A principal steps back so teachers can lead

By John Bernia

John Bernia is the principal of Oakview Middle School in Oakland Township, Michigan. Before becoming the principal, he worked as a school custodian, teacher, and assistant principal. He blogs at The Principal’s Principles and tweets via @MrBernia.

When President Bush signed No Child Left Behind ten years ago, the federal education reform movement that began with the “Nation At Risk” report became more public than ever before.

The reform era, along with the rise of technology, has fundamentally transformed our profession. Never before have our challenges been more pressing, our work more visible, or our opportunity to advance public education greater.

To make the most of these opportunities, we must build education systems within our schools to maximize the potential not only of our students, but of our teachers. Long lasting, meaningful growth for educators cannot come from a top-down mandate; it must be the result of true collaboration among educators with formal and informal leadership roles.

At Oakview Middle School, we’re doing our best to foster teacher leadership. While we’re not “there” yet, we’re making progress through staff efforts to decentralize control of many initiatives and decisions at our school.

A few months ago, I was approached by two members of our teaching staff who had specific ideas about how to use our building’s Professional Development Day. I was reluctant at first; after all, planning PD is “supposed to be the principal’s role,” as many would say. But I took a step out of my comfort zone and let teacher leadership win out.

Teachers planned our agenda for the day; teachers led sessions on state reporting, collaboration, and a staff culture survey. Others planned and led team-building activities, and many teachers assisted in the planning and execution of a successful and meaningful professional development day. While I have a bias, it was the best building PD day I have ever participated in.

We’ll continue to seek opportunities for teachers to lead PD sessions and opportunities for those with formal leadership roles to take a step back. This week, I’m meeting with a group of teachers to plan a series of screencasts and embedded PD opportunities for staff members about harnessing the power of technology for instruction. The planning, facilitation, and learning will be done by teachers and for teachers—with a goal of making resources available for anytime learning.

Efforts like this are the only way we can increase accountability and educate a generation of children who have lived their entire lives in the digital age. There has never been a better time to be in education.

By focusing on the emerging realities shared in TEACHING 2030 and blurring the lines between formal and informal leadership roles, we can transform public education. Let’s work together so that years from now, when our students are teachers, they will have a better profession to meet their own emerging realities.