This is one of a series of posts leading up to CTL’s 20th Anniversary forum and celebration, September 9th at the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, KY.
By Allison Hunt, 2013 KY HS Teacher of the Year: Manual High School, Jefferson County Public Schools, Louisville, KY; Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow.
Teacher leadership has become one of the buzz phrases in education today, but its popularity is not tied to a singular interpretation of the phrase. If teacher leadership is really going to transform education, the meaning of the phrase is significant. Teacher leadership can absolutely change our educational system if it is interpreted not to be teachers simply taking on more administrative duties, but instead empowering teachers as true professionals within the classroom context. What should be strange, even disturbing, is for a teacher to not be seen as a leader. In my classroom I have contact with more than 150 impressionable adolescents each year. After a dozen years in the classroom that amounts to over 1800 students! If I have not taken a leadership role with them, there is a problem.
The education profession is often compared with the medical profession prior to its rise in respect. Would you not expect your physician to be a leader when it comes to your care? My expectation when I visit the doctor is that he or she is well-versed in up-to-date medical research and practices, but will consider my individual circumstances in order to provide the most appropriate, effective medical care. If my doctor were to treat me with a standard checklist and timeline, it might not be appropriate for what I, as an individual, need. Teachers should be empowered to do the same with students. Each student comes to us with his/her own set of circumstances, from home life to prior educational experiences to learning preferences. I should be, as a leader and professional, empowered to take my knowledge and tweak the prescription to fit the individual needs of each child. A teacher’s edition of a textbook, a prescribed curriculum, or what was in my lesson plans last year is not enough.
Just this week I heard a teacher discussing how she wished she could meet with other teachers across her district to discuss assessment results in order to develop strategies that will improve student performance this upcoming school year. I was stunned to discover that this teacher was discouraged from doing anything other than what was prescribed by her district and from taking it upon herself to meet with other teachers. As teachers, we should be the experts, the leaders of curriculum and instruction (see article in ASCD’s Educational Leadership about taking back the teaching profession: Take Back Teaching Now. Empowered professionals who are constantly reflecting on their teaching, the needs of each student, and committed to improvement should be the expectation of each teacher. Developing career pathways for teachers who want to extend their influence beyond their own classroom should be encouraged, but ALL teachers should be equipped as leaders and expected to be true leaders of the education of students in their classroom.
Visit our 20th Anniversary event page for other related blogs and information.