Posted by Megan Allen on Wednesday, 02/05/2014
What happens when you put teacher leaders in a conference room during a whiteout snowstorm in the middle of horse country? Great things! I’m excited this week to co-blog with Brad Clark on our experience at the Kentucky Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching (ECET2) Conference. Every teacher in the room left ECET2KY with something a little different; whether a new acquaintance, a new found appreciation for teacher voice or a deeper sense of purpose within this burgeoning teacher leadership movement.
Below are our take aways from KY’s first ECET2…
Teachers are HARD CORE! Snow falling, cars sliding, teachers unable to drive on the highways, ON A SATURDAY...none of it mattered. ECET2KY was a monumental success. Those teachers in attendance were highly-concentrated salt: enough to flavor the whole dish. KY teachers have the dedication and drive to develop, lead and sustain any education reform movement on any scale. Saturday was a seed event. We must water it to be sure, and perhaps pick out a few weeds from time to time, but we know how to tend gardens. The yield from that snowy January day of seed-sowing is unknown, but whatever we reap in the days ahead or glean from the experience is completely determined by the teachers of the Commonwealth of KY.
Teacher leaders (and teachers) can feel isolated. A master teacher is a lush garden often hidden behind a wall tall and thick. All those students get to experience the bounty of the garden, but very few adults get a taste of the fruit. A master teacher does not need to be a secret garden. The barriers that form around a master teacher could be systemic issues stemming from a centralized set of formal and informal norms, either institutional, or social, or the barriers could be self-inflicted reactions to a series of events that are a distant memory. Opportunities like the one we had--where there are many teachers in the room, many different teacher leadership groups in the room, many growth-minded teachers present--made us realize that we are tackling many of the same problems. Though we may feel siloed, there are many other teachers devoting time and brain space to “work on the work.” There is a great need for virtual collaboration so that teachers in Florida can connect with teachers in Kentucky as they think through common teaching effectiveness and evaluation issues, for example. Places like The Collaboratory (www.teachingquality.org) are breaking down those walls of isolation and helping teachers connect…despite the miles between schools, states, or countries.
Teacher leaders need more opportunities to work together—perhaps with everyone else getting out of the way. I (Megan) can remember sitting on a Florida education commissioner’s teacher leader panel and receiving a few nebulous asks. One thing was evident…they were excited about convening us, but they didn’t know what to DO with us. What if they had flipped the conversation? Asked questions? Let us choose our mission based on what we were seeing across the state? Great things can happen when teachers get together and problem solve. We’ve got to wrap our heads around how we can make that happen more often.
Teacher leadership is an evolving term. Have we clearly defined what our work is as a profession? Do we have a solid definition of teacher leadership? Or can we even dream yet what it will look like in the future? Teacher leadership often has connotations (from the days of yore) that do not match the reality of teachers leading in the present. To that end, we need to avoid rigid definitions of teacher leaders; teachers can lead students, schools, districts, national networks, and/or guide policy. Teacher leaders don't need a title, as our CTQ colleague Brianna Crowley recently wrote. All are equally valid and we should avoid attaching a hierarchical value to the forms that teacher leading may take. We need to acknowledge that teacher leadership falls along a spectrum of engagement. And we believe we only know the tip of the iceburg as far as how teacher leadership can look.
Building on that, we need to brand a new vocabulary, a new message, a new concept of what a teacher leader is and can be. We might think about constructing a teacher leader archetype; then from that pattern allow a teacher to tweak it after reflecting on the needs of her local community and her own strengths. As our illustrious colleague Kelly Stidham points out, "perhaps the archetype simply reflects the dispositions of a teacher leader." It is time for us to invent the form that we want our profession to take over the next decade.
There aren’t many positions in the realm of education that truly match this new brand of teacher leadership. One of the trends that came up in one breakout session—where we brainstormed challenges to teacher leadership then turned toward brainstorming potential solutions—was that the profession doesn’t hold the positions yet that fulfill our skillsets, desires, and passions. Or an evolving education system’s needs. We crave opportunities to lead education without leaving, much like my year last year as a CTQ teacherpreneur, a hybrid teacher. Let's start creating jobs based on our skillsets and needs in our schools, districts, and states. Oh, the possibilities…
A seemingly solid barrier in the present is simply a problem that is ripe for a future solution. We are teachers. We solve or develop a work-around for nearly every problem that comes our way, sometimes about ten per minute while we don't miss a beat with instruction and meet the needs of every learner in our class. Why have we not employed our craft to our craft more often? We are professional problem solvers. Simply put, the only people that can lead education in this country are teachers.
How do we change the narrative around failure and take back the conversation? And how do we take that conversation out of the school buildings and into society? It was amazing to have that concentration of teacher expertise in one room, but we were preaching to the choir. It’s time to take the seeds of our conversation into our school board meetings, into our district policy discussions, into the capital buildings of our respective states.
So what comes next for our profession? What is a fitting next step as we continue to work on the work?
For a teacher from FL and a teacher from KY, we’re dreaming big …