Teacher Leader Teacher

April 15, 2013

I attended a conference sponsored by the Cal Council for Teacher Education (CCTE) this week. CCTE carries institutionally based membership concerned with teacher preparation and issues that affect teachers in teacher education. Invited as a panelist, this was a new experience for me. The topic was Teacher Leadership and a friend and colleague on the board for CCTE recommended me to sit on a panel to discuss teacher leadership from the teacher’s point of view. I felt like I was in the right place.

Over the course of three days, there would be panel discussions, institutional meetings, special interest groups meetings, policy briefings, research poster sessions, and some time for socializing with colleagues. Since most of the conferences I typically attend are for professional development of my craft, the opportunity to sit and talk with politicians, researchers, doctoral students, and professors of education was both thrilling and a bit terrifying for this classroom teacher. That is the same way I feel about the topic of teacher leadership: thrilled and terrified.

I attended the panel discussions and heard key speakers highlight the need to recognize teacher leaders. Organizations shared their plans and philosophy for preparing teacher leaders, recognizing teacher leaders, researching teacher leaders. Heads nodded throughout the audience when respected colleagues made salient points. Teacher Leadership (it was agreed upon) was important. Something to be recognized, compensated and developed.

As I listened to the experts and participants at CCTE, I found myself shaking my head no…no…no. There was another side to this topic. There were things not said that needed to be.

I did not know I was “teacher leader” until it was given the label. I involved myself and worked with others because it was the right thing to do. I think the conversation on the topic of teacher leadership should recognize that the semantics are important.
• Be careful not to confuse the concepts of quality, professional collaboration and teacher leadership.
• Do not call on teachers to play a “larger” role. We already play a large role in educating students. Call on teachers to play a different role.
• Think more in terms of mentoring/coaching instead of institutionalizing “teacher leader.”

Do other professions label their leaders? Are there lawyer leaders? Doctor leaders? Or just professionals doing good work for their community?

It seems to me that the focus is on building a healthy culture, where teachers (novice to veteran) want to work for their community. Create that healthy school culture and move people in the right direction.

What I do sounds crazy: I am a social science teacher with three course preps including IB/AP courses. In addition, I serve as the Social Science Dept. Chair, the WASC coordinator, a technology support provider, a common core trainer, a member on the GATE advisory council, the community service coordinator, the CAS advisor, an extended essay adviser, and a member of the District strategic planning stakeholder committee. I have a doctorate in Educational Leadership and work with other doctoral students on their research and writing. Some of these activities are compensated some I do because I believe in the work. I believe I am serving both my students and my colleagues.

The professionals at CCTE offered some suggestions for teacher leaders including courses in teacher leaderships and tests for teacher leader certification. There are several things to consider if the movement to certify teacher leaders continues.
• Budget realities prevent teachers being supported when they pursue leadership responsibilities.
• Finding opportunities can be challenging. Some panelists at CCTE talked about getting “tapped on the shoulder.”
• The concept of teacher’s pet applied. There is a fine line between being “a favorite” and maintaining legitimacy as a teacher.
• Policy makers think they know without understanding classroom realities.

Greatness by Design (http://www.cde.ca.gov/eo/in/documents/greatnessfinal.pdf) recognizes the challenges educators face and calls for reform to improve the teaching profession. Included are policy statements about support for teacher leadership through certification and professional development.

I disagree with some of the conclusions on teacher leadership.
For example, Greatness by Design (2012) states,
Currently, there are relatively few opportunities in the United States for expert teachers to share practices with their peers or to take on leadership roles. Most teachers are still isolated from each other, teaching in egg-crate classrooms and performing the same functions after 30 years as they did when they first entered the profession. A teaching career has not yet evolved that regularly supports shared learning, career advancement or enhanced compensation (p.72).

This statement does not fit with my career or experience and I believe it focuses on the wrong aspect of teacher leadership.

Greatness by Design (2012) advocates institutionalizing the concept of teacher leadership. This is a short-sighted view.

Yes, formal institutions like NBCT and professional development are important. But the real leadership is coming from the trenches. There are several informal networks that exist and illustrate how teachers support each other. There are listserves, Facebook pages, wiki’s, and BLOGS that serve our community of teachers. We lead informally. We share our knowledge, we support each other, we collaborate…all without coursework, professional development or a certificate in teacher leadership.

Change the conversation. How do you want your teacher leaders? Organic or Institutionalized?
What thrills me is that this conversation is happening.
What terrifies me is that there is a perspective that still needs to be heard.

What I appreciated from this conference, from the leaders in the room and the dialogue, was the recognition that there are teacher leaders. We have a valuable voice. We need to talk!