While touring some schools last spring I noticed some published school board minutes in the local newspaper that intrigued me: The school district’s annual leadership retreat will take place on July 15-16. The superintendent has opened the training for teachers who wish to be leaders by pursuing administrative certification.
What was an initially exciting concept–an invitation to teachers to join the leadership conversation– turned into curiosity that the concept of leadership was seen strictly as an administrative position. Clearly, the “grow your own” movement in local school districts is a smart way to ensure a competent pool of administrator candidates, but the demanding job of schooling needs the leadership talents and skills of all capable adults at hand. Is it time to broaden our collective understanding about the varied ways that people show leadership?
I once sat in a superintendent’s office as part of a brainstorming session to figure out how to improve the district’s message about a new initiative to the people in the community. My answer was simple: Include the teachers in these discussions and they will be your strongest advocates on the street. Not only are there so many of them, but people trust their children’s teachers, and they are usually the first ones that people ask about school business since they are accessible and highly trusted.
Tapping into the expertise of classroom teachers and broadening the vision of leadership to a truly distributed model means, in part, understanding that leaders have different strengths and entry points to make an impact. Many state and national organizations are now elevating teachers as leaders and experts in their field, inviting them to participate in focus groups, panel discussions, blogs, and innovative policy, but some of these teachers report that in their own districts, they are never asked to contribute. One teacher told me, “I was asked to travel an hour to another county to deliver training on the professional growth system, but my own district brought someone else in and never acknowledged that I have this capacity.”
Consider a shift in understanding about the talents, gifts, and positive energy that excellent teachers bring to their work. The shift, if made by both administrators and teachers, would result in a very different professional climate than the one illustrated by the teacher’s example above.
CTL has been an active partner in Kentucky’s statewide efforts to transform the current model of the teaching career toward a more dynamic and modern one. In helping develop the Kentucky Teacher Leadership Framework we have partnered with the Kentucky Department of Education, KyNT3 (Network to Transform Teaching), Hope Street Group, the Kentucky Education Association (KEA), the Fund for Transforming Education in KY, and the Bluegrass Center for Teacher Quality. The framework has been met with enthusiasm across the state among teachers, administrators, and higher education faculty. Momentum needs to continue so that more people at all levels can get involved in the shift, aiding the development of policies and practices that open varied career pathways allowing teachers to continue teaching, but be more fully recognized for the leadership qualities they possess.
In the digital infographic included here, the potential of a less hierarchical, more distributed approach to doing the work of public education rests on the acknowledgement that we need to do a better job of tapping into teachers’ many varied skills. Some teachers would never want to become administrators, for example, but they are highly effective community connectors, capable of helping bridge the gap between the academic learning and real life application of that learning. Others are strong in the area of peer mentoring, having the trust and respect of peers because of their classroom results. Still others have a more broad view, and can use their proximity to the teaching process for helping shape policy that better supports learning rather than hinder it.
Teachers’ perspectives do not suddenly become more valuable when they obtain administrative licensure. In contrast, the two perspectives of administrators and teachers can work together to help the school system offer a more coherent, cohesive, and rewarding experience for all involved. If a teacher’s expertise is respected enough to be shared with a district that is 100 miles away, think of the potential to elevate professional discourse and decision-making within that teacher’s school, district and community. We will know that we are truly on a path to accomplished teaching.
If you have ideas about who should be involved in the statewide discussion for a more whole understanding of the leadership teachers bring to their work, please contact us at CTL.