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Supportive - Owen

Page history last edited by andrealangelaar@... 15 years, 8 months ago

About Owen


Cathy Owen is Director of Learning for the National Staff Development Council. It is a national organization devoted to improving student learning through a focus on improving teaching and leadership.


Cathy Owens's article entitled Leading Without Leaving the Classroom provides us with ideas about how our jobs naturally lend themselves to being Teachers as Change Agents. 


Please read the following summary of this article that was chosen as an additional resource to this topic.


“Never before has the need been so great for classroom teachers to become agents of change and position themselves as problem solvers at the school building level” (p.57).


Teachers are in the unique position to become agents of change and take on more responsibilities and leadership roles that will positively "transform schools from more traditional workplaces into professional learning communities" (p.58).  Owens believes that teachers are the best at quickly and efficiently solving problems within schools because their inside knowledge and daily experiences provide them with a unique perspective and insight.  Although she does not dismiss the need for outside support from professional consultants when necessary, she feels that "teachers are uniquely positioned to assume leadership roles on a variety of tasks which could transform schools" (p.57).  Owens is aware that in many instances, the experience, skills and strengths of teachers enables them to become effective "first responders" and offer "the best and most practical solutions" to educational concerns (p.58).

There are many ways that teachers can demonstrate their potential to lead the profession at the decision-making table in addition to their own practice. They can engage in collaborations that contribute to the overall effectiveness of schools or assume leadership roles that will effect positive change in how others teach, how students learn and how a professional learning community operates.  Some examples might be:


§        Facilitate team meetings


§        Model lessons for new teachers


§        Mentor new teachers


§        Have input into staff development


§        Serve on site-based leadership teams


§        Write and manage grants


§        Lead in school wide learning events


Teachers are sometimes reluctant to take on a leadership role. They know what to do to improve the teaching and learning environment in their classroom but do not see themselves as facilitating these changes within their schools or the educational community. Owens discusses the need for teachers to develop a leadership mindset. They can take initiative by recognizing their part in ensuring the success of all students and the need to assume more responsibility for creating solutions with colleagues and principals. "Teachers have to be able to ask the hard questions, grapple with the difficult answers, and do the hard work necessary for effecting change" (p.59).


According to Owens, teachers must acknowledge what they know and learn what they do not know.  She goes on to say that to be able to lead effectively, teachers need to have knowledge and skills, emotional intelligence, an ability to build trust, skills at facilitation, and a knowledge of adult learning theory to be able to engage their colleagues.  Owen gives some practical examples of ways to lead by these "agents of change who choose not to leave the classroom but rather lead from the classroom" (p.59):



§      Model best practices


§      Share student evaluation methods


§      Videotape and review each other’s teaching


§      Offer solutions to a school’s most challenging questions


§      Lead learning labs for colleagues


§      Form study groups to review and assess needs of challenged students


§      Collaboratively develop individualized learning plans


§      Collect and provide samples of assessment data and lead a reviewing process and next actions to support application of new knowledge


§      Join the school improvement planning team and create a school wide professional learning curriculum


§      Research and share strategies for job-embedded learning


§      Develop flexible teaching schedules for team planning


§      Encourage peer observation


§      Promote coaching of colleagues


§      Encourage reflection on practice


Collaborating with colleagues and principals will also support new teacher leaders to develop skills to become more effective as leaders. Teachers can, in turn,  share strategies for school improvement with principals who are then able to implement these strategies. Principals would come to realize that teachers have the expertise and willingness to provide support. Owen goes on to discuss "progressive principals" (p.60) as those who engage a team of thinkers, planners and gap closers to assess situations and issues, recommend  how to address them, assist in a plan of action, and gain support in making it happen. These principals encourage strategic thinking and elevate the teachers’ voice on issues offer greater autonomy.  With such leadership, vision and collaboration "the school establishes a teaching and learning culture where leading without leaving is the intended goal not an outcome by default" (p.60). 


Teaching and learning today during times of great technological advancements, shifts in federal and educational policies require the input and support beyond simply the administrative team. "The timing for teachers to lead is now" (p.60).  Owens urges a change in our thinking, in our mantles of leadership, and in how we address the work we do in school. We need teachers who are willing to lead and principals who acknowledge our expertise to effectively address school communities who are seeking authentic change.


"Question for Consideration"


Do you agree or disagree with Owen that teachers are uniquely positioned to assume leadership roles that could transform schools?  Why or why not?


After posting your comment and reviewing those of your classmates, click here for the next learning activity. 


Comments (9)

Beth said

at 12:29 pm on Nov 5, 2008

I believe that as front line workers, and as the point of convergence where educational philosophies, ideals and and actions become integrated and animated, we have a unique view to contribute to the topic of transformation. What I find difficulty to convey to new teachers who seek my leadership, is that the practices that I engage in are embedded in a complex, mulitlayered schema that I have developed over time and through experience. To take individual practices out of context can greatly reduce their effectiveness or alter their purpose. They have meaning because they are interconnected to what I believe, and what strengths I bring to teaching. Just like I believe I have succeeded when I have helped students understand themselves and how they learn best, I believe the same process is essential for teachers. We are responsible for the same outcomes, but we need to filter them through our best assets and aspects of our personality that will engage students. This philosophical understanding is not typical to the kinds of conversations that are usually associated with teacher development, but I find it difficult to be a leader in a culture that does not promote them.

lmbell said

at 8:52 pm on Nov 5, 2008

In my experience, not all teachers are interested in assuming leadership roles at the school level. For some, they have voiced their concern about their personal comfort in speaking in front of their peers while others are content with doing what they have always done and see no need to change. I have worked with some teachers who only need a supportive person to encourage them to share and participate in a greater leadership capacity. Other teachers are quite humble and feel that anything they do is simply ordinary and do not like any attention that could be given if "others" knew what they were doing. I feel that on any given staff there is a myriad of personalities and teaching styles. I do not believe that all teachers want to assume a leadership role as they see it as "more work" added to their already full plate. If the culture of school changed where time was given to support teacher leaders as they worked with their peers then possibly more teachers would be interested in sharing their expertise with others. Unfortunately, being actively involved in a leadership role takes you away from your classroom and your kids. This is often a struggle for teachers as they feel the pull of their teaching responsibility while the tug of leadership for the betterment of the school draws on their time, interest and energy.

Arlis Folkerts said

at 9:55 am on Nov 6, 2008

Owen, in her writing about teachers as leaders, "teachers are uniquely positioned to assume leadership roles on a variety of tasks which could transform schools." I appreciate being part of a learning community where together we identify our needs for professional growth and learning. Openness and involvement of staff in the area of school planning is another example where administrators can collaborate with staff to identify school-based priorities, strategies for implementation, indicators of success and data collection tools.

For new teachers entering the profession, they will not realize the significant shift this represents. I remember looking at a school plan written solely by the administrator and then presented to staff as now "our task" to implement. Being part of a school-based team who values professional dialogue and are willing to facilitate and learn from each other is a place where change is fostered.

Ken Hoekstra said

at 9:34 pm on Nov 6, 2008

Teachers are right up front in the change that happens or does not happen in a school, because they are the ones who deliver the program and ultimately incur the change. Whether they lead by example, develop new methods, or try to implement best practices of others, success or failure depends upon the teacher who is interacting with the students. No matter how much inservicing or emphasis is placed upon a change, if the teacher does not buy in to it, and put it into practice, the chnage is not going to occur. So to suggest change is going to occur any other way than by the leadership of the practicing teachers seems folly to me.
To concur with what Lori said, being a classroom teacher and becoming involved as a leader of change takes its toll on your own classroom. All of the days you spend attending inservices and workshops and conventions to stay at the forefront of the change plays havoc on your own classroom. My students often tell me they just want me to stay and teach them, instead of going off to learn more new ideas, or to assist others. They are frustrated by the amount of time I spend concentrating on others, instead of devoting my full attention to them, and I know it is difficult when I am away for two or three days, and then need to come back and settle my kids down and pick up where they left off, work for a few days, and then get ready to miss another day or two for another leadership session. Sometimes I question the need for it, or my desire to continue, without burning out. Maybe I've just been doing this for too long.

eprevost@... said

at 9:49 pm on Nov 6, 2008

Ken and Lori, I understand the pull you are talking about. If teachers are to be leaders in change, and I agree with others that not all teachers are suited to the leadership role, then the leaders need to be released to lead the change. One way we have done this in the past is to have lead teachers or department heads who are given release time to exercise their leadership. I found it very difficult to be constantly leaving my class when I was a Math mentor-the guilt of attending to others while "neglecting' my own was unsettling. I also think we send a message of value when we provide release time for lead teachers.

jproske@... said

at 11:41 pm on Nov 6, 2008

Balancing the teacher leadership role with the daily demands of teaching and student interactions is a challenge. We may be uniquely positioned to be effective change leaders but taking on this role isn't always so straightforward. What other influences might sway a teacher's decision to become a leader?

eleanor said

at 4:00 am on Nov 7, 2008

I was thinking along the same lines as Joanie - in Owen's suggestions there is a real discrepancy in time commitment between modelling best practices or sharing student evaluations and "Collect and provide samples of assessment data and lead a reviewing process and next actions to support application of new knowledge". I have been involved in several school-wide committees, and they can really put a squeeze on our already limited time. I don't regret my involvement, but I do see the challenge, and see why some very worthy initiatives would simply spread some teachers too thin. On balance, though, I agree that it is the teachers as a staff, a team who make the greatest difference. Even if we do not consider ourselves 'leaders' as that sometimes implies a heirarchy that we do not feel, we are all capable of contributing according to our own strengths.

Sylvia Malo said

at 4:31 pm on Nov 7, 2008

I echo the sentiments of others who speak about the guilt when leaving students, the massive time committment, and extra workload involved in accepting leadership roles as teachers. The positives do outweigh the negatives with regard to benefits derived from furthering teacher knowledge and increasing the use of best practice within the classroom. Sharing of resources and meaningful collaboration also result from this type of initiative.

May said

at 10:05 pm on Nov 7, 2008

We are the ones to instill change as, as Owen states, we have the "inside knowledge and daily experiences provide[ing]... unique perspective and insight". It involves using a pragmatic approach because we work with the students we can see what works, what needs to be changed and provide that sharing, collaboration, leadership from within to make those needed changes happen. It is through the active participation that we can talk it up, expose others to the implemented changes and have a contagious effect on curriculum.

Lori wrote “If the culture of school changed where time was given to support teacher leaders as they worked with their peers then possibly more teachers would be interested in sharing their expertise with others." It truly is a package deal where the support comes from acknowledging the time needed to implement change so it does make a difference. The concern is that the leaders also have to have the vision to make changes.

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