PORTLAND — Tuesday is Teacher Appreciation Day across this country. It’s a day to honor and celebrate the work that our educators do all year.

As the 2014 Maine Teacher of the Year, I encourage you to reach out to a teacher in your community. It makes such a difference. Personally, I will treasure the cards I received after being named for this honor, some from students I taught more than 30 years ago. I assure you that your efforts will be appreciated.

While we take this moment to acknowledge our dedicated educators, we also need to call attention to the dynamic and ever-increasing skill set of teachers, especially leadership skills. Maine’s schools are strong for many reasons, including the teacher leadership that is emerging throughout the state.

Public school teachers from Kittery to Van Buren step up in ways that many may not realize.

Some teachers take the traditional path of pursuing a degree in administration.

Some teachers have a dual position – teaching while also running the school – as in the teacher leader model practiced at Reiche School in Portland.

Teacher leaders throughout the state lead professional development courses. Others are advancing ways to increase the home-school connection by designing resources for parents and carrying out home visits.

There can be many paths to leadership in our profession. In Maine, we need to harness the potential and perspective that teachers provide. Teacher leaders, as established practitioners, can help move schools and districts forward with the common goal of educating all students.

So, on this important day, I challenge districts, communities, parents and teachers to champion teacher leadership in its many forms. I have seen firsthand what can happen when we tap this amazing resource.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is also focused on the power of teacher leadership, stating that “the only way that higher standards and new systems of support and evaluation will work is if teachers lead this change in partnership and collaboration with principals, parents and communities.”

It just makes sense. Teacher leadership is the key to our success in improving student learning for many reasons, including:

High-performing organizations are collaborative. Principals and teachers must share the responsibility of increasing student achievement.

Teachers are expert decision-makers. We make more than 1,500 educational decisions every school day!

Teachers have the current expertise on pedagogy. We need to play a role in the decisions that affect curriculum and instruction.

An astonishing 46 percent of new teachers leave education within five years, in part because of the inability to effect change. Expanding leadership roles supports the retention of educators who are seeking greater responsibility.

So, how can all of us work together to support this new emphasis on teacher leadership?

Community members and district leadership, you can:

Invite us. Initiatives about improving education locally and statewide are best served when teachers have a full voice.

Support us. We need time to take on these new roles. You can “burn us out” if this is just added to our current teaching load.

Encourage us. If you think we have a strength, let us know. Encouragement unlocks the confidence needed to be an effective leader.

Trust us. Trust us to do our best professional work. We will live up to the challenge.

Acknowledge us. Take the time to call attention to our leadership, our initiatives and our successes. High-performing organizations celebrate their leadership.

Teachers, you can:

Find a leadership role that fits. Leadership roles include serving as resource leaders, curriculum specialists, learning facilitators, mentors, data coaches and catalysts for change.

Take a risk. This might be something new for you. You are constantly encouraging students to work outside their comfort zone. Well?

Collaborate with the administration in your building to support the vision of the school. Together, improving student learning is our No. 1 priority.

Encourage your colleagues to lead. Applaud specific strengths and emphasize the importance of using these skills to lead others and benefit students.

As we appreciate all teachers Tuesday, remember that we also need to mobilize the leadership skills of teachers in our communities. More than ever, our ability to improve schools depends on teacher leaders. The importance of the work is clear. Let’s get it done together!

— Special to the Press Herald