Editor’s Note: The Minnesota Educator, a publication of Education Minnesota, featured Teach to Lead and the Denver summit in its March 2015 newsletter. The article was written by Glenda Holste and is available here as a PDF.

Teach to Lead Innovates to Support Teacher Leadership

Eric Cameron came home from the Teach to Lead Summit with a ringing endorsement of the teacher leadership gathering in Denver. The high school social studies teacher at 916 Mahtomedi Academy wrote that the summit “was the most amazing professional development experience of my life.”

Other Minnesotans who participated concurred with Cameron’s enthusiasm for the Teach to Lead initiative, jointly created by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The program has more than 60 sponsors, including the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. The Teach to Lead program has held three summits and started an active network through electronic media.

Cameron and two of his colleagues, Karin Hogan and Gina Wilson, went to one of the three summits scheduled this year by the start-up program that aims to grow teacher leadership while keeping these leaders in the classroom. Hogan found out about the summit on an email list and the small, collaborative staff submitted an idea to summit organizers. Ideas that were accepted produced invitations to the summit. The one in Denver in January brought together teachers from 27 states, “critical friends” who supported Teach to Lead and Education Department staff.

The Mahtomedi Academy idea is creating a website consortium that matches teacher leader teams with other schools and teachers who can benefit from different areas of expertise. The nature of the academy team lends itself to thinking of what individual teachers bring to the table rather than what more traditional large-scale professional development sessions offer. The personal contributions, they said, fit needs and empower teachers. Cameron said, for example, he might share his expertise on political cartoons to teach a variety of social studies lessons.

Moving from concept and refinement to reality is the challenging next step.

We came with an idea,” Wilson said, “But it needed forming.” That was the work of the weekend and now is the work of following up.

A Minneapolis Public School steam that participated in the Denver summit is engaged in the same follow-up on a very different project that aims to improve student outcomes within career and college readiness through integrated STEM education opportunities.

Sara Etzel, STEM and Career Readiness Program manager for Minneapolis schools, said the team of five applied after learning of Teach to Lead through another professional affiliation. As an America Achieves fellow, Etzel learned of the summit just in time to apply. The team had four days to form an idea and submit it. She said they we gratified their idea was accepted from among many STEM proposals.

The 916 Mahtomedi Academy participants are all relatively new teachers. Team member are in the fourth or fifth year of teaching. They came to Teach to Lead with a well-developed collaborative style in their small school. And they said they also jumped in enthusiastically because the program supports keeping teachers in the classroom while they lead innovation in teaching.

Hogan, an English teacher, said Teach to Lead can encourage slowly, pragmatically changing the model of leadership in schools to one that rises organically from classroom practitioners.

Wilson, a math teacher, observed that the process of creating an idea to enhance teacher leadership has value even if the idea is never fully brought to action. By being chosen to participate, she said, Teach to Lead validates that teachers’ opinions matter.

All three said the Teach to Lead model is scalable for different-sized learning environments and different teacher cohorts. It is both flexible and focused on using teacher expertise to improve student outcomes.

They gave an energetic pitch for both Teach to Lead and their idea of the website consortium for professional development.

“You don’t need to drive somewhere,” Wilson said.

Sharing on the website, Cameron said, makes it quick and as easy as possible to collaborate.”

In Minneapolis, Etzel said, the work begun at the summit has the intentional purpose of bringing innovation into what the STEM program delivers for students. “We know it is more than a three-day weekend,” she said.

The official explanation from organizers of Teach to Lead is to advance positive outcomes for students by expanding teaching leadership, particularly in ways that allow teacher leaders to stay in the classroom rather than go on to administrative jobs. The three summits were held in Louisville, Ky., in December; Denver in January and Boston in February. Teachers with ideas accepted to the summit provided their own transportation costs but the summit itself was free to participants.

Participants across the country are actively connected in a program exchange called Commit to Lead. What’s next for the overall Teach to Lead experiment is a work in progress. But Minnesotans in its first “class” expressed enthusiasm and are engaged in realizing their ideas.

“We came up with the idea — but it needed forming”