Teacher leadership—learning and leading together | The Chalkboard Project

Teacher leadership—learning and leading together

Wednesday, January 30, 2013 Mary McGinnis

Creating a New Paradigm for Oregon Teachers

Education in Oregon is emerging into an era of challenging growth. The push to improve student learning and achievement resulted in the creation of local education compacts, state-level departments such as the Oregon Education Investment Board (OEIB), and new education grant opportunities. These changes in the traditional educational practices opened doors for new teacher leadership opportunities. These opportunities are reflected in the changing role of teachers in schools. Teachers hold tremendous influence, and through increasing professional opportunities such as the CLASS Project, they possess capabilities and knowledge to transform education. It is a paradigm shift.

The Past

Schools operated in the past largely under Frederick Taylor’s 1916 scientific management system which was vertical. A few people were selected to rise to the “top” and become the leaders. In school terms this translated into administrative positions such as superintendents, principals, and directors. Under this hierarchal system, managers (administrators) made decisions without input from workers (teachers). Teachers taught in contained closed classrooms with limited ability to share their knowledge and build the capacity of other teachers.

The Need for a Paradigm Shift

Katzenmeyer and Moller in Awakening the Sleeping Giant assert that as we move from simpler times of the 20th Century to a more complex world of the 21st Century, schools find hanging on to the existing practices that maintain the status quo to be inadequate. Schools struggle to enable all children to achieve and to learn to high standards. That is evidenced in Oregon where Education Week’s annual 2012 Quality Counts report gave Oregon’s education system an average grade. Compounding these issues, the National Education Association in their report on why teachers leave the profession says, “In survey after survey, teachers say they want a sense that they are making progress in their career, that they can extend their knowledge and expertise beyond the walls of their own classroom.”

Teacher Leadership: It's Time Has Come

Katzenmeyer and Moller say that within every school there is a sleeping giant of teacher leadership which can be the catalyst for school improvement. In fact, real change is not possible without teacher leadership. Why? Teachers are the closest to the heartbeat of the school and the student. Unless teachers are significantly involved in decision making, there is little chance of substantial school improvement.

Teacher leadership also improves teacher quality. The National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality says that “professional growth occurs as the result of collaboration with peers, assisting other teachers, working with administrators, and being exposed to new ideas.”  This sounds very much like the CLASS Project. Teacher leadership can become a tool to recruit, retain, motivate, and reward accomplished teachers. I am mentoring a first year teacher who already knows she wants to be a teacher leader, and the prospect of teacher leadership opportunities attracted her to our school district.

Empowering and engaging teachers in decision making may take many forms. Chalkboard’s CLASS Project, professional learning communities, Instructional Practices Inventories from the University of Missouri (where teachers observe each other in their classrooms and give feedback), University of California’s New Teacher Center Mentoring Program, curriculum directors, and professional development leaders are some of the many opportunities quickly becoming available to classroom teachers.

Why is Teacher Leadership a Paradigm Shift?

Roland Barth in his work on teacher leadership wrote in the Phi Delta Kappan that “something deep and powerful within school cultures . . . seems to work against teacher leadership.”  There is a maze of educational governance from government policy makers to the teachers’ associations that run our schools. In addition, education is deeply entrenched in tradition and the status quo.

Teacher leadership presents a new perspective. The notion that classroom teachers should be part of education’s policy shaping, decision-making system is beginning to take real shape. Many colleges and universities now offer degrees in teacher leadership, and some states offer teacher leadership certification.  There probably has never been a better time to examine ways to make teacher leadership and shared decision making by all educators part of a total school program. Teachers' roles are changing. The schools that recognize that change are leading the way on reform and helping schools achieve success for all students.

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