I recently returned from the Minneapolis Teach to Lead Summit (#TTLSummit), where I served as a Critical Friend for the second time. My first experience as a Critical Friend was in Denver and I returned home with a head full of questions. In Denver, I was placed at the back of a large conference room with three singletons, each with a worthy project and passion to lead, but no colleagues at their side. I attempted to stay in touch with each in the weeks that passed, but things got busy and we rather quickly lost touch. I hope their projects are thriving, but I also know how difficult it can be to move mountains alone. I have a similar concern for the group I worked with in Minneapolis, but I believe their chance at success is markedly improved because they came as a group and left as a team. Therein lies the power of a Teach to Lead weekend.
Back home at Oakland University, I coordinate and teach in a master’s program in Teacher Leadership. Students’ capstone project is to plan and lead a change project. In supervising that project, I have found that teachers struggle to conceptualize their ideas: to identify clear goals, to draft a theory of change, to detail a plan of action, to identify needed resources, to propose a means for measuring impact. Often, we spend entire Saturday’s working through each project on a big white board. Slowly, the light bulbs begin to shine as plans take shape and projects are launched. It’s an amazing thing to witness, and a really challenging thing to coach.
Prior to arriving in Minneapolis, I learned that I would be working with a team of five from Port St. Lucie, Florida. We tried to connect ahead of time by email, but with limited success. I read their idea abstract, but didn’t get a good feel for what they were proposing. When we sat down together on Saturday morning, I was wondering what I had gotten myself into (and suspect they were each feeling likewise)! By noon, however, we had the beginnings of an ambitious and important plan for growing capacity for teacher leadership throughout the district. By the end of the day, we had a detailed logic model for enacting that plan on paper. Throughout the process, we had the right people around the table for taking next steps: three determined teacher leaders and two supportive central office leaders.
My Port St. Lucie team is now officially back to work. If they aren’t already overwhelmed, they will be soon. And so I wonder. Will they have the will and support to not only launch, but continue to guide their plan through the coming year? Their follow-up emails suggest yes, and yet I know they are fragile. The needed resources of time and money are always in short supply, and change projects never seem to proceed as planned. What gives me hope, however, is the time this team took to get to know one another, to share dreams, and then to put a framework around those dreams.
From my perspective as a Critical Friend, Teach to Lead Summits give teams of teacher leaders the gift of protected time to fine-tune an idea, a structure and coach for breathing life into that idea, a steady reminder that teaching matters, and the encouragement to go forth boldly as leaders. To date, more than 900 teachers from around the country have participated in a Teach to Lead Summit. As this number grows, so will the ripple effect. Fresh off my experience in Minneapolis, my questions are no longer twinged with skepticism. Teach to Lead is truly building capacity for teacher leadership from the ground up, one school and one district at a time. Seems like a worthy investment to me.
Cynthia Carver is an associate professor in the Department of Organizational Leadership at Oakland University where she coordinates graduate programs in Educational Leadership and Teacher Leadership. In 2015-2016, she served as Scholar in Residence at Auburn Elementary, an Avondale/Oakland University partnership school. Using a learning-focused lens, she is keenly interested in how teachers come to adopt and enact a leaderful presence and practice. In her free time Cindy enjoys yoga, knitting, and spending time with her family.