Taking Ownership Over the Teaching Profession

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I just read a great post by Kim Ferris-Berg calling for teachers to stop waiting and start calling the shots in Education. I totally agree! Given the anti-teacher, anti public school political landscape in the United States today, its time for teachers to start actively taking ownership over our own profession. We need to give ourselves the freedom to transform, reimagine, and invigorate teaching, learning, and schooling and have the power to do so much more than is widely believed. As my district continues to implement its Iowa TLC model, our teachers needs to establish more comfort and voice with advocating for their own profession and for what is best for our students. We need to change that mindset of being too dependent on needing to get direction from our administration and lead our own profession collectively as teacher leaders.

Another post by Ariel Sacks considers how we can best measure teacher effectiveness. It’s a valid question. Have we operationally defined effective instruction? How will we ever possibly reach consensus on what qualities make up a great teacher? Do we want our teachers to have a homogeneous set of skills that can be characterized as “effective”…and by what measures? How diversely can we define what qualities define a “good” teacher? Must we not consider the diversity of needs that our students need in their teachers? I would venture most students want more from their teacher than a better test score, but how do you accurately measure those intangible qualities that make teachers effective?

As a teacher leader, I am also left to consider how we will continue to define those qualities that make up an effective teacher leader within our Iowa TLC model. What qualities make an effective teacher leader? I think we must consider, paraphrasing Stanford Professor David Labaree, that measuring a newly emerging role of teacher leadership will be extraordinarily complex and not measured accurately by a simple metric.

As we consider these measures, we must really keep the idea of engagement in mind. If we are to take ownership, how do we create and demonstrate leadership that recruits followers? In other words, how do we sustain effective teaching and teacher leadership? How do we maintain buy in and a continuous growth mindset among our students, fellow colleagues, and our community? How do we implement a vision for teacher leadership and involvement that can grow and keep reaching these key educational stakeholders?

These factors are at least partially considered in a post I read by David Cohen. Cohen outlines 4 steps that we as teacher leaders can take to help ensure engagement in our teacher leadership model, including: ongoing collaboration with our stakeholders, building our professional learning networks to share ideas more broadly to shape better ideas, engaging politically to reshape to current conversation about public education, and focusing on the positives.

I particularly identified with the last one, as I think the more we can focus on the goals and purpose of our work being for the benefit of our students and highlighting the good work students and teachers are already engaging in helps establish a scope of work and effort that is hard to criticize.

The engagement in the political process is also something we as teachers need to do a much better job at. Too often, our politicians best embody the classic “everyone’s an expert at education because everyone went to school” phrase. Due to public funding through tax money, school districts too often bow to the authority of the almighty politician or taxpayer. In reality, we provide a service that is woefully undervalued and underappreciated by many politicians today. We are taken for granted, at least partially, because we have allowed ourselves to be silenced and intimidated for too long. We need to take that power back through our collective voice and expertise in education. We simply must not accept our current reality as unchangeable. Already, the national conversation is shifting to embrace teacher leadership as a pathway to better instruction and student learning. Now is not the time to shy away from our moment in the spotlight.

To do so effectively, we must write our politicians, call our politicians, learn about political action groups, etc. We must also better educate ourselves. In Barnett Berry’s article about Advancing the Teaching Profession, he mentions value-added data. I have heard this phrase several times, but I don’t know that I could really confidently describe what value-added really means to a colleague. It made me question how many other important policy proposals and conversations that I need to learn more about if I want to engage in debate and conversation with purpose and actually know what I am talking about. As stated by Bill Ferriter: “Why must we sit idly by to wait for some disconnected bureaucrat to change the system that only we know so well?”

We must also seek out advice from those already effectively leading our profession. I was reminded of this as I read Barnett Berry’s post on building inspiration for building teacher leadership. In it, he lists a few of his favorite teacher leaders that are blazing a path for teacher leadership, including Sarah Brown Wessling. This caught my attention because Sarah, the 2010 National Teacher of the Year, teaches in the same building as I do as an English teacher. Here is this great resource within my own building that is doing amazing teaching every day and I talk to her maybe only a few times a year because we are in different departments. It made me really consider how small my education bubble has been. I work with some great colleagues in my own science department, but I do need to branch out more. I am hoping this blog will give me an opportunity to do so.

“Be the Change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

~Brad Hurst

One thought on “Taking Ownership Over the Teaching Profession

  1. Is there really a reason to evaluate teachers or to measure what makes a teacher good? A lot of the private sector is moving away from performance reviews because they found it was difficult to define what made someone effective. I also struggle a bit with the TLC program. As a teacher I would have killed for the chance to be recognized as a teacher leader so I understand the attraction. I also like the idea of a temporary break from the classroom. However, I also saw the danger of that when I worked for an AEA. My first two years at the AEA provided some of the greatest learning I had ever experienced, but by year three I realized I was rapidly falling out if touch with the classroom. I think it will be extremely important to make sure all teacher leaders return to the classroom for an extended period to keep their skills and perspective for the job.

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