Perhaps the most inspiring step educators get to take is that first step into their own classrooms after landing an initial position at a school. Regardless of where or what that first classroom looks like, we immediately imagine the potential that space holds to make it as dynamic and effective for our students as we possibly can. I recall being assigned the smallest classroom at the historic Wilson Middle School in Tampa, but it was my space to inspire, create, challenge, and, of course, learn. I navigated my first few years of teaching like most burgeoning educators, experimenting with methods, assessments, strategies, and even seating charts in an effort to maximize successful results.
My first, small step into teacher leadership was taken after my early years of finding my way in the classroom. And, unlike that first step into the classroom, the bold step towards teacher leadership is not one every educator takes, but certainly should. This meaningful endeavor found me presenting to other educators on a designated Professional Learning Day about what was working effectively in my classroom, ultimately sharing the results of my early classroom “experiments.” This early iteration of teacher leadership was common in the early nineties. Nonetheless, it was the “potluck dinner” of teacher leadership because all of the educators shared successful ideas they created. Teacher leadership was, at that time, a great way for professionals to share the “greatest recipes” of their classroom experiences.
True teacher leadership is not a “potluck” where all participants bring their own creations; it is getting the leaders together to collaborate, plan, create, and try the “meal” together! Collective creations were the next profound benchmark for teacher leadership. Teacher leaders began experimenting with innovative ways to improve our public schools and increase student achievement, with the help of transformative teacher networks. In essence, having more cooks in the “teacher leadership kitchen” fostered greater change and was a monumental step towards amplifying teachers’ voices and increasing leadership.
It wasn’t until I worked with dynamic organizations like the Teacher Leaders Network (TLN) and the Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ) that connected me with other teacher leaders, both locally and nationally, that I saw the true impact that educators can leverage. These networks are the pathways to greater collaboration, creation, and synergy for teacher leadership and teacher voices. Teachers can and need to be the agents of change for public education. In my own district of Hillsborough County, Florida, we had a spirited, effectual cadre of classroom leaders to delineate the concerns, pitfalls, and even the potential benefits of what was a very new evaluation system.This work led the district to implement full-time release mentors for our struggling and early-career teachers, creating a structure for more teacher leadership opportunities.
Collaborating with educators and teacher leaders through these bold networks also brought me a new sense of responsibility to the students we serve. These students deserve and need teacher leaders to be their voices. We must take steps to be the increasingly louder voice for a fair, equal, free, and high-quality public education for all students in America. This understanding led me to my boldest step yet, becoming a leader in my local union, the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, to amplify the voice for education, public schools, and the students we serve. Our professional organizations like the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) leverage the collective voices of educators nationally, championing our hard work on behalf of students.
While taking my first, small steps as a public-school educator, I had the luxury (and necessity) of hyper-focusing on my craft. However, over the last twenty years, I saw the need to expand my focus on programs that both serve and harm our students and public schools. Solid programs include mentoring programs to help our early career education professionals in order to retain talented teachers. We now create hybrid roles for career teachers to split time between their own classrooms and leading professional development for other teachers. And of course, teacherpreneurs, supported by these impactful organizations like CTQ and the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, foster teacher leadership and public school advocacy. Finding ways to educate the public and lobby legislators against harmful ideas like vouchers that re-segregate schools and monetize education for private companies using public funds, all in the name of “school choice,” also became big steps into my teacher leadership.
As teacher leaders, we are compelled to be lock-step leaders against such negative measures while advocating for the issues that have positive effects on our students and communities. With the help of our education networks, our unions, and each other, we can collaborate, coordinate, and take the necessary steps to protect that which we love and need- a high quality public education for all students. I challenge and ask you to take your next step into teacher leadership, be it sharing some “potluck” ideas with your fellow professionals or creating something dynamic together to help our students and schools. Be the champion for everything our public schools deserve!
Rob’s post is part of CTQ’s latest blogging roundtable: It’s a network, not a clique – A CTQ retrospective. To join the conversation, comment on this blog and read the other blogs in this series. You can find an updated list of all posts on the roundtable landing page. Follow CTQ on Facebook and Twitter to see when each new blog is posted, and use #CTQCollab to join the conversation on social media.