLoo: Cycles 1 & 2 of Implementing a #ThinkingClassroom

In the first two and a half months of school I’ve only managed to get out 2 editions of Learning in the Loo (the hope is weekly, but you know how it is!). I’ve been sharing (with her permission) Aleda Klassen‘s amazing sketchnotes of the various cycles of implementation of Peter Liljedahl’s Thinking Classroom framework. Here are the 2 I’ve posted so far this year:

As always, all my past editions (including this one) of Learning in the Loo can be found here.

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

🚽 #LearningInTheLoo: Read & Write Extension s/o @deannatoxopeus

This year, I have not been on top of my game enough to make a new Learning in the Loo every week. Today I used some posters sent out by Deanna Toxopeus, our Itinerant Teacher of Assistive Technology w/ the OCDSB, to create a new poster to put up in our staff toilets.

So this week’s LITL is all about Text Help’s Read & Write extension – a quick start guide. In our board, this extension is pushed out to all student and staff accounts automatically. It’s got a lot of handy features that can help all students.

As always, all my past editions (including this one) of Learning in the Loo can be found here.

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

🚽 #LearningInTheLoo: Curating Instructional Videos for Interactivity

Earlier this year I was listening to an episode of the This Week in Ontario EduBlogs podcast & they were sharing a blog post by EduGals about 10 tools for curating instructional videos. I thought it would make a good Learning in the Loo poster & decided to focus on 3 tools that would allow teachers to curate videos and have students respond in turn. So I chose to share about EdPuzzle, Google Forms/Quiz, and Pear Deck. When talking about Pear Deck I focused on Google slides since we’re a Google board, but it works with Powerpoint slides as well.

As always, all my past editions (including this one) of Learning in the Loo can be found here.

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

Black-Out Poetry #TLchat

Heads up: this blog post contains artwork showing nude bodies

April is poetry month and a colleague posted this to their library’s Instagram account:

Here’s what I did:

  • put out an email to our staff asking if anyone was interested to bring their classes to try it here at our school,
  • booked a few classes to come in,
  • created a slide deck with examples of black-out poetry I found online and some tips to getting started,
  • grabbed some novels we weeded based on lack of interest and used an xacto knife to cut out pages,
  • collected as many sharpies, pencil crayons & markers as I could,
  • introduced the concept to each class with the help of the slide deck, gave them each a page from the old novels and let them get started!

Here are some of my favourites so far that they gave me permission to share:

How could you incorporate black-out poetry in your classes?

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)