Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

A Different Model for School Success: Empower Teachers

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

A Different Model for School Success: Empower Teachers

Article excerpt

Pioneering a new definition of teacher leadership could transform K-12. Expand what's already happening in some places.

Sometimes we are so accustomed to the way things are that we can't imagine a different way of doing things. For example, in 1927, one of the Warner brothers made a famously wrong prediction: "Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?"

When it comes to defining teacher leadership, how much do we limit ourselves by assuming that the way teachers work today must always be the way teachers work? Most of us assume that schools must be managed from the top down, so a teacher's job must be to implement and support whatever federal, state, and district leaders decide. We assume teachers are in charge of classroom management but not whole-school management.

We assume that if teachers want to progress professionally they must become administrators and leave their passion for teaching students behind. We assume "teacher voice" means having input in or being the face of someone else's ultimate decision. We assume teachers don't want to define these arrangements differently, and neither does anyone else.

In this context, educators and advocates have created and embraced professional learning communities (PLCs), hybrid roles, and teacher-led professional development. In some places, teachers can individually become curriculum specialists or project and team leaders. Teachers can even pursue a teacher leader certification to qualify them for such roles. These are excellent teacher leadership opportunities.

But limiting the scope of teacher leadership to opportunities that fit within current assumptions also limits teachers' potential to use their leadership positions to choose or invent fundamentally different approaches to schools and schooling. Twenty years from now with the perspective of hindsight, we might want to kick ourselves for this.

Just as Mr. Warner failed to realize that some actors were ready to talk in motion pictures, too many of us are failing to recognize that a good number of K-12 public school teachers are ready to collectively design and manage whole schools, whole departments, and programs that operate across schools in a geographic area. What's more, some of these teachers have very new and different ideas about how schools could operate.

These teachers are ready. Right now. Not just to influence classrooms and curriculum, but to change their schools' entire approach to design and management. All teachers aren't ready, and that's just fine. Those who want to should be welcome to continue working toward improvement in conventional schools with conventional working arrangements for teachers.

But why deny the teachers who are ready to try something different the opportunity to make the decisions influencing school success? Why ignore the possibility that, just as expanding the concept of actors' roles transformed the motion picture industry, expanding our concept of teacher leadership might be key to transforming K-12 teaching and learning?

Pioneering teachers

Pioneering groups of public school teachers across the United States are already advancing a new definition of teacher leadership: teacher partnerships. As such, they're securing autonomy to collectively make decisions that influence their whole school's success. They have the opportunity to choose--even invent--their school's approach to student learning. Among the areas of autonomy for teachers are:

1. Selecting colleagues;

2. Dismissing or recommending colleagues for transfer;

3. Evaluating colleagues;

4. Setting staff patterns;

5. Selecting leaders;

6. Determining budget;

7. Determining salaries and benefits;

8. Determining learning programs;

9. Setting the schedule; and

10. Setting school-level policies (such as discipline and homework policy). …

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