A long history of top-down bureaucracy in public schools has created a deep-rooted system in which administrators make the decisions and teachers carry them out. But recent shifts in culture and policy are providing more opportunities for teachers to take on leadership roles and make their voices heard in decisions that impact their day-to-day work in the classroom.
Creating environments that encourage teacher leaders was the topic of the Teacher Leadership Policy Panel at “Advancing the Profession: The Outcomes of the Teacher Leadership Initiative,” an event held yesterday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
Panelists, including Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association (CEA), Fred Frelow, Education and Scholarship senior program officer at the Ford Foundation, and Joshua Starr, Chief Executive Officer of Phi Delta Kappa, discussed ways to allow more teachers to make an impact on teaching and learning conditions without having to leave the clssroom and pursue administrator careers.
The panel was moderated by Caroline Hendrie, executive director of the Education Writers Association, who began by asking Dallman of CEA how conditions would need to change to encourage more teacher leaders.
Dallman said the two most important factors to create those conditions are trust and collaboration – between educator colleagues, between educators and parents, and especially between educators and administrators.
“We need administrators who are comfortable with distributed leadership,” she said. “When there are strong, collaborative teams, teachers will step up to lead.”
Frelow agreed, saying that teachers are too often isolated in their classrooms and that they should use new platforms — like virtual professional learning communities — to collaborate and organize.
But Starr suggested that perhaps the question isn’t how to create more teacher leaders, but “how to bring everyone else along.”
“Teachers must feel highly engaged, they must feel they are part of the larger ecosystem of the school and district,” he said. “Not everyone is a great leader, most are followers, and that’s OK. How do we shift the culture so that all educators are treated like professionals. ”
The key to engaging all educators and “bringing more along” is collaboration, Dallman responded.
“A teacher will say, ‘I have a great idea, and by working with my colleagues, it can get even better,’” she said. She also said that time must be carved out in the day for teachers to collaborate so they have opportunities to share ideas.
The panelists agreed that new policies for accountability and teacher evaulations could help educators have a voice in decisions, but that the overall culture of public schools must change in a broad sense. America needs to redefine what it means to be a teacher so that the role includes opportunities to influence practice, policy, curriculum and learning conditions. More than money and benefits, new educators want to have a profound impact on student learning and want to have a say in how to create the best learning conditions. If teacher expertise continues to be confined to the four walls of their classrooms, recruiting and retaining the highest quality educators will be impossible.
The panel was sponsored by the Teacher Leadership Initiative, a joint endeavor of the National Education Association (NEA), the Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ) and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) to advance the profession through the expertise and leadership of accomplished teachers. Now in its third year, TLI seeks to recruit, prepare, activate and support a new generation of teachers and to transform the profession so that teachers play more consequential roles in shaping the policies and practices that govern teaching and learning.
More than 50 teacher leaders from across the country participated in the event, including Nancy Barile, a National Board Certified Teacher and English language arts teacher at Revere High School in Revere, Massachusetts.
As part of the TLI’s required field-based leadership project, Barile developed the capstone project Transforming the Educational Experience of Young Men of Color (YMOC) at Revere High School. The project’s goal is to explore ways in which educators at the school can ensure that YMOC at Revere High will have culturally responsive support and safety nets through graduation. Barile also wants to uncover ways that YMOC could can experience more academic rigor in schools, take Advanced Placement classes, and pursue two- and four-year college degrees.
“The TLI experience has encouraged and supported my growth as an educator and as a teacher-leader,” Barile said. “I won’t know how successful this project is until several years from now, but I am confident that it has already helped our students — and it will continue to do so as more teachers and counselors become educated on the issues facing young men of color today.”
NEA Secretary-Treasurer Princess Moss highlighted the work of Barile and other Teacher Leadership Initiative participants in her closing remarks.
“TLI alumni are uniquely prepared for leadership roles both inside out outside the classroom. Positive change in education comes from the invaluable experience of educators working to advance student learning and enhance the profession,” she said. “This initiative will prepare and support the next generation of our profession’s leaders — a generation of educators that will help ensure all our students succeed.”