Friday, June 12, 2015

Teacher Leadership: Beyond the Initiative

In my 27 years as an elementary educator, I have experienced many trends, models and 'buzz phrases'. Acronyms such as RTI, PLC, SEP, and CCSS have permeated our conversations at school. Did your school make AYP?  How was your SPED IEP?  Do you have enough OTR's in your lessons?  Oh, I still have PTSD when anyone mentions NCLB...

The latest buzz is all about Teacher Leadership (which I will henceforth refer to as TL).  The recent focus on TL has been spurred by the federal Teach to Lead initiative, and a set of Teacher Leadership Model Standards was even released in 2011 by the Teacher Leadership Exploratory Consortium.

So what is the hype surrounding TL?  Why the focus on something with such a basic title?  How can the idea of a few teachers at each school standing up to represent their colleagues really be all that powerful?  For me, teaching in a state with the highest class size and lowest per pupil expenditure, the need for TL is critical! 

Collective Accountability
TL is connected to the theory that all teachers at a school should feel mutually accountable for the success of all students. Those educators in TL positions do more than just share ideas and strategies; they are empowered to encourage and direct collaboration within communities of teachers. They are willing to model best practices for others. Those in TL positions have a mutual concern for and an expectation of the achievement of all students, not just those in their home rooms.

The Weakest Among Us
In a pack of animals, the weakest are soon isolated and become susceptible to predators. Our weakest educators are often isolated in their rooms and become prey to negative attitudes, bad practices and weakened relationships with colleagues and parents. A true teacher leader will reach out and connect with those teachers who are detached from the social culture within the faculty. Teacher leaders enjoy the benefits of professional memberships and they actively work to draw in more members. TL fosters an attitude of encouragement and the expectation that every teacher can work hard and achieve excellence.

In addition to negative energy, attrition rates also rise when teachers are not actively collaborating with their peers.  Each year many of our potentially strongest teachers leave the classroom due to weak induction programs. Teacher leaders often emerge because they recognize the need for proper mentoring in their schools. Those in TL positions, whether formal or informal, consistently engage novice teachers in reflective conversations about pedagogy and common challenges with classroom management. Teacher leaders take the initiative to guide their colleagues through challenges such as heightened standards, new educator evaluation systems, and the increased emphasis on standardized testing.

Closing the Gap
Educators in TL positions feel empowered to speak openly about education issues with neighbors, family members, policy makers, and other stakeholders. Teacher leaders recognize that community support is critical to the success of schools, and teachers must engage in conversations outside of the school walls. They appreciate and make an effort to learn more about the different cultures in the community. Teacher leaders take the time to advocate for their profession. The influence of TL helps to decrease the ever growing divide between the public and public education.

Go Beyond the Initiative
The demand for TL is expanding as states and districts recognize what many already know: TL can transform a school and increase student learning! Hybrid positions are increasingly prevalent and give teachers the opportunity to stay in the classroom while coaching other teachers. TL is a trending topic at educational conferences and in weekly twitter chats. As TL grows, job satisfaction and teacher retention also increase, instructional practice is strengthened, and students achieve more! Now is the time for us create a powerful culture of TL in every school!

Cross Pollination
Allison Riddle, with the support of her principal, created a hybrid position to mentor teachers without leaving the classroom.