Monday, October 31, 2011
We need more teacher leaders!
Much of the problem with the career of teaching is a lack of options to expand within the profession, other than administration. It is often refreshing to hear accounts from teachers who have become instructional leaders in their building and stay in the classroom because of it...
Renee MooreThe idea of hybrid roles for teachers is not all that new. Some of the happiest moments of my teaching life were spent at Broad Street High School in Shelby, Miss., where some courageous administrators attempted to set up teacher-leader roles within the district. I say attempted because neither my employers nor I were sure what that meant when we first started in 1998.
Initially, the administration wanted to simply anoint certain persons to be the Lead Teachers, but later I convinced them to redesign it into a teacher leadership program selected by our peers throughout the district. Once they accepted the new design, I resigned my position and reapplied for the team under the new guidelines. My principal told me, "You're nuts! You're going to take a cut in pay and reapply? What if they decide not to give it to you just out of meanness or something?" But I believed in my colleagues' integrity and their intelligence. I laid my credentials on the table and was selected for the team.
Only then was I truly a teacher leader.
Originally, I taught classes half the day. The other half I spent working with the teachers in my building individually and in groups around whatever professional development issues needed attention. Most often I was helping teachers figure out the new computer software we were required to use. One of the bright spots of being an impoverished rural school was that we qualified early for technology grants that put Internet access and computers in all our classrooms. Downside, of course, was that little or no training for faculty came with it.
So we would help each other.
We developed lesson plans. We worked together on revising our own curriculum guides. We designed our own professional development, including putting together a database of skills and talents from among the teachers in our own district and using them as the trainers for these sessions. Morale went up; test scores went up; parents' confidence in our school system went up.
And then ... as with so many education reforms, the entire program was scrapped as the administration ran after yet another grant, another promise of quick results. This experiment, however, showed that career alternatives were possible even within existing school structures. Certainly, with thoughtful and collaborative planning, such hybrid roles could become more common.
Creating hybrid roles for teacherpreneurs would particularly benefit small rural schools, where staff is extremely limited, and everyone must fill multiple roles anyway. In such settings, blurring the lines between teachers and administrators is not only pragmatic, but stabilizing since it would minimize the often traumatizing effects of teacher or principal turnover.
Renee Moore has taught English and journalism for 20 years in the Mississippi Delta region at both high school and community college levels.