I have spent some time writing about why teachers should be involved in education policy, and by that I’ve usually focused on why policy makers should include us in their conversations. This has required some imagination because teachers largely are not involved in the writing of such policies. Today I am very excited to share that I can now clearly—and without extensive use of imagination—see how teacher leadership can look at the school level. That is because the school where I work is a living example of teacher leadership in action.
Founded four years ago, the school has always had teacher leadership built into its structure. Each grade team, consisting of four content area teachers, one special education teacher, and one school support staff member (such as a social worker or guidance counselor), has a team leader. Team leaders from grades 6-12 all convene with the administration team one afternoon each week around school-wide policies, initiatives and concerns, and receive per session compensation for this time. Team leaders create the agenda for grade team meetings, called “common planning time” or CPT, which happen every other day for a one-hour period. These meetings can focus on anything from grade-wide locker policies or how to address students’ inappropriate use of gum in the classroom, to planning grade-wide field trips, parent nights, or setting out goals for the year. One CPT per week is devoted to “kid talk,” where we focus our conversations on our concerns about specific students and make decisions on how to intervene. The team leader serves as a facilitator for the team meetings, and liaison between the team and administration, but not an authority figure.
This year, under the school’s new leadership, and due to widespread demand from teachers, we now have content area departments, which meet after school during DOE-mandated professional development time, and have the option to meet more often for per session compensation. Each department has a department chair, which is a teacher. (In the case of the math department, the chair is a fulltime math coach, who was a teacher at our school for a number of years.) Each department has been working collaboratively on its own vision statement, refining its scope and sequence of curriculum across the grades, and designing keystone projects in each grade, which will be used for bi-annual portfolio assessments. In the English department, we’ve also been sharing best practices and identifying school-wide areas of need and making plans to address these. Both departments and grade teams manage sizable budgets.
Finally, this year our school has created a mentoring program for new teachers, also something staff members had requested year after year. Each mentor is paired with one new teacher, observes him or her teaching once per week, and meets with the mentee once per week to help plan curriculum and offer advice.
The administrators at my school know how to invite teachers into important policy conversations and know how to share responsibility and leadership with staff members. The wonderful thing about the teacher leadership opportunities at my school is that they truly allow teachers to solve problems and guide the progress of the school. Teachers have so much input and autonomy that there is amazingly little resistance to progress. There are no outside people condescending to us, telling us what to do, and meeting with that classic teacher response (which is often conveyed only in a facial expression), “Why don’t YOU try doing that in my classroom!?”
My school has thought “outside th box” to allow me to be a fulltime eighth grade English teacher, as well as English co-department chair, eighth grade team leader, and new teacher mentor. I have been relieved of lunch duty, as well as advisory to clear room in my schedule to fulfill these three leadership roles. So far it is working. I get to use my energy in a variety of ways throughout the day, all of which I believe ultimately benefit students. My only concern is that the New York City Board of Education does not recognize the leadership roles my colleagues and I assume at my school; but I am hopeful that if we can demonstrate success, that too will change.
[teamwork image found at http://www.liemur.com/images/teamwork_small.jpg]