Editor’s Note: The following post was written by Mark Gardener, NBCT, and originally published on Stories from School, a group blog by NBCTs in Washington state and hosted by Washington’s nonprofit teacher advocacy group the Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession (www.cstp-wa.org).
Something I like about teaching in my district is that I feel like there is a clear balance of expectations and autonomy for a classroom teacher. I know what my standards are, as well as what “curriculum” and anchor works of literature have been approved, but I also have the autonomy to design instruction that fits not only my students’ needs but also my own teaching style.
Stepping into teacher leadership often means stepping into a much grayer zone. There are usually some expected measurable outcomes, but there is much more (or at least more noticeable) reliance on my creativity, influence, and problem solving than I have experienced in my career in the classroom. In my classroom, when I’m stumped about how to best teach a standard for a particular novel or unit in my classroom, Google can help me find mountains of ideas from fellow teachers: throughout the country, it is a safe bet that dozens if not hundreds of teachers have taught the same content to similar kids, and I can sort through their work to design lessons that match my kids’ needs.
In my role as a teacher leader, there is not the same kind of easy-to-access banked expertise just yet. Finding philosophy around teacher leadership is a piece of cake; finding specific ideas in the “just tell me what I need to do!” moments is much tougher.
Earlier this year, I had the chance to participate as a “critical friend” and presenter at the Teach to Lead Summit in Denver (my reflections are here and here.) Basically, the way these summits work are that individuals or teams from school districts across the nation submit teacher leadership ideas to Teach to Lead, and have the potential for their project to be selected to participate. Projects can vary in scope from building-level teacher leadership endeavors to regional or even state-level teacher leadership ideas; projects can also be in any phase of implementation, from idea-forming and planning to growing and sustaining.
At the summit, each project is paired with at least one “critical friend,” who coaches, asks probing questions, facilitates planning, and helps teachers connect with others attempting similar endeavors. (This was my role in Denver; I was a critical friend to a state-level leadership group in Colorado who was trying to develop broad systems for training teacher leaders.) The summit also includes learning opportunities from organizations (including CSTP) to offer strategies, tools, or advice that might help meet immediate or long term needs for teacher leaders.
The very nature of authentic leadership does mean pioneering into uncharted, unfamiliar territory. However, learning from other pioneers can no doubt help. Through events such as this summit, and on the Teach to Lead website, there is a growing pool or resources and shared expertise that can help teacher as they try to navigate the very confusing and ambiguous world of leadership.
This September, there will be a Teach to Lead summit in Tacoma, and this is a great opportunity for local teacher-leaders and teams to get ideas and make connections that can help propel their work forward. To submit an idea and apply to participate, click here. (Full disclosure, while CSTP is a partner organization of Teach to Lead, I do not have any personal role in the planning or presentation of the Tacoma summit; in fact my district team is considering applying as well to help us develop our ideas around teacher leadership pathways and professional development.)