Tips for Being a Grade Level Leader

In today’s episode, we’re diving into the trenches of middle school, but not just any trenches—those of a grade level leader. Imagine being the bridge between the admin and the other teachers in your grade level.  It’s a role that’s part superhero, part diplomat, and all heart. Join us as we explore the responsibilities and pros and cons, along with tips for being a great grade-leader!

Topics Discussed

  • What is a grade level leader?
  • Tips for being a great leader
  • Pros and cons of this position

Check out the classroom forms discussed in this episode here:

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Ellie 0:00

Welcome back to the Teaching Toolbox Podcast, the podcast where the chalkboard meets the real world. I'm Ellie, and I'm here with Brittany.

Brittany 0:08


Ellie 0:09

In today's episode, we're diving into the trenches of middle school, but not just any trenches, those of a grade level leader. Imagine being the bridge between the administration, happy or otherwise, and the other teachers in your grade level. It's a role that's part superhero, part diplomat, and all heart. Join us as we explore the responsibilities and pros and cons along with tips for being a great grade level leader. Let's jump in.

Brittany 0:38

If you're thinking about a grade level leader, let's talk about what a grade level leader might be, what types of responsibilities you might have, and what jobs you might be doing as a grade level leader. A grade level leader mainly shares information and disseminates that information throughout the school year, so that you don't have extra meetings that are very large, like whole staff, and very cumbersome like trying to get everybody's feedback at one time. They're also in charge of the budget for the grade level or the department. That's possibly at the beginning of the year. But usually the end of the school year is when they do that for the next school year. They receive all the supplies at the beginning of the school year in July or August that the grade level ordered. They must stamp or label them depending on whether you're a huge district or a little school. And then they have to deliver all those supplies to the various teachers who may be ordered them or who might be in charge of them. They usually attend weekly or monthly meetings with the other grade level and department leaders, along with administration to review information and talk about changes coming report feedback from the other teachers in their department and more. They usually lead a weekly or every other weekly meeting in their own grade level or department to disseminate information, they learned to ask for feedback, explain upcoming agendas. And they do all of that in exchange for a stipend of somewhere between usually 250 to $1,000 per year.

Ellie 2:26

So we actually had team leaders in our middle school, rather than grade level leaders. Our teams were about three, four or five teachers depending on which grade level and depending on the year because in sixth grade, we did restructure several different times. So our team leaders had similar responsibilities to the grade level leader handing out the budget related materials and collecting those to submit as a team, but they didn't necessarily have the responsibility of collecting that for the whole grade or making decisions about it for the whole grade. They received some of the supplies, but they didn't have to stamp them or label them like you might have in your district. And I think teachers generally received their own personal budget request items just they were dropped off in their room. But things like office supplies, types of things, the team leader would get all of that in their room, and then have to pass everything out distribute everything. And then they had our team leaders had team meetings, just about every day with us. And then they would meet with other team leaders for the grade, like every so often if I don't know if it was every week or every month. But so it was kind of like another level with all the team leaders, and then they would have their their bigger team leader meetings. But they had other similar responsibilities to what you talked about.

Brittany 3:47

Yeah, interesting.

Ellie 3:48

Yeah. So depending on what kind of school you're in, you might have grade level, you might have team leader, you know, just depends on your configuration.

Brittany 3:56

Yeah. And if you're like an art teacher, or a specialist teacher, all the specials might be combined into one team. And you might have a leader for this specials teams.

Ellie 4:07

Yeah, I think that's what they had for for ours.

Brittany 4:09

So we're going to talk about some different tips to being a great grade level leader or a great team leader. First of all, you're probably going to have to mediate some disagreements among your team, not between students, but among the teachers. As a grade level leader, you also helped to facilitate and mediate the disagreements between colleagues, if they have a disagreement about like, who has the computer room this period or who checked out the books for this semester or those kinds of things. You often are the one who has to mediate that disagreement. And you want to mediate it and resolve it before it gets to the admin and becomes a big deal because once things get to the admin, that becomes a problem. You want to promote a collegial environment and work on making a cohesive team. So one great tip here is to make sure you have a defined approach, such as using active listening with your team, I hear that you feel this way I hear that you feel this way, is there some way we can compromise or something like that,

Ellie 5:26

if you're thinking ahead of time about how you're going to approach things as they come up, then you're more mentally prepared to deal with them.

Brittany 5:33

Yes, another thing you're gonna want to do is inspire collaboration, you are not there to demand things from the team, but to facilitate group decisions and help inspire collaboration among everyone. So for instance, if your team decided to do a family night, you wouldn't tell people you know, you're going to do this, you're going to do that, you're going to do that. Instead, what you want to do is kind of lay out, we're going to have this booth and this booth on this booth. We need, you know, plates, napkins and cups for this section, you know, or we need these kinds of foods, finger foods or whatever. And then you would say, Are there any volunteers for any of those areas, and let people pick one to three areas where they could help out. If you have someone in your team who's often like introverted or just reluctant to help out, they don't like to stay late, or whatever, you could point out their talents and their hobbies and possibly suggest something for them. But you don't want to demand it. And you know, maybe start easy say, you know, can you stop by the grocery store and just grab cups for us? Something like that?

Ellie 6:45

Yeah, that's a great way to contribute. Start small.

Brittany 6:48


Ellie 6:50

You want to try to foster a collaborative environment, encourage open communication and collaboration among your team. Middle school is a time of significant change for students, both academically and socially. And that can present unique challenges in the classroom. By promoting a culture of teamwork with your fellow teachers, you can pool your collective expertise and creativity. To address these challenges effectively, you can schedule regular times for planning, reflection, and sharing of best practices, sometimes we feel a little bit at a loss when we're in our classrooms. And we're trying to figure out how to deal with a particular situation. So having that time to, to share and reflect together and brainstorm is very, very helpful. Facilitating a supportive environment like that where teachers feel valued and heard can lead to innovative teaching strategies and a more cohesive grade level team.

Brittany 7:45

One thing I thought of when you were going over that is like, if you've got a really difficult student that year, in the grade level, you know, having a discussion where, you know, I've got Tommy and I figured out that putting him in the back corner so that he can pace has really helped in my classroom. So I just wanted to let everybody know, you know, if you've got the ability, you might want to try that in yours, you know, are asking, has anybody found anything that works with Madison? Because I'm at a loss in my classroom?

Ellie 8:17

Right, right. Yeah,

Brittany 8:18

having those kinds of discussions.

Ellie 8:21

Yeah, great. Along those lines, you can encourage your team teachers or your grade level teachers to try some new and different teaching approaches, like maybe having that student pacing isn't something that they normally include, but it's an approach that helps their teaching. So you can encourage try new and different things. We know Middle School students are at a crucial stage of developing their interests and discovering their personal interests and developing their independence. So being a leader gives you another chance to encourage teaching practices like project based learning, differentiated instruction and inquiry based activities. Of course, you aren't going to tell other teachers how they're going to teach or what they're going to do in their classrooms. But maybe you can bring some instructional practice discussions into some of your meetings so that people have some ideas, you know, you offering one idea might just trigger a different idea in their mind.

Brittany 9:12

Yeah. Another thing you want to do is to support your teacher's well being their mental health and their just emotional strength, recognizing emotional and physical demands of teaching. It's a tough job. It's usually considered one of the most stressful jobs you can have next to like, airplane.

Ellie 9:34

Traffic Control.

Brittany 9:35

Yes, thank you. Yeah, traffic control people. So especially in the middle school years, when kids are going through so many hormonal changes. You know, I think middle school teachers are probably have the hardest job of all so advocate for your teachers wellbeing by promoting a healthy work life balance, and providing support for stress management. This could include organizing regular check ins providing resources for mental health and self care fostering a culture where teachers feel that they can seek help without judgment. And when teachers feel supported and valued, they're more likely to be motivated and effective in the roles. As I got accustomed to being a grade level leader, I felt like I did more and more to help my team and to value their emotional well being. For instance, every August before school started, we would invite all the sixth grade team members, their tutor and their families to our house for a barbecue. So we could get to know each other outside of work and just share and bond with each other.


That's awesome.


So no one felt like a stranger or like they were new or anything like that. And then I'd also have all my teachers and tutors fill out a questionnaire kind of like students do when they have to list their favorite things, so that I could shower them with gifts throughout the year, you know, a candy bar here or you know, flower, there sweet, you know, a blue pack of note of post it notes, just so you know, that's their favorite color or whatever, just so they would feel, you know, a little loved as they went through the year, a little looked after,




And then on the first day of school, I would go right before the kids came. And I would give everyone a carnation or a flower of some sort and a note wishing them a great year.


That's so nice.


We also did gift exchanges and secret Santas, we celebrated birthdays, all those sorts of things, just so that the teachers felt loved.


Yeah, what an awesome environment. You're amazing. Well, we also have some tips for leading effective meetings, because if you are a grade level, or team leader, you probably have to lead some meetings. So when you're leading meetings, do your best to make them organized and productive. We know it's so easy for us as teachers to head into a meeting and start talking about the last class we had or an email that we just got. And we can kind of get lost in those conversations. As the leader, it can be easy to join in with these discussions making it harder to get the meeting started. So whenever possible, make sure you have a clear agenda for the meeting. If this is a daily meeting, it might be the same agenda every day, not something that you have to go ahead and prepare for every meeting.


If you're looking for agendas like that, or for a questionnaire like I mentioned above, I do have a resource. It's called successful forms for an entire classroom year. And it has your grade level templates in it. It has agendas. It has forms. It has basically everything you need in it for an entire year as a grade level leader. And that's available in my store. And we will link that in the show notes.


Oh, that sounds amazing. I definitely could have used that when I was in the classroom something to add to the organizational aspect. Thinking more about meetings, try to start and end your meeting on time. Maybe give five minutes for those random discussions that people are walking in with and then begin promptly after those five minutes so that that's the expectation, and then end at the given time. Sometimes this time is dictated by your next class. But if it's not respect everyone's time by finishing at the designated time, rather than five or 10 minutes past the ending time. You might do this by summarizing the meetings main points or what you accomplished when there's five minutes left so that you can just kind of close that up. Even better. Try to end a couple minutes early if you can, and give your fellow teachers a couple minutes of downtime.


My husband's work they always say I'm gonna give you five minutes back.


Nice love that. You also might want to assign roles for your meetings, such as a note taker, or a timekeeper. And note taker can be really helpful in documenting decisions that are made and action items while you are doing the facilitating of the meeting. And the timekeeper helps keep the meeting within its allocated timeframe. You might have your timekeeper give you a little wave when you've got the five minutes left, so you can kind of sum up and make sure that your ending on time. assigning roles can definitely help the meetings run smoothly and ensure that all the necessary tasks are accounted for. And it might keep distracted teachers a little more focused if they have a job. I know that I could definitely zone out during meetings if there wasn't something specific that I had to attend to.


I was really bad during like those whole staff meetings. There was one time right before school started. I was playing Yahtzee on my phone And I got Yahtzee, and I accidentally yelled, Yahtzee.


Oh, no. Oh, man, I didn't do that. But I definitely would. I could be a talker during meetings. That's not normally my, my personality, I don't think is, but during some of those meetings, it just is hard to contain yourself sometimes. So sometimes you need to be focused by something else. If you have a specific task that can be helpful.


Yeah. So what are some of the pros and cons of being a grade level leader, these can obviously differ depending on your school, the size of your team, your administration's expectations and attitudes, but here are a few pros and cons to consider


no undertone there.


Let's start with the cons and get those out of the way. So our first con is, it's obviously increased workload and stress. With leadership comes additional responsibilities that can significantly increase your workload. administrative tasks, such as scheduling, planning, professional development sessions, attending meetings, those can all be time consuming. Balancing these duties with your own teaching responsibilities can lead to stress and burnout.


For sure.


Another con is dealing with conflict resolution. As a grade level leader, you may often find yourself in the position of mediating conflicts, weather between teachers, between teachers and students, or even between teachers and parents. This aspect of the role requires a great deal of emotional intelligence, and can be emotionally draining


very true. Another con is the pressure to perform being in a leadership position means that your performance is not only a reflection of yourself, but of your grade level team as well. There can be pressure to ensure that all teachers are performing to the best of their abilities, and that students are achieving their targets. This pressure can be compounded by expectations from administrators, parents and the students themselves.




And kind of along those lines is the idea that you're a little bit under a microscope as a grade level leader.


Yes, very much so. So let's get into the happier things. Let's go to our pros. As one of the pros, you will have leadership and influence as a grade level leader, you may have a significant opportunity to influence teaching methods, the overall educational experience for both teachers and students, and possibly the curriculum, you can lead initiatives that enhance learning, incorporate innovative teaching strategies and foster a positive, productive educational environment. That sounds inspiring, you can make your grade level the one that everybody loves to be,


I want to be in sixth grade,


you also get to contribute to professional development. So this role provides a platform for continuous professional growth, you are often at the forefront of educational research, new pedagogies and administrative strategies. Leading by example, you can expand your skills in areas such as conflict resolution, time management, effective communication, benefiting both your personal and professional life. Usually, if there is professional development that the principal wants to send somebody to, it's usually the grade level leader that ends up having to go and that just benefits you because you get your professional development out of the way. And you also learn new skills.


Mm hmm. True. Another pro is the idea of collaboration and support. Being a grade level leader allows you to work closely with a team of teachers, fostering a sense of community and support. This collaborative environment can lead to the sharing of resources, ideas, teaching practices, which can enrich the educational experience for students and provide a network of support for teachers who are facing challenges. And lastly, as a pro, you are seen as a go getter, a hard worker, and you are willing to do the work that's kind of giving you a leg up in interviews and for job promotions.


If you have the opportunity to be a grade level leader, think about the pros and cons, what you'd like to contribute as a leader, and how much time you have to dedicate to this role. If it is something you want to pursue, approach your administration about the option, the availability and your desires. Whereas if you are asked to be a grade level leader and it's something you don't want to take on, find a tactful but honest way to turn down the ask. No one should have to do something they don't want to or can't handle.


Great advice. If you haven't already subscribed to the podcast, make sure you hit follow so you don't miss any episodes when you head off into your summer break. We'll be doing some summer series episodes that will help you enjoy your break and add some tools to your teaching toolbox as you prepare for back to school. Have a great day.


Bye See you later.

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