Editor’s Note: This blog was co-authored by Hope Street Group Kentucky Fellow Natalie McCutchen and America Achieves Fellow Katrina Boone following the first Teach to Lead Summit in Louisville, December 6-7, 2014. Their bios are below.
Although there is still some uncertainty and disagreement about the term, teacher leadership has quickly become a hot topic for discussion and debate. For years, we have worked under the assumption that in order for teachers to lead, they must leave the classroom and become administrators. So the name seems paradoxical; how can a teacher be both a teacher and a leader?
Teachers work side-by-side with students and know better than anyone the trials and triumphs, the failures and successes, the lows and highs, the sorrows and joys that take place in classrooms on a daily basis. Who better than teachers to drive education reform by engineering creative initiatives and making powerful decisions? Who better than teachers to increase student achievement and change the landscape of public education?
The fact is, teacher leaders have always existed but their real value has not been recognized until recently.
“Teacher leader” is not a buzzword or a cliche. It is a growing phenomenon, evident at the first Teach to Lead Teacher Leadership Summit, in Louisville, KY in the first week of December. The U.S. Department of Education and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards partnered to host the summit. The purpose? To recognize, encourage and incubate the teacher-led work that is emerging in states, districts, and schools around the country. Teacher leaders submitted ideas on the Commit to Lead website. Staff at the Department of Education, along with support organizations, reviewed submissions, and applicants with the top ideas were invited to attend the Teach to Lead Summit. The Louisville summit was the first of three planned summits; two other Teacher Leadership Summits will be held in Denver on January 10th-11th, 2015 and Boston on February 6-8th, 2015
At the summit, participants
- shared ideas and best practices,
- built relationships with educators and leaders from across the country,
- learned from examples of existing teacher leadership efforts,
- identified common challenges, and
- created concrete, actionable teacher leadership plans to address them locally.
One of the most invigorating and promising aspects of the Teach to Lead Summit was the sense of community and culture of collaboration that developed so quickly. Teachers came to the summit with an idea in its infancy. They were given time to hash out the details of their ideas with their teams or other educators, and they received invaluable feedback from teachers and other professionals. Because of this support, teachers left with an action plan that has real potential to impact their schools, districts, and states.
In order for teachers to embrace the leadership qualities they possess and for others to recognize the potential of teacher leaders, teachers must be given opportunities to collaborate and network with other teachers. The culture that currently exists within our educational system must change. Too often in the past, we have tried to improve education by relying on others to lead instead of leveraging the experience and talent of teachers. It’s time to start believing in teacher leaders.
Let’s give teachers the time, resources, support, and space they need to be true leaders. The Teach to Lead Teacher Leadership Summits are just the beginning. We must continue to ask ourselves how we can foster collaboration and trust within and between teachers, schools, and districts, and how we can include all stakeholders in the type of innovation that is vital to the future of education.
Natalie McCutchen is a National Board Certified Teacher and a Hope Street Group Kentucky Teacher Fellow. She teaches 7th grade Math at Franklin-Simpson Middle School in Simpson County, Kentucky.
Katrina Boone is a Teacher Fellow for the America Achieves Fellowship for Teachers and Principals. She teaches English at Shelby County High School in Shelbyville, Kentucky.