Teacher leadership is the focus of many conversations these days, especially ones about the Common Core. With their emphasis on interdisciplinary curriculum, the standards will require teachers to collaborate with one another and spread their expertise in and out of cyberspace. There will be new assessments (PDF) that teachers need to design, score, interpret, and integrate into instructional plans. There will be demand for an array of instructional resources, which teachers must learn and adapt for the specific contexts they teach in.
The Common Core cannot be implemented in lock-step fashion, as current teach-to-test curricula demand today. The Common Core cannot be implemented if we continue to promote short-cut teacher preparation and one-shot, “spray and pray” professional development. As TLN member Patrick Ledesma recently wrote about the Common Core, “Time and again, top-down implementation stalls as teachers fail to hear workable plans that reflect the realities of their classrooms.” We need teachers to lead the way.
Granted, teacher leadership has become more popular of late as a means for administrators to position classroom practitioners as department or committee chairs, coaches, mentors, or even “professional learning team” facilitators. But most of these roles are typically defined by administrators in response to external dictates. They reflect how policy wonks, curriculum designers, and publishers imagine schools and teachers’ roles within them.
This type of teacher leadership—the “anoint and appoint” variety defined by Mark Smylie (friend and school reform scholar)—is for yesterday’s schools. We must exceed their narrow confines, because even if all these leadership roles were combined into one, it still wouldn’t come close to what a teacherpreneur does. Because teacherpreneurs spend half the day teaching students, their perspectives on education reform are grounded in the everyday realities of teaching and learning.
In the keynote address I'll deliver at the eighth International Symposium on Educational Reform (ISER) this week, I'll describe the barriers that undermine the kind of teacherpreneurial action needed for implementing the Common Core. Such obstacles include policies that isolate teachers from one another, as well as administrators and policy wonks who are threatened by teachers who lead.
Too many administrators are still focused on “monitoring” teachers to make sure they teach “bell to bell.” We need to jettison the organizational structures that have existed in our schools since the 1920s. Many of our schools' designs were based on Frederick Taylor's theories of scientific management, which allowed classroom teachers to be treated much like assembly-line factory workers.
It’s about time we jettison the “boss-worker” mindset of administrators and self-proclaimed reformers who cannot tolerate the blurring of lines between those who teach in schools and those who lead them. Our focus should be on meeting the challenges of 21st-century teaching and learning. In our communities, there are growing numbers of students from impoverished homes--many of them second-language learners--who need more well-prepared teachers, working in teams, than ever before.
Here at CTQ, teacher leaders are working hard to lead Common Core implementation in their schools, districts, and states. And as our organization continues to evolve, we will focus more and more on making sure that teacher leaders and teacherpreneurs are leading the way.