As preparations are being made to develop an online community for educators to share ideas, resources, and have discussions about teacher leadership and the Teacher Leadership Standards, I think of my own experiences that have enhanced my own understanding of teacher leadership.
Specifically, I think of the teacher leadership opportunities to contribute to the education profession outside the classroom or school.
The first experience was earning National Board Certification. Shortly after earning certification, I had the opportunity to participate in the Digital Edge Learning Interchange with Apple, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), AT&T, and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). This experience gave me valuable instructional technology skills training from experts from Apple and ISTE.
The second experience was being a Teacher Ambassador with the US Department of Education. This was a tremendous opportunity to understand education from the larger policy perspective.
Each experience expanded my school based view of the world. These experiences taught me that creating a quality education for students requires a full continuum of expertise from classroom teachers, teacher leaders, school based administrators, district specialists, to other educators at the local, state, and national level.
There are many opportunities for teachers to gain a larger view of the profession, such as the US Department of Education Teacher Ambassador Program, Einstein Fellowship, fellowships with the National Education Association, as well as teacher opportunities with other organizations.
But, what happens to these teacher leaders after these experiences?
Some leave the classroom for other challenges. Some realize they prefer working with students and choose to go back to classrooms.
But, many return to their classrooms, and their newly developed skills and understanding go under-utilized, un-noticed, or sometimes, ignored.
"All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go"
Many teacher leaders who gain valuable skills and understandings from these experiences outside the school or district do not have ways to either share what they learn when they return, or avenues to continue their own development. As a result, many teacher leaders who gain these new perspectives may eventually leave the classroom, school, or district for other challenges.
A mind that has been opened to a larger world is difficult to contain.
Overall, one challenge for teacher leadership is the lack of opportunities to maximize the experiences and knowledge of teacher leaders beyond their respective schools. Part of this challenge is that there is no defined career pathway for teachers. Instead, we have a system where a first year teacher often has the same duties as the 30-year veteran. Other responsibilities are often viewed as extra duties, rather than extra opportunities for growth.
As a result, teacher leadership, as a concept, remains undefined.
Are there better ways to harness the expertise of teacher leaders and continue their professional development and contribution while keeping them in schools where they can benefit students and teachers?
What is Needed
- Continued Development of Teacher Leadership: Resources such as the Teacher Leadership Standards are important. The more educators can define and expand the concept of teacher leadership, the more ways educators can support and nurture it.
- Continued Leadership Opportunities for Classroom Teachers: We need more opportunities for teachers to develop their leadership within schools, districts, and other organizations. More importantly, there needs to be ways for schools and districts to maximize what teachers learn from such opportunities if they return to schools so that others can benefit from their expertise.
- Continued Organizational Networking and Support for Teacher Leaders: Gillian Cohen-Boyer, the Lead of the Teacher Ambassador Program at the US Department of Education has a saying that "Once a Teacher Ambassador Fellow, always a Teacher Ambassador Fellow." Organizations that develop these initial opportunities can support "ex-Fellows" since these teacher leaders can continue the mission of these organizations in other experiences and venues. When teacher leaders develop lasting professional networks, they become resources of support at a national level.
- Teacherpreneur? In their book, Teaching 2030, The Center for Teaching Quality proposes the idea of the teacher leader as a "teacherpreneur" that can work with students and contribute to the profession.
Perhaps, these are some ideas to expand teacher leadership and keep these teachers where they are most valuable - in the schools. Once teachers becomes teacher leaders, they will always be a resource for learning and leadership. Let's find ways to maximize their energy and expertise.
What do you think? How else can school districts, organizations, businesses, and education stakeholders expand the concept of teacher as an education expert within and beyond the classroom?
Disclaimer: I am a member of the Teacher Leaders Network with the Center for Teaching Quality and am involved with the development of the Teacher Leaders Standards online community.