GUEST POST: Teachers as Leaders, Yes We Can!

GUEST POST: Teachers as Leaders, Yes We Can!

When I first heard the modern iteration of the term ‘Teacher Leadership’ at the National Board’s annual Teaching and Learning Conference, my first cynical thought was, “Here They go again… trying to get us to do more work for less money.”   Three years later, I’ve come to believe strongly that teacher leadership is the key to creating a modern, effective American educational system.

Like many experienced teachers, I was a teacher leader before that became a catch phrase.  Almost 20 years ago, I was lucky enough to be a part of a cadre of ‘Literacy Leaders’ in my district.  There were 12 of us.  Our mission was to disseminate the research on how to teach reading.  It was exciting to be a part of this cohort and it was exciting to bring the teachers at my school together for the first time to discuss our practice and how to make it better.  The week-long summer training I led changed the culture at our school from one of isolation to one of collaboration.

Teachers volunteer at their schools because they want to help their peers be the best they can be for the good of their students.  Often these leaders move on into administrative positions because that is the only opportunity they see to extend their reach.  Many feel the need to expand their impact by formalizing their authority. Unfortunately, too many of these teacher leaders are unhappy in their roles as administrators.  They miss the life of the classroom.  They don’t feel their new roles give them the access they hoped for.  And they are right.  Teachers are more often influenced to improve their practice by other teachers whom they trust and respect.

This is where the true power of teacher leadership lies. Great teachers who improve collaborative practices within schools impact instruction far more than the conventional professional development.  The support that is most needed to improve their teaching is much more involved and intimate than the typical teacher training session.  Strong teachers, who receive training in coaching and adult learning theory, as well as, leading collaborative teams, can help build a culture of ongoing collaborative learning and professional practice in schools.  In this way highly effective teachers can lead courageous change leading to remarkable improvement in student learning.

Since ‘teacher leadership’ has become a movement, there are now a variety of models of teacher leadership around the country.  One is the hybrid role, where teachers teach part of the day and mentor or coach the other part.  In Albuquerque Public Schools, some teacher leaders are full time school-based Instructional Coaches.  Recently, organizations such as Teach Plus and Educators for Excellence have recruited exceptional educators and supported them in influencing policy and school reform in their states.  Teach Plus Fellows recently and successfully advocated for changes to our evaluation system.  The Secretary of Education’s Teacher Advisory is another such advocacy group that the PED started last year.  Both programs will be seeking applicants for new cohorts this summer. Other teachers seek advanced training or National Board Certification and work to help others achieve the same.  Perhaps the most powerful example of teacher leadership has been in the ‘Teacher Led Schools’ movement that has so far been stunningly successful.

New Mexico started its own innovative teacher leadership initiative with the Teacher Leader Network. This network began with 50 high performing teachers who went through a rigorous selection process.  They are brought together in person for 5 full day leadership trainings.  They take part in monthly webinars so they are kept abreast of current information from the the Public Education Department so that they can share it directly with their peers.  The state Public Education Department plans to expand this program so that every school in New Mexico has a designated teacher leader as part of the network.  As a tool for communication, this could yield powerful dividends, especially if the people who lead the Public Education Department make it a venue for not only dispersing information but also as a way to find out what teachers really need and want from our education leaders.  As a way to improve instruction among the rank and file, this network could have profound impact if the teacher leaders are able build trust, and establish collaborative processes in their schools.

If you are a teacher who wants to see some changes in our system, get involved!  Stay on the lookout for opportunities to apply for fellowships and leadership positions.  These opportunities are becoming increasingly more common.  Become National Board Certified, our state is one of the few in which you can receive a healthy stipend for this important achievement.  National Board Certification can open other doors as a leader in our profession.  If you are already National Board Certified consider attending our spring Leadership and advocacy training that will take place in Albuquerque in early June.

My own journey as a teacher leader taught me that teachers in New Mexico still need way more support than they generally receive. They feel powerless to change some of the circumstances within which they work, which leads to increased stress and a too high attrition rate.  In the fall, I will be working towards a Master’s Degree in Educational Policy so I can increase the capacity of teacher leaders in New Mexico. Investing in teacher leaders who create more support for teachers is money well spent.  As teacher leaders we can and must raise our voices to influence public policy in support of our teachers and our schools.

2 Replies to “GUEST POST: Teachers as Leaders, Yes We Can!”

  1. So grateful that December day when I sent off my application! Thank you for this wonderful experience.

  2. Enjoyed the professional development “Bridging the Gap with Discussions.”
    We shared our ideas and improvements for classroom activities and teaching strategies.”
    The Presentation on “Emotional Intelligence” was a visual, allegorical masterpiece. The happy, fishmonger story was my favorite.

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