Now in my fourth year of teaching in my school and sixth overall, I can appreciate the many hats teacher leaders wear on a daily basis for their students and colleagues, from teacher to mentor, role model, liaison, coach, philosopher, disciplinarian, and friend. This balancing act is intricate, delicate, and complex, often pushing me to the breaking point or outer limits of personal sanity. There are not enough hours in the day to accomplish everything that needs to get done, and I often feel stretched in a zillion directions. Still, I am never bored and always challenged, both intellectually and socially, to achieve my personal best, the goal of student learning and success always at the forefront of my mind.
I am blessed to have colleagues who are equally as passionate, enthusiastic, and talented at teaching and learning, even with the unpredictable and often disadvantaged student population we have. It is refreshing to read other educational blogs, where teachers share their successes, failures, hopes, dreams, and best practices. I know I am not alone and love hearing other teachers' stories on how they overcame difficult circumstances to become even stronger teachers and leaders for their students and colleagues.
Teacher Anthony Cody has one such blog that continues to inspire and intrigue me. After 18 years as a science teacher in inner-city Oakland, he now works with a team of experienced science teacher-coaches who support the many novice teachers in his school district. He is a National Board-certified teacher and an active member of the Teacher Leaders Network. This appeared on his Teachers Magazine blog, Living in Dialogue.
I am in my 24th year working in a medium-sized urban school district, and I have experienced school reform first-hand. Most often it takes the form of top-down programs that attempt to involve everyone in the District in a process that the superintendent (or state-appointed administrator) has decided will transform us from chronically under-performing to excellent in the coming year.
The National Board certification process has been shown to improve student learning by helping teachers reflect on what really matters in their practice. Take One! is a process that allows teachers to submit a single video portfolio entry for scoring. This entry can be used if the teacher decides to continue and complete the remaining portfolio entries for full National Board certification. Some schools or departments within schools have taken on Take One! as a collaborative professional growth experience, working together to improve their practice. Take One! costs just $395 for each participating teacher.
Teachers work together to develop questions about their teaching practice which can be probed through a research process. Often teachers implement an innovative practice, and then reflect on how student learning changes as a result. When these lessons are shared at a school site, effective practices can be spread and move the entire community move forward. In Minneapolis, union leaders worked with the District to create an innovative pay structure that rewards teachers for engaging in this process, in a way that connects professional growth to the evaluation process.
The Critical Friends Group is described by the National School Reform Faculty as "a professional learning community consisting of approximately 8-12 educators who come together voluntarily at least once a month for about two hours. Group members are committed to improving their practice through collaborative learning." The National School Reform Faculty web site offers an extensive bank of resources, including discussion protocols for looking at student work and exploring equity issues.
Originally developed in Japan, Lesson Study is now being practiced at many schools across the US. I have done some work with Dr. Catherine Lewis, a proponent of this method, whose web site describes the process thusly:
* They build community and collegiality among participants.