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Learning to Lead

For teachers with a vision for change, there's a wide range of options for developing crucial leadership skills.

By Melissa Campeau
Illustrations: Damien Vignaux/Colagene

An illustration of three Ontario Certified Teachers standing on a stack of giant books. At the bottom is a classroom scene with a teacher and young students.

From social media influencers all the way to supervisory officers, teachers with effective leadership skills can have a profound influence on a student's experience in school. They might shape how science is taught in one particular grade level, for example, ensure a culture of inclusion within an entire school, or steer the priorities of an entire district.

Whether the goal is to be a mentor, a principal or a curriculum specialist, Ontario teachers have a wealth of choices to support development of strong and effective leadership skills.

Teacher learning and leadership program (TLLP)

Leadership requires a vision for change. To help teachers explore new ideas and share the results of their research with peers, there's the Ontario Ministry of Education's Teacher Learning and Leadership Program. Participants with a project they'd like to implement can apply to this program for both professional support and funding. The TLLP funds proposals from experienced classroom teachers who are looking to take on a leadership role in some way that might involve curriculum, instructional practice or supporting other teachers.

Teachers in the program take part in a Leadership Skills for Classroom Teachers session, aimed at helping develop both the skills to manage the project and to share findings with colleagues, within the school, across the board and even the province.

Teacher leadership AQ

For teachers who don't necessarily want an official leadership role - but who still want to find ways to share their ideas and influence educational practice - there's the College's three-part Teacher Leadership specialist program, which began in 2017.

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) offers the three-part program, which explores the idea of leadership and helps teachers develop collaborative skills, unpack complex challenges in education, and develop a course of action for implementing positive change in their schools.

Up and running since the spring of 2017, the Additional Qualification (AQ) course has already drawn a wide range of teachers who apply their leadership skills in equally varied ways. "Some of the class participants are looking to become curriculum leaders, others do a lot of mentoring - sometimes for candidates in faculties of education or for new teachers," says Jennifer Watt, OCT, program co-ordinator for the TDSB's Teachers Learning and Leading department.

Watt sees the growing understanding of such varied forms of leadership as an important development. "They may not have an official role but they're really making a positive change, they have influence, and they're encouraging people to come together and discuss tough issues," she says.

Principal's qualification and development

When it comes to teachers in formal leadership roles, principals and vice-principals often have unparalleled influence over school culture and, by extension, the success of its students.

The two-part Principal's Qualification Program (PQP) is offered by 11 providers in Ontario. "[The PQP] emphasizes collaboration and building relationships within learning communities," says Joanne Robinson, director of professional learning at the Ontario Principals' Council (OPC).

The OPC offers the PQP as well as the Principal's Development Course AQ (among others), to help support the dynamic and evolving nature of teaching and teacher leadership. The course includes modules that cover a breadth of topics, including legal duties and liabilities, leading the French Immersion school, mentoring and coaching, and supporting the LGBTQ community in your school.

"The role of the principal has become very complex, and the responsibilities that go with it have greatly intensified over the past decade or so," explains Robinson. "As a result, the skills, practices and supports people need have grown in the same way that the complexity of the job has grown."

Supervisory officer's qualification program

For those looking to deepen their practice and enhance their circle of influence, there's the Supervisory Officer's Qualification Program (SOQP) offered by five providers across the province.

Monique Ménard, OCT, director of education for Conseil scolaire catholique Franco-Nord and part of the team involved in developing the recently revised guidelines for the AQ, points out the program builds leadership skills in several ways. "The SOQP program not only helps participants gain perspective on themselves as leaders in order to continue to develop and acquire personal leadership tools, but they also gain knowledge on how their leadership is key for greater improvement of student and staff success and well-being," says Ménard.

"Supervisory officers are service leaders," she says. "They support principals in their role and in their capacity to be system thinkers and operations managers of their schools, but most of all in their role as service leaders to their teachers and all staff."

As well, says Ménard, "The supervisory officer is an active voice at the system level with executives, at various ministry consultations as well as during community and stakeholder collaboration sessions or meetings."

Equitable and ethical leadership

"Individuals in leadership roles are key catalysts for change and will be asking some of those difficult questions around whose voice is included and whose is excluded," says Déirdre Smith, OCT, manager, Standards and Practice Unit at the College. To support this, recent revisions to the SOQP and PQP guidelines include a more explicit emphasis on ethical and equitable leadership. "There's a strong critical leadership lens that we encourage all teacher-leaders, principals and supervisory officers to adopt," says Smith. She adds, "Teacher-leaders are expected to be able to support pedagogies, policies and practices that are anti-oppressive, emancipatory and ethical, and that support equity and social justice."

The Teacher Leadership AQ, as well, emphasizes those same leadership qualities. "Even though our system in Ontario is one of the best in the world, we still have students who are marginalized," says Watt. She adds, "As a teacher-leader we need to take a look at our own identities, our own positions, and consider what biases and assumptions we have … and how they might impact our teaching and learning."

Lyne Racine, OCT, surintendante de l'éducation with Conseil scolaire de district catholique de l'Est ontarien, notes the profound influence teachers can have on students' ways of seeing and engaging with the world. "Teachers do more than just teach students: they are role models, guides and facilitators for their students," she says.

Modelling ethical and equitable behaviour can have a far-reaching impact. "We want students to be able to recognize and analyze inequities, decide on tangible action and assess the impact of their actions," Racine adds. "We want them to be open to diversity, ask the right questions and make wise choices, guided by a concern for social justice."

An illustration of adolescent students sitting outside a school. One student walks by, reading a book.

First nations' school leader program: leadership AQ

In some cases, teacher-leaders can become more effective in their practice with an additional layer of knowledge and understanding. That idea was part of the impetus behind the new First Nations' School Leader Program: Leadership AQ.

The AQ was designed to broaden teachers' knowledge of First Nations history and culture, and help gain an in-depth understanding of the complex and ongoing impact of the residential school system.

"It's not a matter of simply knowing First Nations history and culture," says Neil Debassige, OCT, principal of Lakeview School at M'Chigeeng First Nation (currently on leave), and part of the guideline development team. He adds, "The residential school impact is still alive and well in many First Nations communities.

"To begin to have an influence on First Nations students, teacher-leaders have to have a deeper knowledge of those impacts, as well as the perspectives, history and culture of those students, their families and their entire communities," Debassige explains.

Teacher leadership in French-language schools AQ

Teachers in French-language schools can enhance their effectiveness and influence as leaders when they explore the challenges and perspectives of working within a minority setting.

That was the driving force behind the development of the AQ guidelines Enseignement et leadership en situation minoritaire, spécialiste. The promotion of language, the appreciation of culture, and the building of identity and community are critical elements of teaching within a francophone-minority setting, and as such need to be woven into the framework of leadership.

These AQ guidelines were developed to foster the critical exploration, development and implementation of programs that respond to the experiences, strengths, interests and needs of students in French-language schools.

Improving student well-being

Teachers who take on leadership roles have an opportunity to influence everything from direct classroom instruction to provincewide polices. Whatever the level of influence, teachers who take steps to develop their leadership skills are better poised to effect positive change and ultimately improve the well-being of Ontario's students.

Find Your Role

Interested in learning more about teacher leadership? Check out these resources to help build and expand both your understanding and practice:

Find an AQ

Find out more about accredited teacher leadership programs, courses and providers on Find an AQ.

The College's online search engine allows you to search by AQ name and provider institution.