Diva Words and Two Worth Fighting For

I’m AWESOME. I left the box in a different time zone. I do some brain-flaming brain-storming. All my lessons are hands-on, except the ones that are project-based, or inquiry-based, or criterion-referenced, like I learned how to make them in my PLC where I collaborate and reflect, and always say, “Thank you, sooooo much” to the facilitator for honoring my time and establishing norms to secure a safe space with equity of voice. Don’t even get me started on my rigor.

            Diva words explode onto the scene like this year’s new color.  Once present, they become the seeds of new insights which give birth to the imagination by which we recreate our profession. Yet so pathologically do we crave the Divas that we exhaust them. First, we can think anew because of them. Then, we can’t think without them. Their final indignity is to be exploited by administrative and commercial powers. That “AWESOME” has fallen from describing Moses on Mount Sinai to something we say when someone passes the salt is no big deal.

But what about a facilitator who gives you your agenda for your PLC?

Or when brainstorming diminishes into bullstorming?

Frankly, I’ve never worried about that either.  Divas fall.  And like buses, another will pass by soon.

But then came two terms whose honor I will defend: Teacher Leader and Teacherpreneur.  I never realized the distinction between teachers who lead in traditional capacities – on committees, for example – and Teacher Leaders who conceive and make real their own ideas. Many teachers lead in both capacities; both are indispensable to a high-functioning school. Then, in 2011, after earning my National Board Certificate, I was recruited into the Arizona TeacherSolutions Team and the Teacher Leader Network (The Collaboratory).  In these networks the hidden attributes of Teacher Leaders became visible, and whole new avenues of thinking opened up for me.

Traditionally, teachers are often sought out to lead within the established system under a central governing authority. Their leadership roles may be compensated with an added duty stipend.  They work within established lines of influence. Their influence likely doesn’t extend far beyond their school site.

By contrast, if Teacher Leaders had a creed, it might be something like this:

 Education in America will change best when led from within, by expert teachers, who apply their imagination and leadership skills beyond classroom, to effect practice and policy, reaching district, state, national, and even international venues.

Teacher Leaders often face two challenges. First, aggressive resistance comes from insecure colleagues and administrators invested in the existing power differential. Second, passive, impersonal barriers come inherently with any path-breaking work.  For example, Teacher Leaders generally lack time, resources, and compensation. They lead on their own time and their own dime.

That’s where Teacherpreneur comes in. The concept of the Teacherpreneur has two distinct features: 1) We are practicing, accomplished teachers, creating and experiencing the results of our ideas firsthand, which lends credibility to the claim that our ideas are grounded in the practical realities of the classroom, 2) We do receive time, resources, and compensation to make our visions tangible, demonstrating the trust that the districts and funding organizations have in the Teacher Leaders. Together these features form our most potent tool against challenges to Teacher Leadership.

The terms themselves must be protected. True believers must maintain the uniqueness of the Teacher Leader and the Teacherpreneur.  We must have ready responses, matching tone and intent, to any dilution or appropriation — innocent or exploitative– of their distinguishing features.  Otherwise, they will lose their ability to inspire new thinking and suffer the fate of the Diva.