The following post was written by Susan Davis, PLP  community leader.

One of the unsung “shifts” that often happens with PLP occurs in those who serve in the role of Team Leader.  The team leader is crucial to the success of the PLP professional development process, but often those who step into this role do so with little idea of what it will hold for them.  The year of growth as a PLP team leader often asks those individuals to take a hard look at their relationships with their colleagues and their institutions, as well as to examine their own known strengths while digging to discover new strategies for working and learning together and building new skills in the process.  A tall order.

I’ve asked several PLP team leaders from the ADVIS/AIMS cohort to share their stories, so that others can learn from their experience.

Alice MacIntyre, Garrison Forest School

Alice began her year as a team leader for GFS with Carol Dweck’s concept of a “growth mindset” as a guide.  Like many team leaders, she did not see herself as the charismatic leader who would inspire others to greatness. Yet she challenged herself to grow openly and transparently in her role and to put in the work and effort needed to understand how to learn leadership over time.

Alice says, “I threw myself into the virtual Community Hub, sharing my thoughts — both well-formed and half-baked — and forced my perfectionist self to acknowledge that perfection isn’t the goal of leadership or of PLP….  Sharing my ideas, interacting with my peers about the teaching life, asking big, scary and wondering questions about the future of education — those are the goals of this learning journey. As a passionate learner, I could handle that quite easily. As a leader, I had hoped that leading by example (and revealing in a public forum like the Hub that I had more questions than answers) would encourage my team to similarly make a leap, working to develop a professional learning network with our PLPeeps by sharing their thoughts in the Hub.”

But Alice’s team had some “storming” to do before they would learn to trust and bond with one another and find a way to share transparently (in a team blog) that they were all comfortable with.

Now Alice says, “If anyone had told me six months ago, in my first experience as a leader of my peers, that not only would my team (made up of very different personalities) be able to work together, but also that we’d thrive as a unit, I would not have believed it. I am not a ‘born leader,’ nor am I a perfect leader. But I have grown into a leader. My team has grown into a unit. I am becoming comfortable with the messy nature of true success.”

Read more about Alice’s growth as a team leader in her blog post, “Comfort in Leadership.”

Paula Montrie, Friends School of Baltimore 

Paula had expected her leadership role for the “Quaker Divas” to be one of chief scheduler and snack provider.  Yet, once she found herself in the midst of a team that was embracing the shifts in powerful ways, she struggled to be the right kind of team leader for her group.  This was especially difficult when certain team members seemed to need one kind of leader and others needed the opposite.

Here’s how Paula describes her transformation into what she calls a “participatory leader”:

“I really took to heart the chart that was shared in one of our team leader webinars about the transformation from hierarchical to participatory leadership models.  I would rather see the group come to consensus and move based on those decisions.  I think in philosophy, we all wanted this.  However, in practice, it became very difficult because of the type of leadership style the other participants wanted.  Some wanted a “get it done” type of leadership, whereas others wanted a more “we’re adults, trust us, and we’ll get it done” type of leadership.


“When the leader is a learner as well, it is a gift. I was happy to be a part of the group and not have to worry that we were achieving objectives on time, or going in the “right” direction, or feeling like I was supposed to be affecting the outcome.  But when others turned to me for guidance, I felt torn based on the fact that there was no “goal” or “directive” to rely on.  Because we were creating it for ourselves – I simply didn’t have that answer for them.”

Early on Paula felt responsible for creating the shift that would transform her team members. When another team leader suggest that she “be the change” she wanted to see, Paula let go of feeling responsible for others’ growth and concentrated on her own – which she did have control over.  As an active participant in the Hub, she demonstrated to others the learning it could inspire.

“Now,” she says, “we talk about how we have come to use the Hub in different ways, and acknowledge that our comfort levels with using that tool are in different places.”

Laura Blankenship, The Baldwin School

Laura was, like most Team Leaders, reluctant to take on the role because of the time commitment it implied and because she worried about assuming a leadership stance with team members she felt were “more capable” than she was.  At first she took on  “the lion’s share of the work,” especially for commenting in the Community Hub, but after arranging a retreat for her team members to focus on their project, the other members of her team stepped up with significant contributions to the action research process, and Laura happily stepped back to let her team members lead as well.

Laura says, “I feel like I would have done something completely different if I had stayed in the mode of doing everything myself.  And in a way, that would have been easier. As it was, I listened to my team members, and found our collective ideas so much better than anything I would have come up with on my own. I think I’ve learned how to motivate people, how to respect everyone’s strengths, and how to guide and lead without being an overwhelming presence.”

Laura still feels that the task was daunting, especially asking others to “take time out of their already busy schedule to do things that they might not see value in.” Yet, in the end, she credits everyone “with finding value out of what we did and bringing that value to our school.”  Laura feels she earned her teams’ respect because she respected them and what they had to bring to the table.  She says, wisely, “You have to find out what that person has to offer and incorporate that and use that as a starting point to get them to move forward.”

Shari Hiltbrand, The Kinkaid School

Shari Hiltbrand is a self-described techie who was already working with colleagues to develop a “flipped” science curriculum.  She volunteered to be Team Leader when no one else in her group stepped up to the plate.  The only middle-school teacher on her team, Shari juggled schedules and time commitments, even as she tried to address the wide range of comfort levels with technology in her group.  She and her teammates also felt the pressure of following two successful PLP teams who had already made a significant impact on her school.  Even so, she and her team members found common ground with their action research project.  In the process, however, Shari learned a lot about collaboration across disciplines and divisions.

Shari says, “Being a team leader this year has made me more aware of where others are in their tech/web 2.0/social media comfort.  I’ve also had a slight taste of what it’s like to be a divisional tech specialist trying to get buy-in from teachers to use technology in the classroom.  I need to go tell my tech specialists ‘thank you’ for being advocates for our middle school.  The experience of being a team leader has also made me even more aware of how much students respond to the web 2.0/social media/technology component in the classroom.  It’s where our ‘digital natives’ are in learning style and as educators — especially long time educators — we need to move into the same century as our students.”

We applaud the hard work of all of the PLP teams and their Team Leaders.  Their openness to growth is part of what allows the deep shift to happen over time.  Now all of the teams can go back to their schools and become the leader change-agents who will make a difference in their schools and their students’ lives.

If you’d like to become a leader in your school, sign up for Powerful Learning Practice’s 2012-2013 Connected Learner Experience.

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Christen Dodd

Christen is a Connected Learning Specialist for PLP. After earning her MEd. in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Virginia, she began her career as a K-5 Computer Resource Teacher. She enjoyed collaborating with staff and creating technology lessons that engaged students, but caught “the bug” for presenting to educators on a national level. For eleven years, Christen trained educators both face-to-face and virtually with Verizon Thinkfinity. She also served as their Distance Learning Coordinator and Vice President of Professional Development. Christen has enjoyed working with Powerful Learning Practice since 2011 and continuing her work with educators, parents and students alike. Currently, she is also an instructional technology specialist at her children's JK-8 Catholic school.

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