I went to Mississippi last weekend to keynote a session at the ECET2 conference in Jackson.  The event was sponsored by NNSTOY’s Mississippi State Chapter.   Teacher leaders from around the state gathered at the convening to discuss how to transform the culture in their  districts into learning centers that empower students to be global citizens.

One of the comments that troubled me the most was how rigid systems impaired the teachers’ ability to change instruction to meet the needs of the students.  Teachers cited issues that ranged from archaic policy to unbending administrators.  My greatest concern focused on the teachers who talked about feeling powerless to change anything.   That should be a concern to a lot of us.

According to UNESCO, the world needs to recruit 25.8 million teachers by 2030.  That number is frightening when considering the number of people who are not entering the profession and those who are running out the door to leave it.  Let’s face it.  We have done an incredibly poor job of making the career of professional educator enticing to anyone.  That has to change.  Our students and staff deserve better.  Many teachers are frustrated with the lack of a career path and the fact they are rarely listened to.  Something has to change.

Enter the teacher leader.  Teacher leadership is a game changer.  It provides teachers with the ability to utilize their strength in order to help build a culture that promotes student learning at the highest level.  Done correctly, teacher leaders have the ability to work side by side with their colleagues to create a system that promotes collaboration and the sharing of best practices.  Teacher leaders feel empowered to suggest changes that lead to student success.

A lot of districts are considered teacher leadership as a viable option.  However, they are unsure where to start.  I encourage everyone to begin with the Teacher Leader Model Standards.  The standards are filled with great information and provide a much needed common vocabulary around teacher leadership.  The next step is to go see it in action.  Teacher leadership comes in a lot of different shapes and sizes.  The goal is to create a plan that works in your district.  Rarely have canned systems worked in the past. State leaders should consider the work being done in Illinois with the Illinois Teacher Leadership Network.  Key stakeholders from around Illinois have gathered to discuss what steps need to be taken in order to help teacher leadership grow organically around the state.  I am proud to say that Illinois will host a Powered By Teach to Lead event in late April that will provide 25 districts with the opportunity to develop plans to ensure teacher leadership thrives in their districts.  Hopefully, as time passes more and more teachers will feel empowered instead of powerless.


Joseph Fatheree is an award winning author, educator, and filmmaker. He has received numerous educational awards, including being recognized as a Top 10 Finalist for the Global Teacher Prize, Illinois Teacher of the Year, and the NEA’s National Award for Teaching Excellence.  He currently serves as the Director of Strategic Projects for the National Network of State Teachers of the Year in Washington, D.C. and is the Instructor of Creativity and Innovation at Effingham High School in Illinois. His opinions are his own.