By Keri Randolph

Imagine you read the following job posting on Twitter:  

Dynamic, creative, committed leaders needed to join talent development firm. Future of our community at stake. Great challenges but incredible rewards. Must love kids.

This is the way I’m talking about the teaching profession these days- teaching and leading. Just think about the words, teacher and leader- on their face, they are only a few letters separating them. They probably appear on a 2nd grade spelling list together, and it turns out that is not a coincidence. So what does teacher leadership mean and what could it mean for our kids and community?  

As I was preparing to attend the Teach to Lead Summit in Minneapolis, I was posting our team’s response to some pre-work questions on the Teach to Lead Facebook page and saw a posting with this quote: “Within every school, there is a sleeping giant of teacher leadership, which can be a strong catalyst for making change” (Katzenmeyer and Moller, 2001). I read it, paused, read it again- and immediately wrote it on three sticky notes- one lives on my bathroom mirror; one in my office, and one inside the notebook I take everywhere. Why? Because every day, I want to do everything I can to awaken the sleeping giant.  

We were excited when our proposal was accepted to be included in the Minneapolis TTL Summit, but not sure where it would take our work and how it would support the change we wanted for our teachers and kids. The idea was to reimagine (I use the phrase “blow-up”) professional learning for teachers in the district. Though there were bright spots, we knew many teachers did not feel the opportunities provided were valuable, and perhaps more importantly, they felt they had little voice and choice in the learning opportunities and support they were receiving. We had very few ideas about how to ignite the fuse on this innovation explosion, just a certainty that we needed to get started right away. And, we also had a clear understanding that making our district the best place to teach and learn was central to the success of our kids, which meant providing the best support and growth opportunities for our teachers.

As the weekend kicked off, we landed on teacher voice and choice as our themes, but we were challenged not only to move to action but to also to be thoughtful about keeping equity central in all aspects of our work. All means all, for both kids and teachers. So, teacher voice and choice with the goal of equity and excellence for all students is our charge, or as Secretary King says, “Teacher leadership in support of equity and excellence for all students.”

Throughout the weekend, we used the Teach to Lead logic model to focus our work and energy on actionable and implementable next steps, and so was born the Teacher Think Tank. The Think Tank would be a group of classroom teachers (teacher leaders!) who would lead the process of reimagining professional learning. Though we had no way to compensate members, we put out an application, and within 10 days more than 85 classroom teachers applied. This response showed our Teach to Lead team we weren’t alone and I imagined the collective yawn as more sleeping giants started to awaken.  

Seventeen teachers were selected from diverse school settings with varied experience levels and roles. The Teacher Think Tank met a couple of weeks ago for the first time and we are already moving ahead on “blowing up” professional learning and reimagining what teacher professional learning and support can look like.  

At its core, our work is about elevating, encouraging, challenging and supporting great teacher leaders who will make our community the best place to teach and learn – and create opportunities for our students we can’t even imagine. Every day, I get to work with some amazing teacher leaders – the awakened giants – and the work we have done and are just starting to do to empower, engage and elevate our teacher leaders.

I feel the rumbling as the giant awakens, and our kids and community are feeling it, too.

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Keri Randolph @keri_randolph
Keri is the Director of Innovation for Hamilton County Schools in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She taught high school science for 10 years, worked with pre-service teacher candidates at the university level and directed STEM and teacher leadership initiatives at an education non-profit. Passionate about teacher voice and leadership, she created and supports several initiatives including the Teacherpreneur Incubator.   Her husband is a middle school teacher, and their 4-year-old son is already practicing engaging teaching on his stuffed animals.

So what does teacher leadership mean for our kids and community?