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Peer Leadership

February 03, 2020

Listen

Teachers are often required to participate in and lead committees, invited to lead grade level or department teams, or asked to mentor others. 

Unfortunately, along with the added responsibilities, there is often no real information on what they are supposed to be doing as leaders in those positions. Aside from going to meetings with administrators and bringing back calendar information to your team, what exactly are lower-level leaders expected to do?

Although each district and school administrator will have their own individual expectations, we hope to clarify some of the general expectations many administrators have for their peer leaders on campus. 

Department/Grade Level Leader

Depending on the grade level, teams are usually divided into either grade level or subject (department). Your school may divide teachers both ways and include a group for the professional learning community (PLC). 

While some schools try to combine these so teachers have fewer time-consuming meetings to attend, reducing responsibilities may not be a priority for school administrators. If that is the case, someone like a team leader could theoretically approach the administration and ask for them to be more conscientious of the time teachers are spending in meetings and ask for a revision of expectations.

As the department, grade level, or PLC leader, you will be asked to attend meetings that include other leaders on campus. You’ll learn information that needs to be passed on to other members of your team, and administrators will ask you to gather feedback from your team for a variety of things.

Leadership meetings are usually either weekly or monthly.  

From leadership meetings with administrators, team leaders take the information or requests received and include them in their team’s meeting itinerary. Team leaders plan, create agendas for, and run their team meetings. 

Teams may meet once a week, and PLCs usually also meet once a week. 

Team meetings usually focus more on items on the calendar and creating lesson plans for upcoming weeks while professional learning communities focus on professional development.

Team leaders are also responsible for checking for documentation that’s due, making sure the team’s lesson plans are in on time, and troubleshooting any small conflicts that may arise among team members that should really be handled among the group rather than be brought to the attention of the administration. 

Team leaders often take it upon themselves to remind other team members of due dates, rules they may be overlooking, and/or procedures. All teachers need to keep themselves informed of the rules and regulations of the school via the school’s handbook, though. 

They act as the liaisons between administrators and staff but are never supposed to be in a position of authority in regard to disciplining colleagues. 

They are likely to be included when prospective new teachers are being interviewed for a position on the team and may be asked to give their input and recommendations, although the final hiring decision is up to the campus administration. 

There is an unspoken understanding in many schools that a team leader is responsible for the general emotional well-being and morale of the team (which is a lot to expect, depending on the size and emotional health of the team, as well as the size, emotional health, and morale of the school as a whole). As professionals, though, team members should all contribute equally. 

Department leaders may also assist in creating and changing schedules for the department.  

Team leaders often help manage the team’s budget. Their signature is sometimes required on purchase orders, and it is helpful to keep a running record of the remaining budget. Team leaders also often have to determine how the budget will be divided among the team members and their requests.

Team leaders may also be responsible for purchasing, storing, and distributing team supplies. 

New Teacher Mentor

New teacher mentors are supposed to help teachers new to the district as well as those new to teaching. Unfortunately, by the time a teacher becomes a mentor, they have often forgotten what it was like to be new. Compounding the issue is the fact that many newer teachers aren’t even sure what to ask because they don’t know what they don’t know yet. 

If you know you will be a new teacher mentor in the upcoming year, the first thing you should do is find a current new teacher to talk to. Ask them what things surprised them about the district, the school, or teaching in general if they are new to the profession. Use that information to guide you in helping other new teachers. 

The first year as a mentor, do more listening than talking. Use your old lesson plans and calendars to remind you of things that will be happening during the year that they will need to know about. 

Sometimes new teachers are intimidated by their mentors. Some mentors take it upon themselves or are asked to do some informal assessment of the mentee, and this creates an uncomfortable dynamic. If the mentor is in any way seen as an authority figure, they run the risk of not being approachable by the mentees. 

Should you find yourself in this position as a mentor, one of the kindest things you can do for your mentee is to help them find and connect with an unofficial mentor in the school or district family. They may be too uncomfortable to ask questions that may lead to them looking bad or make them vulnerable to criticism, but they need someone to talk to who is not going to use those things against them.

They need someone they trust. If you find you cannot be that person because of the district, the school, or some other expectation placed upon you, help them find someone who can. 

Another great practice to use when mentoring new teachers is to arrange for them to observe several different teachers in a variety of subjects and/or grades. It can be very empowering to see how others are conducting and managing classes without just focusing on the content. Many times those observations will give them the opportunity to formulate questions they haven’t thought of yet.

Meetings with mentees need to be more than a calendar exchange, and it shouldn’t be burdensome. It seems like districts truly want to help new teachers, but end up filling their time with meetings and requirements that don’t really amount to much in the way of actual helpfulness. 

Time is one of the most precious commodities in education, and new teachers are no exception to that need. If you cannot be helpful, say hello, encourage them to speak with a mentor of their choice, and let them get to work doing their job. Don’t add to their already very full plate any more than absolutely necessary, and do whatever you can to help them with practical things and making the connections they do need to be a successful, long-term, career teacher.  

Committee Members

There are so many committees to belong to and so little time! Committees are a necessary part of the well-functioning school. Whether you are leading a committee or just a member of one, it really takes everyone pitching in to get the job done.

Committees are important. Make every effort to attend meetings for any committees you sign up for or are “volluntold” that you will be on. Many times, committees meet, come up with questions, and team members go back to their grade level or department to get feedback or make a decision together. Some committees may seem frivolous, like those that plan get-togethers, but many of them are vital to the meat of the work that running a school takes.

It may seem like it should go without saying, but with more serious committees like attendance or disciplinary, make sure you are acquainted with the appropriate district policies as they pertain to your committee. Take it from one of our writers, it is very frustrating to have to redo hours of work after realizing there are specifications in local policy that may not be present in the state or federal laws.

Committees can be an excellent way to get to know many of the people outside your day-to-day “world” since they usually have representatives from various grade levels and departments. Use those opportunities to create professional relationships with people other than your immediate team.

District committees can be especially helpful in that. If you work in a larger district, it’s nice to meet colleagues from other schools. You may find it refreshing to talk about subject matter and teaching styles with other teachers from your grade level or department who work at other schools. 

The same is true for school committees. It’s nice to visit with people who teach something similar but with a different age group. You may find enough in common to create a reading buddy or game-buddy sort of system with another grade-level. Getting together with students from other grade levels and departments can be very beneficial for everyone involved. 

Final Notes

Peer leadership can be challenging, but if you do it for the right reasons, you may find that you really enjoy it. Remember these important points on leadership:

1. Treat everyone with the same respect you’d like to receive. 

  1. Never use information you learn as a peer leader to gossip or harm someone within your care. 
  2. It can be exhausting to do your job and also lead. Take care of yourself. 
  3. Good leaders listen more than they speak and consider everyone’s opinions when making decisions for the group. 
  4. Be honest and demonstrate integrity while also being transparent 
  5. Share the work through delegation, and always be doubly sure to share the credit. Never claim someone else’s work as your own. Take responsibility for your own actions. 
  6. Maintain overall positivity and seek to problem solve rather than just vent. 
  7. Lead by example. 
  8. Help people connect with other people who can best help them. You may not have the answers or be able to bond with someone, but you may know the perfect person who can. 
  9. Be comfortable with saying “no” sometimes. A good leader has flexible boundaries when it’s important but also determines to be the one who says, “That’s over the line. Let’s do this instead.” 

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