Professional Learning Communities and Peer Coaching/Building Natural Leaders

Some of the readers of this blog have attended my presentation on Natural Leaders. My focus is examining how principals and teachers who have followers assigned to them can perform as the kind of leader that those followers would have chosen to follow. Can I be the kind of teacher students would have chosen? Can I be the kind of principal that the staff would have elected to be principal?

Natural leaders get pushed into their leadership more than running for office. I suggest that you know you are a natural leader if you are currently chairing a committee and you weren’t present the day the committee was formed.

In a May 6, 2009 Wall Street Journal Blog,[Nine Ways to Identify Natural Leaders], Gary Hamel identifies natural leaders:

Leaders in traditional organizations usually derive a large share of their power from their positions—that’s the case for CEOs, cabinet officers and high school principals. In other settings, a leader’s power may reflect the freely given support of peers and followers—examples include Mother Teresa, Linux creator Linus Torvalds and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.

In a follow up blog
May 14,2009 [How to Tell if You are a Natural Leader], he offers some questions for identifying natural leaders:

Whose advice is sought most often on any particular topic? Who responds most promptly to requests from peers? Whose responses are judged most helpful? Who is most likely to reach across organizational boundaries to aid a colleague? Whose opinions are most valued, internally and externally? Who gets the most kudos from customers? Who’s the most densely connected to other employees? Who’s generating the most buzz outside the company? Who consistently demonstrates real thought leadership? Who seems truly critical to key decisions?

Peer Coaching and Professional Learning Communities create opportunities for educator’s natural leadership to develop and emerge. Traditional school structures have few leadership opportunities for teachers. Those that do exist- department chair, team leader, mentor, literacy coach, are often seen as title or positional leadership. Most of the training I do with these leaders is based on implementing the skills that natural leaders use that attract followers:

Questioning Skills
Uncovering agendas
Listening Skills
Providing Feedback
Approval
Coaching
Developing Shared Goals
Using others natural leadership

Hamel suggest that we turn to natural leaders because of acknowledged wisdom or expertise, because of vision, values, and praiseworthy personality traits, and because of unique capabilities.

In many of our schools the planning and delivery of instruction occur in such isolation that the items Hamel identifies above can’t be observed, developed, and most importantly recognized and celebrated. I often label this as a loss of natural resources. Talent is in our schools…unrecognized and untapped. This lack of recognition often serves to demoralize teachers and robs students of our collective capabilities. I have met teachers on a middle school grade level team who have never seen each other working with students.

I recently presented at a conference for Georgia Master Teachers. It was clear that the participants were natural leaders anxious to build their skills. Here is a description of their program:

The purpose of the Georgia Master Teacher program is to recognize teachers who are driving gains in student achievement. In order to earn the Georgia Master Teacher designation, the teacher must have at least three years of experience in the classroom on a Georgia Clear Renewable Certificate, and evidence that links classroom instruction to exemplary student achievement and progress. Teachers earning the designation of Master Teacher are provided professional learning experiences designed to develop the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed by teacher leaders. Professional learning for this academic year focused on mentoring and peer coaching. For more information, please visit the Georgia Master Teacher website at
www.gamasterteachers.org.


The National Staff Development Council has posted a video of a PLC Team meeting. Click on the
Professional Development in Action video and view the Math Department Team at Fort Middle School in Allen Texas. Notice the many examples of natural leadership evident in their meeting and classroom observations.

Gary Hamel writes, “What we need is a new currency of power—one based not on titles, but on every individual’s capacity to lead, every day. We need organizations that aren’t built around a single, dominant hierarchy, but are comprised of many soft hierarchies, each corresponding to a critical skill or issue.”

Consider how your systems support natural leadership opportunities.

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Steve Barkley

For the past 30 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…

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