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Hope Street Group Network Interview with Barnett Berry

You have approached improving education from many different avenues: your leadership at the Center for Teaching Quality began after years as a teacher, college professor, and after working in think tanks and state government. Where do you think you have made the most impact?

Beginning with my role as an inner-city social studies teacher in 1978, each position has taught me much about how to understand the complexities of teaching, conduct (and critique) research into teacher policies, and engage policymakers in thinking differently about pursuing equity and excellence for all students. Unfortunately, throughout my career, most policy leaders (including the architects of a Nation at Risk, Goals 2000, No Child Left Behind, and Race to the Top) have been trying to reform teaching from the outside-in. But with the founding of CTQ in 1998, we have leveraged technology to de-isolate teachers and create opportunities for them to transform teaching and learning from the inside-out. For example, CTQ teacherpreneurs influenced about 180,000 practitioners over the past four years; hundreds of teachers have produced about 600 high-quality blogs and articles annually with our support; and teacher-led social media campaigns have reached millions. I still conduct research and engage policy leaders, but my influence pales in comparison to that of thousands of CTQ Collaboratory members who lead boldly without leaving the classroom.

CTQ supports teachers in multiple ways, including through the Collaboratory, which provides a virtual space for teachers to work together to drive change. What impact have you seen with these sorts of integration of technology and teacher leadership?

In 2003, CTQ launched the nation’s first virtual community of teacher leaders to focus on both policy and pedagogy. And while our technological platform has become fancier, the Collaboratory really is about the people. The secret of effective virtual collaboration is creating communities of practice for educators to use what they have, build trust, and create results—anywhere and anytime it’s convenient for them to focus on their collective work. In the past 13 years, I’ve seen firsthand that building solutions-oriented, teacher-led virtual communities can help practitioners overcome the very structural and cultural impediments that so often block effective collaboration. Along the way, we have codified a virtual community curriculum (VOICE) that equips teachers to facilitate professional development and collaborative projects on any online platform, engaging their peers, administrators, policymakers, and others. For example, 20 VCOs in our Common Core initiative engaged 20,000 teaching colleagues in virtual lesson study and drew nearly a quarter million users to our website. Now we are helping states, districts, unions, and other nonprofits leverage teacher leaders in online spaces to drive reforms.

You are widely published, including two books on the future of the profession, TEACHING 2030 and Teacherpreneurs: Innovative Teachers Who Lead But Don’t Leave. Can you share with us some information about your latest writing? 

The good news is that both policymakers and administrators are expressing growing interest in teacher leadership. At a time when polling data suggests that almost 1 in 4 teachers nationwide want to teach and lead in hybrid roles, high-profile school districts are launching serious teacher leadership pilots. Meanwhile, Iowa has become the first state to legislate and fund (at $312 per student) a comprehensive approach to teacher leadership (not just a career ladder). Many networks, including yours at Hope Street Group, are creating unprecedented opportunities for teachers to have voice and engage in policy conversations.

But all too often, teacher leadership efforts are still too similar to the “anoint and appoint” models of yesterday. And serious barriers remain, including archaic teaching evaluation and professional development systems—as well as high-stakes approaches to accountability—that tamp down risk-taking among teachers and administrators. But I also see some breakthrough opportunities that could allow teachers to transcend the organizational, cultural, and political resistance they face. I surface some of these issues in the December 2015 issue of Kappan, where I focus on the relationship between teachers’ professional learning and their leadership potential. I will be unpacking even more of these matters in a Ford Foundation-commissioned report on teacher leadership, student engagement, and the future of schooling, to be published in early 2016. You can expect to hear more from me on how micro-credentialing, teacher-powered schools, and purpose-driven virtual communities can boost practitioners’ learning and leadership to benefit students. Stay tuned.

These past few years seem to be coincided with the rise of the idea of teacher leadership in the mainstream. As someone who has worked within education in some way for over 20 years, what do you make of this emergence and what other advances in education are you most excited about?

Several education and business trends hold great promise for teaching to become the full profession that students deserve. First, a growing knowledge base on the science of learning is putting pressure on policymakers to make greater investments in teacher preparation—and current shortcuts into teaching will soon be addressed. Second, school reformers are recognizing the need to overhaul high-stakes accountability to support teachers in taking the instructional risks required to facilitate student-centered learning that is more personalized and performance-based. Finally, formidable forms of distributed leadership like holacracy are underway in the private sector at companies like Zappos. As business leaders cultivate more opportunities for their employees to vet new ideas and evaluate each other, they will demand policy makers and administrators do the same for the teaching profession. If student learning is going to be relevant and open-walled, then so must be the learning and leadership of teachers. As a result, we’ll see dramatic growth in innovative developments like micro-credentialing for educatorsteacher-powered schools, and purpose-driven virtual communities for learning and collaboration.

This interview was originally posted on the Hope Street Group website on October 30, 2015.

2 Comments

Renee Moore commented on October 30, 2015 at 7:33pm:

Living history

It has been fascinating to live through (not just watch) the development of the teacher leadership concept over these decades. Around 2001-02, I was interviewed by Anne Jolly, and she titled it, "Teacher Leadership is an Attitude, Not a Title." I remember us discussing exactly the point you make here, that administration cannot simply tag someone in the building a teacher leader. Not only is there a necessary skill set, but also there is the need for support (on site and beyond).

Like you I'm curious to see whether the distributive leadership style takes hold in our schools, which would require serious structural and mind-shift in most places. But, always the optimist, I don't see us going backwards at this point.

Dom Apek commented on April 19, 2017 at 1:38pm:

New vision

I remember us discussing exactly the point you make here, that administration cannot simply tag someone in the building a teacher leader. Not only is there a necessary skill set, but also there is the need for support (on site and beyond). Like you I'm curious to see whether the distributive leadership style takes hold in our schools, which would require serious structural and mind-shift in most places. But, always the optimist, I don't see us going backwards at this point. Thanks, Apkdom

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