Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Teacher Leaders

One of the lessons in Dr. Quaglia's Lessons Learned from an Aspirations Advocate is: "Administrators Hold the Key, But the Staff Hold Everything Else." When we work in schools we take a student-centered, teacher-driven, administrator-supported approach. Trying to improve a school's climate and culture must be driven by teachers.  The focus can, indeed must, be on the students.  And administrators will have a lot to say regarding scheduling meetings, logistics, feasibility, relationship to other projects and constituencies (parents, board, etc.). But without question, meaningful and sustainable change must be teacher led. An article in the New York Times point out that teachers doing double duty as administrators may be a growing trend.  Don't tell that to our friends in the UK.

One of the interesting things about our work across the pond has always been the effectiveness with which they implement initiatives. One could argue that some schools implement too many new programs and get caught up in a flavor-of-the-year approach. But one cannot argue with how effectively they implement. I put this down to teacher-leaders. Or rather leaders who are teachers. The system over there does not have a clear distinction between leadership and teachers. Most head-teachers, our equivalent of principals, have at least one teaching responsibility.  And the deputy head-teachers (our assistant principals) all have two or more teaching responsibilities.

As in the Times article, I am a bit on the fence about the whole thing. One the one hand, given the inevitable fact of student turn over and the not-inevitable-but-statistically-probable rate of administrator turn over, having teachers lead makes sense. In order for anything to be sustainable, those working in a school for 5, 10, 15, 20 years or more and likely to continue for as long must take the lead. On the other hand, school administration has become an increasingly specialized field. Even the promoted classroom teacher is having a hard time developing the required skill set. The skill set of a job that has become part politics, part CEO, part operations manager, part counselor, and part instructional leadership is different than the skill set of facilitating classroom instruction.  Although perhaps that argues for coming down on the teacher-leader side of the fence. Perhaps a team approach to leadership has a better chance of assembling the skill set than our one school, one principal approach. Why not experiment in your school this year by having a group of teachers really take on something big? That's how we do Aspirations.

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