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A few weeks ago I was honored to attend a Teacher of the Year event at the White House along with other great educators. The Teachers Guild team nominated me and I was excited to be chosen as an honored guest. I heard  Jahana Hayes, the National Teacher of the Year, speak as well as President Obama. Jahana and the other state teachers of the year are all doing amazing work in their schools to positively impact students.

Need for Teacher Agency

As I moved around the rooms and talked with other educators, I was struck by all the success stories that I heard from teachers who have clearly gone beyond challenges at their schools to implement positive change while staying in the classroom. The experience gave me time to reflect on ways that we can provide more teachers with agency to take on leadership roles in their schools. Teachers don’t always feel like honored guests when they walk into their schools. In conversations, I hear frustration over all of the expectations placed on teachers that prevent them from moving beyond the systems and silos that we unintentionally put into place. These expectations become roadblocks to change.

Many teachers who want to have more agency end up on the road to becoming school administrators. This is the clearest path available to having more influence at the school level. As school administrators, they quickly discover that expectations from school boards and state departments of education limits the autonomy that they had hoped to have in their new job role. What we really need is a way to provide teachers with a leadership pathway that allows them to have the best of both worlds.

Developing Teacher Leaders

Nationally and locally, there are many great programs that are trying to address the need for developing teachers as leaders. Teach to Lead. a program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, ASCD and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards hosts summits throughout the year to provide teams of educators with time and resources to develop action plans that they can implement in their schools. At the summit, I learned about the Teacher Leader Model Standards, created by a consortium of educators. The standards provide a good framework for schools and districts that want to development programs for teacher leadership.  The Teacher Powered Schools organization is a great place to see what works. The site has toolkits that you can use in your school to start discussions about how to provide teachers with more autonomy.

Teacher Agency Leads to Student Agency

I attended the Baltimore Teach to Lead Summit with my R2 Innovates team, Si Se Puede,and we were able to make a lot of progress on developing next steps for our initiative to bridge the gap that exists between home and school for our Latino families. As I’ve continued to work with the team in my district, I’ve seen amazing changes happen in the lives of students. By giving the team permission and time to design and try new ideas, the district has benefited with greater parent engagement and improved student achievement. LaChe Williams, a Conder Elementary School teacher, worked with the team to create a student-led conference format that has been shared throughout the district and on the Teachers Guild. If we want students to have agency in their learning, we have to give teachers agency to put their ideas into action.

From the Backseat to the Driver’s Seat

One of our R2 Innovates team leaders said it best, “You come up with an idea about something that you want to change, and then it (the process) changes you.” I encourage all educators to engage in conversations about ways to make teachers the honored guests and move them from the backseat into the driver’s seat. Teacher leaders hold the key to meaningful change in our schools.

 

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A few months ago, I took the Myers-Briggs personality test as an assignment for a school leadership course. Most educators have encountered this test at some point in their careers. The indicators are designed to give you a sense of how you experience the world with the goal of helping you to understand your strengths and weaknesses and connect with others who can fill those gaps.

With test results in hand, I found myself singled out with a very small group of people as we grouped together around each of the four categories. At one point I was in a group of two. Almost all of the district leaders fit into just a few of the 16 profiles. Very few introverts were in the group. Looking at the data for administrators, it became apparent that there was little diversity in profiles of leaders in the group. This is not a bad thing – just an indicator that school leadership attracts people who have skills which match the system needs. It could also be an indicator that people who don’t fit into those categories have a harder time staying in the profession.

A recent article in the Atlantic describes the large number of introverted educators who are burning out. Teachers cite constant meetings and initiatives as draining. These teachers and leaders need to have time to decompress and reflect and their busy lives allow little time for this. Susan Cain in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking expands on how introverts deal with stress in the workplace and feels that we sometimes undervalue their contributions. Cain has sparked some controversy with her statements about the overemphasis on collaboration in the workplace and schools, but I don’t think we can ignore what she is saying about the need to provide educators and students with time to reflect and refuel. Education needs teachers and leaders who are empathetic and introspective.

At a recent event, I had time to connect with a group of colleagues and friends from around the world and I was reminded of the value of a diverse team. We had several conversations around the idea that our differences made our group better. No one minded that some of us were quiet, some of us were loud, and some of us were just plain tired. We’re from diverse backgrounds and have differing opinions about a lot of things including political preferences to preferred computing devices. In spite of our differences, the conversation always came back around to what we had in common. Through this six degrees of separation discussion, we connected with each other.

In thinking about how we might transform our educational system into a place that attracts and utilizes the skills of a diverse group of educators, I believe that we need to find a variety of ways to provide each other with support. There’s no substitute for time and space to meet in small groups and reflect on our journey together, but online space can also provide educators with a safe space to share and reflect. Small professional learning teams can bridge the divide between educators who have different personality traits. Everyone benefits from small group discussion and collaboration with a learning team.

I recently heard someone say, “When I go on stage with people different than me, they raise my game.” So the question becomes, how can we create an environment that allows all types of educators to connect, reflect and grow in their job roles?

 

 

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