Scratching the Teacher Leadership Itch
In my previous blogs last fall, I spoke about the importance of creating a meaningful career ladder for teachers. This proposal included opportunities for career advancement through mentoring. Additionally, I advocated for more formalized roles for teachers who wish to increase their influence while deepening their capacity and developing the skills of others. As a mentor this past school year, I loved being able to collaborate with a new teacher in my math classroom. While I brought expertise to our partnership, she brought fresh perspective and we worked together to advance not only her growth as a teacher, but most importantly the instruction our students received. This is the spirit of teacher leadership. The value of teacher leadership is that our children become the recipients of the best possible education we can provide.
Last year's Teacher Leader Model Standards clearly articulated the domains of effective teacher leadership. The seventh domain resonated most with me. It reads, "The teacher leader understands the landscape of education policy and can identify key players at the local, state, and national levels. The teacher leader advocates for the teaching profession and for policies that benefit student learning." Over the past few school years, I have been feeling an itch. It's not an itch to leave the classroom, or the system that I am in. The itch I have been feeling is a desire to extend myself beyond the walls of my room so that my work can impact not just my students, but also every student. While seemingly implausible and idealistic, I have slowly begun to navigate the experiences and organizations that are out there for teachers like myself to have such an impact.
In my role as a Teach Plus Policy Fellow, I was able to learn about the world of education policy and find my voice as an informed, invested teacher advocate at the table of policy discussions. As an Education Champion with America Achieves, I have been able to leverage that voice to advise national policy makers as an advocate for students and receive meaningful professional development. I have been able to grow immensely from these roles because these organizations identified areas where my personal skill set could grow and put me in positions where this growth could be nurtured and expedited. Put simply, they saw leadership potential and acted on it.
Every school in America has many teachers who have the potential to lead (some know it, some need others to help them see it), and administrators who often have way too many things on their plate. School and district leaders can take advantage of this potential by providing formalized opportunities for their teachers to lead. They must support teachers by developing their capacity as leaders. Having cadres of teacher leaders in schools and districts will serve to lighten the load of administrators, retain excellent teachers, and increase the scale of positive impact that teachers can have on students. Most importantly, as the 7th domain states, teacher leaders are advocates for the profession of teaching. By investing in the development of teacher leaders, we can professionalize teaching. We can provide a structure in which teachers are taking control of and responsibility for the quality of our shared work, for improving teaching and learning.
Noah Patel is a middle school math teacher in the Boston Public School District.