Building a School Around Teacher Leadership
A hybrid teaching role has been a dream of mine for years, and as my colleagues and I continue to visit innovative schools across the country as part of our project, The Odyssey Initiative, the topic comes up over and over again. Throughout this year, we have also been envisioning our own dream school and have discussed several possible hybrid roles in an effort to create a school community that involves all stakeholders in decision making and empowers teachers to be leaders. We know this might not be the easiest way to structure a school, but we think it could be the smartest way. We believe it could help break down the barriers between teachers and leaders that exist in many schools.
As my colleagues and I worked on our dream school, we wondered if there were schools we could learn from that are already using hybrid roles. Hope arrived in February when we spent a day at Reiche Community School in Portland, Maine. Upon arriving, we met one of the three lead teachers, Kevin Brewster. He teaches kindergarten in the morning and is the acting school leader in the afternoon. He shares the role with Chris Keegan, who works as the school leader in the morning and the reading specialist in the afternoon. A third educator, Lori Bobinsky, works as a literacy coach and supports the school's curriculum. In addition to lead teachers, there are four teacher-led committees: the instructional leadership committee, the climate committee, the enrichment committee, and the professional development committee.
When we asked Kevin what he's learned from having this role, he said, "I love the hybrid position and the half-time teaching. Having a classroom of students keeps me grounded in the work of the class. For policy decisions, I know how it's going to affect my students and my time. Listening and not reacting immediately is important. We also work collaboratively, so if I don't know the answers, I can ask someone else and rephrase, reframe, and think through the question."
Trust is abundant at Reiche. The school district has trust in the staff to lead themselves and the staff has trust in one another as teacher leaders.
Based on our explorations, we've found that, in addition to building trust, educators need to consider the following when proposing hybrid roles:
• Use of time: An educator who is teaching half time and leading half time will still need to have access to collaborative planning meetings, professional development, and preparation time. Thinking about how this will fit into the daily and weekly schedule will ensure that the teacher remains an active part of his or her grade level team. Teachers in leadership positions will also need to be available to attend leadership meetings without compromising their teaching time.
• Respect for the educator: The workload must be manageable. The leadership portion of the job should not require the educator to work on the weekends and late into the evening due to additional responsibilities. Educators coming into these roles are often inexperienced as leaders and will need access to professional development to strengthen their leadership skills.
• Compensation: School leaders typically make significantly more money than classroom teachers. Considering the available budget and ensuring that teachers are compensated for their additional work is essential.
• Open communication and flexibility: Many educators are hungry to do more and learn more and must not be taken advantage of. If the original plan for responsibilities turns out to be unrealistic within the workday, then the roles should be adjusted. If the original plan does not provide as much leadership as the teacher envisioned, the role should also be adjusted.
• Kids must come first: Educators who teach part time and take on leadership roles need to be able to ensure that they are putting the needs of their students first. Setting up smooth transitions from the classroom to the leadership role, guaranteeing the teacher does not need to miss additional teaching time for meetings, and making sure the teacher has time to communicate with families will all help keep kids at the center of the hybrid role.
Brooke Peters is a former kindergarten and 1st grade teacher in Los Angeles and New York City. As co-founder of The Odyssey Initiative, she is traveling the country, along with two other teachers, to observe, document, and share what is working in American schools. Follow their progress at @OdysseyInitiative.