What’s it like to be that ‘one in a million’ teacher of the year? Only a few of us might experience the privilege of representing the collective creativity, dedication, passion and experience of all of us. But many of us can discover our inner leader and raise the level of practice for our grade level, school, or district as teacher leaders. States offer certification for this career ladder. Even with such traditional requirements, the possibilities for this position veer sharply away from old models.
Teacher leaders may still work full time in the classroom or act as a coach for departments or a district. They do not have to be experts in every area. It’s more important that they have learned some communication skills, are willing to continue learning, and are interested in organizing and sharing what they know.
Research confirms that collaboration is the strongest leverage possible for improvement. Teachers working on special assignment, remaining in the classroom, willing to coach or offer professional training send a wave of skills through an entire building and district. It helps to break down any sense of isolation and builds on experience.
Some hints from the principles of innovation could help your school. Tap current teachers to start something new. What kinds of action will work? Teacher- led discussion to create and calibrate writing rubrics tied to samples of student work is one thought. How about a book study focused on learning tips to manage change? Adopting a coaching strategy? Other teachers will appreciate the ‘local’ help available to answer questions.
Goals will show up and grow in classrooms when there is a team built around the effort. Levels of teacher leadership who share work, reflect and set improvement steps will reinforce the principle that everyone is a learner and participant.
Lose the fear, and adopt a group willingness to learn from failure. What’s the benefit? Classroom doors open, conversations and connections deepen, inspiring shared strategies and fluid ownership for success. Starting peer walkthrough and reflection practices? If it’s something new, and maybe feels awkward to start, dare to take action.
Is it hard work? Certainly. Building a new level of success is always hard work. Are there rewards? Within your own buildings, in your districts, you have the chance to be a leader while watching others build strength in their teaching. Does it make you teacher of the year? In your own world, for your own building and district, of course!
Dr. Leslie Ford is Superintendent of Schools for the Northville Central School District, NY. She has over 40 years of experience in education, including long-range planning with attention to curriculum and assessment, connecting data to students and classrooms, and communication and action planning. She is an author on several papers for School Administrator and Leadership publications. Most recently she serves on the Fulton County board for economic development.