When Awakening the Sleeping Giant: Helping Teachers Develop as Leaders first appeared in the mid-1990s, teacher leadership was not on the lips (or minds) of most superintendents and principals. Or, for that matter, most teachers.
In the ensuing years, through three editions, Sleeping Giant has become a much-read classic, inspiring countless teachers to come out of their isolation and accept roles as leaders, colleagues and collaborators. Although the book has also become a staple in higher education leadership programs, in the new edition co-authors Marilyn Katzenmeyer and Gayle Moller continue to speak directly to teachers in classrooms and schools, urging them to wake up and take greater ownership of their profession.
To celebrate the appearance of this new edition — updated to reflect the many advances in teacher leadership during the past eight years — we spoke to co-author Gayle Moller, who in 2003 served as an expert advisor during the creation of the Teacher Leaders Network. We also invite you to read TLN member Nancy Flanagan’s review of Sleeping Giant, as well as her Teacher Magazine essay about the book's impact on her own life. — John Norton
* * * * * * * * * *
Thanks for talking with us, Gayle. You have many fans in the TLN community. Awakening the Sleeping Giant was first published in 1996. A second edition appeared in 2001. Why did you and co-author Marilyn Katzenmeyer decide that the time had come for a third edition?
In 1996, when we first wrote about teacher leadership, there were few people who acknowledged that teachers could be leaders. At the same time, when teacher leaders read our book they said: “You wrote about me!”
The opportunities for teacher leadership have increased substantially since those days. Our editors at Corwin Press approached us, noted the continuing interest in the 2001 edition, and suggested that the time might be right for an update. Marilyn and I knew the population of teacher leaders was continuing to grow, so we agreed.
What’s changed since 2001?
In the last eight years, school system leaders have begun to acknowledge that they’re not getting the results they would like. And many realize that mandates and limited professional development are not effective ways to improve results. The perceptive district leader is now turning to teachers who are competent and can work with their colleagues at the school building level.
New teacher leadership roles — literacy coaches, mentors, and staff developers — are becoming commonplace. In addition, the National Board certification process has helped many potential teacher leaders realize how they can improve their own practice and help other teachers. External support systems, like the Teachers Leader Network, are encouraging teachers to move outside their “comfort zone” to interact with other teacher leaders. When Education Week relaunched Teacher Magazine in 2006 with a specific focus on teacher leadership, many of us took it as a sign!
We’ve done quite a lot of revising in this latest edition. Throughout the book, we show how teacher leadership has evolved over the last 20 years by linking current research and practice to new developments. There’s a new chapter written specifically for teachers who take on new instructional leadership roles. In that chapter we address things like deciding to be a teacher leader, negotiating the principal-teacher leader relationship, working with peers, and facilitating professional learning.
To encourage more conversations about teacher leadership, we’ve added two new instruments. The “Teacher Leader School Survey” measures how supportive a school culture is of teacher leadership. We’ve also included the “Teacher Leader Self-Assessment,” which can help potential teacher leaders determine how they currently match up with leadership standards.
The book is based on a leadership development model that includes planning for action. In this new edition, we introduce an action research process called the “Influencing Action Plan.” It’s a practical tool that helps teacher leaders work through strategies to address school site problems and issues.
Finally, we wrote a new chapter on the future of teacher leadership. In that chapter we predict, based on current developments, what teacher leaders might be doing in the years ahead.
I've been told your book is a long-time "best seller" for the publisher and is often required reading in college courses. As a subject of study, how has teacher leadership evolved in academia -- both at the undergraduate and graduate levels?
This question reminds me of a conversation we had in 1995 with a well-known editor of educational publications. He was giving us feedback on our first draft. Although he had invited us to write this book, after reading the draft he said that he didn’t agree with us that there could be degree programs in teacher leadership. I’m sure that he regrets that statement now, because today a search of the Internet produces links to numerous teacher-leader degree programs both at the master’s and doctoral levels.
Corwin Press recently sent us a list of 65 universities who used the 2001 edition of our book in classes during the 2008-2009 school year. Also, Marilyn and I receive many requests from doctoral students to use instruments included in our book for their research studies.
The changing licensure and certification areas in several states, including Kentucky, Delaware, Alabama and others, include teacher leadership as an area teachers may add. North Carolina has adopted a teacher leadership standard for beginning teachers. Just last week, it was announced that the Kansas State Department of Education and ETS will work together to create the first national assessment to identify teacher leaders for certification. These changes will impact curriculum and coursework at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Before I retired, I taught a course in teacher leadership at Western Carolina University for seven years. This is a required course for any student receiving a master’s degree in education. My colleagues at Western Carolina believe that when teachers gain new knowledge and skills through a graduate degree program, they have a responsibility to influence their colleagues toward improved practice.
Higher education is also supporting centers designed to provide leadership development for undergraduate and graduate teachers. One example is the Center for Teacher Leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University, led by Terry Dozier, a former National Teacher of the Year who served as the Clinton Administration’s top policy advisor on teaching issues.
We are also seeing more research. In 2004, Jennifer York-Barr and Karen Duke synthesized the last 20 years of research on teacher leadership, and much more has appeared since. Although most of the research is descriptive of teacher leader impact, there is an impetus to find measurable results that link it to student learning.
So it seems that teacher leadership development and research is gaining recognition in higher education.
Your original subtitle back in 1996 was "Leadership Development for Teachers." In 2001 you chose "Helping Teachers Develop as Leaders," which also appears on the 3rd edition. Did you give any thought to a new subtitle, reflecting the growing feeling among some teachers that they have a personal role in developing themselves as leaders? What's your own view?
Yes, we thought about another subtitle. But we felt that “Helping Teachers Develop as Leaders” was still a good description of the purpose of the book. The personal role of teachers in their own development is reflected in the Leadership Development for Teachers model that serves as the foundation for the book. In this model we invite teachers to answer these personal questions: Who am I? (personal assessment) Where am I? (school culture), How do I lead? (influencing strategies), and What can I do? (planning for action).
For all the editions of this book, we wrote “Application Challenges” at the end of each chapter. These suggested activities focus on how PK-12 teachers, administrators, and higher education faculty can provide experiences to help teacher leaders navigate the complexity of leading other adults. Notice the first group we addressed is “teachers.”
We not only feel teachers have a responsibility for their own learning, as leaders they also must help with the professional development of their colleagues. In my work with teachers, I’ve found that the idea of being accountable for others’ learning is new to them. So in one chapter we address how teacher leaders are responsible for facilitating the learning of themselves and others.
We also believe that everyone has a role in providing teachers with leadership development opportunities. You do this through your moderation of the Teacher Leaders Network. Marilyn and I contribute through our book and Leadership Development for Teachers, a professional development program we created. School district leaders and school administrators now offer many more opportunities for teachers to grow and develop as leaders. And certainly higher education has taken a more active role in this area.
I believe we all have ownership in teacher leadership development. Even so, no group will be more influential than teacher leaders themselves. If other supports aren’t forthcoming, then teacher leaders need to advocate and work with the system to get what they need.
In the new edition, how do you and Marilyn sort out the different definitions of teacher leadership — from informal school-based roles, to "official" job descriptions, to quasi-political roles at the local, state and national level where policy is made and influenced?
Our definition of teacher leadership has evolved through the three editions. We’ve added a new component to our definition in this edition. We now say that teacher leaders accept responsibility for achieving the outcomes of their leadership.
In our discussions with school leaders, especially teacher leaders, we found disillusionment with people who take on leadership responsibilities and don’t follow through with their commitments. So we felt we needed to acknowledge that leaders are competent when they are accountable.
Sorting out the variety of roles for teacher leaders is complex. The roles span from leading in individual classrooms to national policymaking. We explore informal teacher leader roles in our book — these are situational and the most difficult to put into categories. Informal roles usually come about when a teacher sees a problem and steps in to exert leadership. These informal roles may be short-lived or continue as long as the teacher has commitment to the issue.
What are relatively new are the formal, instructional leadership roles — especially those that place teachers in coaching or peer assistance roles. We’ve always had some formal teacher leaders, such as department chairs or grade-level team leaders, but asking teachers to move into their colleagues’ classrooms to address instruction is daunting. We’ve written a new chapter focused on these kinds of formal roles.
Finally, we believe the emerging teacher leadership we now see in the policy making area must be encouraged. In the last chapter of our book we offer ideas on how teachers can be advocates beyond their school buildings. Building advocacy skills is part of leadership development. The Center for Teaching Quality is a model for helping teachers learn and practice these skills as they work to influence the development of policies that impact their students and their teaching lives.
In 2006, you co-authored a book about teacher leadership with another colleague, Anita Pankake, aimed specifically at school principals. Why the urge to write Lead with Me: A Principal's Guide to Teacher Leadership and how did the ideas in that book influence the new edition of Sleeping Giant?
Ask a teacher leader about the person who most influences his or her daily work and the answer is “the principal.” Within the current structure of schools, this is the individual who has the formal power to promote or discourage teacher leadership. Although assistant principals and other formal leaders are important, the principal is the key to the success of teacher leadership. Principals not only have power over fiscal and human resources, they have information that teachers need in order to be effective as leaders.
Looking at the bigger picture, Anita and I were concerned about the sustainability of improvement in a school. A new principal comes into a school and often changes are made that become obstacles to continuing effective practices. We feel that principals have a responsibility to build a critical mass of teacher leaders to help sustain the work that helps students learn.
Anita and I also work with principals who want to build teacher leadership in their schools, so we could see the need for a “how-to” book on this topic. The book provides specific strategies for promoting, developing, and sustaining teacher leadership.
Throughout Awakening the Sleeping Giant, 3rd edition, we stress the importance of principals and their responsibilities for building teacher leadership. An entire chapter is focused on how to develop a supportive school culture for teacher leaders. In this edition, we include the new tool called “Teacher Leader School Survey.” We’ve used this instrument with literally thousands of teachers and they find it powerful — especially when other teachers from their schools complete the same survey and they discuss the school’s results.
We don’t put all the responsibility on the principals, because teachers have an obligation to build a positive relationship. In one chapter in our new edition we help teachers learn how to negotiate their leadership roles with their principals. Relationships are complex and none more so that the one between the principal and the teacher leader. Once we recognize this, we can work to make it a productive one.
As one of the co-founders of the Teacher Leaders Network, I was great to see the recognition you and Marilyn gave to the TLN community in the new edition. As an early adviser to TLN, you've had the opportunity to observe its development and listen to the many virtual conversations that have taken place among its members over the past six years. What roles do you think organizations of teacher leaders that cut across school, district and state boundaries can play in strengthening the profession and improving schools?
During my career, external organizations like you’re describing were the lifeline I needed in order to be successful “back home.” My primary work was in leadership development and if it had not been for the National Staff Development Council and the International Network of Principals Centers, I don’t know how I could have survived. Although I lived in a large urban area during most of my career, I was isolated from like-minded folks. At that time, there were no virtual professional communities like TLN, so I attended conferences, took on leadership roles, and read the organizations’ publications. Over time I developed a network of colleagues, and some are my friends to this day.
So you can see my bias for this type of organization for teacher leaders. These are the organizations that give teachers the courage to live out their convictions, sometimes in hostile environments. To “talk” with people who care about the same issues helps teacher leaders to know that they are not alone. Imagine finding someone in a state far from yours who is facing the same challenges! When teacher leaders can be part of a social network that helps them in their professional lives, it is powerful. TLN is an example of this power. I know because I’ve read TLN members’ stories that both inspire me and cause me anguish about their dilemmas.
For years, Marilyn and I have dreamed about a national organization for teacher leaders. Principals and other educational administrators have several national organizations, such as the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Why isn’t there an organization for teacher leaders? Many teacher leaders are active in ASCD, NMSA, and other subject-specific professional organizations, but there is no general organization designed specifically for teacher leaders. In our new edition, we explore this possibility. Maybe the TLN members will initiate this for all teachers who are or want to be leaders.
In the preface to your new edition, you quote one of my colleagues — Melissa Rasberry at the Center for Teaching Quality — who said, "The stars are aligning for teacher leadership." What are the possible futures for teacher leadership? What has to happen to achieve the most positive future, from your point of view, and how likely is that?
Isn’t that a wonderful quote? It has inspired me for several years. Thank you, Melissa! In this edition we wrote a new chapter on the future of teacher leadership. With so many initiatives in the early stages of development, we felt it was important to push for change in the future.
I’d like to share a few examples of what we hope will emerge:
• First, the flat teaching profession must give way to meaningful career ladders for teachers. Depending on the personal circumstances of teachers, they can select the challenges they want to take on or remain competent in their individual classrooms. Regardless of teachers’ decisions, we need predictable and fully funded avenues for teachers to take on leadership responsibilities. There should be an organizational expectation of leadership — unlike the current school culture where teachers are often ridiculed if they take on leadership roles.
• Next, if teachers agree to assume additional responsibilities they should receive commensurate pay. Like many people, I remember the attempts at merit pay over the years, so we need to learn from these mistakes and build a comprehensive system based on multiple criteria assessed by several people. Performance-based compensation programs are developing across the country. Several members of TLN worked on an in-depth report that describes what should exist in these types of programs.
• A final example of our futuristic vision is the measurement of and attention to working conditions in schools. This is a foundational issue for promoting teacher leadership. The Center for Teaching Quality has created a measurement tool for this purpose. In many states, the results are publicly communicated. The most important step, though, is that school systems take the results seriously and work with schools to make changes when the working conditions are not supportive of teaching and don’t create an environment that can sustain leadership.
Your last question is “how likely is it” that these trends will become the norm in our profession. Personally, I believe that we do not have a choice. We have to make sure they become a reality. Otherwise we will continue to lose outstanding teachers, who are ready to be leaders, to other professions -- or to administrative roles that take them further from the classroom than they really want to be.
Will there be a 4th edition?
Whew, you always ask the most difficult questions! Marilyn and I both recently retired. We felt an obligation to complete this recent edition as our parting gift to teacher leaders. Of course, who knows what the future holds for anyone, including Marilyn and me. Thank you for asking.