Keep Moving: How Teacher Leaders Can Move Themselves, Their Peers, and Their Students

By Cassie Brooks

When I was in early elementary, I learned the four cardinal directions: north, south, east, and west. Later, I learned all of the other directions on the compass rose, such as southeast and northwest. In life, though, there are so many other directions: up and down, back and forth, left and right, and over and under. Unfortunately, our directions can sometimes lead us the wrong way or down a dead end. I have recently been thinking about the directions we take as educators, and I know one thing for sure — We have to keep moving.

A few months ago I had the privilege to attend the ECET2 Mississippi convening of teacher leaders across the state. I sat among inspiring educators wondering what in the world I was doing there, but they convinced me I was worth celebrating, too. Present and past teachers of the year for my great state organized the event, as well as presented during breakout sessions and gave motivating speeches.

One of them said something that has been rolling around in my mind since. In reference to a meeting with her school administrator, she stated that it hit her that he had no more education than she did. She respects him, but she realized that he didn’t go up the leader ladder while she remained on the bottom rung simply because he took a leadership path. No. He simply went left while she went right, down two different paths of education and potential leadership.

I thought about that all the way home, and I have been thinking about it since. Even better, I have been sharing it with my educator peers. As I have pondered what she said, I have determined several ways teacher leaders can move themselves. Which direction are you currently taking?

Back it up: Y’all, teaching is tough. Being a leader when you are not an administrator is tough. Stepping out of your box is tough. Getting people to accept change is tough. Doing all the extra tasks that have nothing to do with actual teaching is tough. Sometimes I want to just back up. Maybe you do, too. Maybe you have just backed up and given up when those tough times have loomed ahead. I know I have on occasion. Ultimately, the tough times have to be faced, though. The difficult tasks have to be completed, and you have to step out of your box from time to time. Don’t back up. You just make the journey longer when you have to start that way again. Teacher leaders must move forward.

Detour: Detours will get you where you want to go, but the journey takes longer. I sometimes find myself on an educational detour. Unfortunately, these detours are most often put in my path by administration, policy makers, and events out of my control. I mean no disrespect, but well-meaning people can send educators on major detours from where they need to be. On the road we have no choice but to take the detour, unless we have already backed up. Sure, the detour will get you there, but it will take longer and some may get lost along the way. Do not let yourself get detoured from what you know is right for you, your school, and your students. Stick to your leader map. Teacher leaders must move forward.

Straight Ahead: Teacher leaders must have a vision and choose a path that will lead them there. The path may have some curves and hills in it, but it is important to keep your eyes on the road. Keep moving forward. When you hit that straight away, drive on. Put the pedal to the metal. Get there. Don’t back up. Don’t get detoured. Keep moving straight ahead. Teacher leaders must move forward.

Car pool: This is not a direction, but it is the most important part of a teacher leader’s journey. Do not go alone. Take someone with you. Heck, take a whole busload. Let them navigate from time to time. You can even let them take the wheel. You are all on the same leader journey, and the destination is the future. The future of education. The future of our children.

As I look in the rearview mirror at the past sixteen years of my educational journey, I see that I have taken some detours and even backed up a time or two. Fortunately, I have had excellent backseat driver mentors and peers that redirected me. I now have my GPS set straight ahead, and I am definitely taking a busload with me.

Cassie Brooks lives with her husband and two boys in Corinth, MS. She has been teaching for 16 years, and loves teaching second grade. She teaches because she needs their knowledge as much as they need hers. Cassie has a specialists degree and has begun coursework on her doctorate. Her favorite pastimes are watching her boys play sports, writing, traveling, and being involved in church activities.

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