Teacher leadership is a title which comes with many perceptions. Just depends who you talk to. Some parents view teacher leaders as “practitioners” who can manage a classroom and consistently guide their students through quality lessons. Administrators may see them as accomplished “coaches” who model effective standards-based instruction, and assist peers to adapt their instructional practice accordingly. Many policymakers admire teacher leaders as “facilitators” who transform ever-changing education standards into quality instruction and improved student learning. These are just some of the perceptions held by folks in Oregon who are deeply invested in K-12 education.
However, teacher leadership should extend beyond the confines of a school, and into the educational policy arena. For at the root of these perceptions lies a deeper question: “Should teacher leaders play a prominent role in education policy decisions?”
To help frame this question, I selected excerpts from an Ed Week teacher blog entitled “Teachers Should Be Seen and Not Heard.” In this blog article*, Anthony Mullen, the 2009 National Teacher of the Year, described his experience at a national education conference where stakeholders proposed needed changes in education. The blog commentary began as follows:
I am a fly on the wall sitting at a table. Seated at a round table are three state governors, one state senator, a Harvard professor and author, and a strange little man who assumes the role of group moderator. The strange little man asks the group to talk about their experiences at the education conference. The ex-governor from the South begins to talk about how the traditional school model is not working and the problem of too many teachers who do not understand what they teach. Teachers, he complains, are not prepared to teach in 21st century classrooms because they possess, in his words, "only 20th century skills." He does not provide specific examples or elaborate upon his theory but the other guests at the table nod their heads in agreement.
One by one, other table members provide their commentary:
A governor from the Midwest…tells us that his "good friend "is "right on target" about teachers not prepared to teach in 21st century classrooms.” …the Midwest governor complains that teachers, particularly math teachers, don't know their subject materials. Again, the other guests at the table nod their heads in agreement.
The state senator from the West… is a diminutive lady and pauses to reflect... "I think we need to consider the role of teachers in the classroom," she replies in a soft voice. "We are headed toward a teacher-less classroom and must be guided by this fact." The senator continues her line of reasoning, asserting how the rapid infusion of technology in classrooms is better understood by students than teachers. “Teachers are best suited to facilitate the dissemination of knowledge through interactive technology rather than try to teach ideas and concepts using traditional methods.”
What does Anthony Mullen think about all of this?
Where do I begin? I spent the last thirty minutes listening to a group of arrogant and condescending non educators disrespect my colleagues and profession. I listened to a group of disingenuous people whose own self-interests guide their policies rather than the interests of children. I listened to a cabal of people who sit on national education committees that will have a profound impact on classroom teaching practices. And I heard nothing of value…..Today I have listened to people who are not teachers, have never worked in a classroom, and have never taught a single student, tell me how to teach.
While the aforementioned scenario may not be a common occurrence at every large-scale conference, it happens all too frequently for practitioners who are given the chance to engage in education policy. But perhaps more alarming are the lack of opportunities for teachers to provide their instructional expertise in a leadership role at the table with stakeholders, period. Today, a growing number of building administrators are utilizing teacher expertise to generate recommendations and strategic plans for how to improve instructional practice and student learning. However, these same practitioners are often not invited to contribute their professional judgment to school decision-making policy discussions. This “wisdom of practice” is an untapped resource which would not only provide invaluable advice to school districts, but also a governing board such as OEIB (Oregon Education Investment Board).
I am disappointed that our Governor has not appointed a practicing classroom teacher to OEIB. This board is responsible for promulgation of critical “investment” decisions for education in Oregon. And yet no teacher leader is a member. Although state teacher advisory groups exist in some fashion (teachers seen), there has been no concerted effort to formally invite accomplished teachers to participate in significant education policy deliberations (but not heard), with the noted exception of the DEC (Distinguished Educator Council).
Two years ago, Chalkboard Project empanelled the DEC to establish opportunities for teacher leaders to weigh in on education policy issues. DEC prioritized and selected their own policy issue agenda, and has successfully made inroads to endorse legislation on topics such as teacher mentorship, new models for teacher preparation. CP should be applauded for its commitment to bring accomplished teachers together to not only deliberate over policy issues, but also to hatch plausible solutions. As a result, these solutions have real potential to be crafted into new policy recommendations. This model for enlisting the participation of exemplary classroom teachers provides a much-needed context for how education policy can be more clearly translated into classroom practice. I believe OEIB would benefit tremendously by appointing an accomplished teacher to the board. Increasing visibility and raising the voice of teacher leaders is worth the investment.
So what do you think? Should accomplished teachers participate in formal educational policy discussions in Salem? In a school district? In a school building? In what ways and to what extent? How should school districts in Oregon encourage and provide teacher leadership opportunities beyond instruction and assessment?
*Access Anthony Mullen’s entire blog article
- Teacher Leadership
- Quality Educators
- State Teacher Organizations