Seeking balance…and finding my groove

Finding balance in teaching is a difficult task–compounded for those of us who choose to be teacher-leaders as well. Is there a way to embrace all parts of your passion? Here’s my story of the (somewhat treacherous) path I’ve taken to find that balance for myself.

By Leandro Inocencio (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsIf you’re like me (and every other teacher leader I know), you are constantly struggling to find the perfect balance of time.

Juggling teaching responsibilities like planning, grading and collaborating is cumbersome enough. For those of us who are invested in promoting a brighter future for our students and the system as a whole, there are also commitments to extracurricular leadership and learning opportunities. We feel like we have to give up on something to be sane—and dread the results of that compromise.

During the 2011/12 school year I learned that there is another way. I became a teacherpreneur under a grant-funded contract with the Center for Teaching Quality.

This new and exciting model of teacher leadership presents the idea that teachers don’t have to stop teaching students every day to be a thought and action leader in the education system. Teacherpreneurs find a better blend of teaching and leadership through hybrid roles that reimagine their schedules to provide a better balance.

My year as a teacherpreneur included many incredible opportunities, such as:

  • Interaction with and a voice in shaping my state’s teacher evaluation system;
  • Participation in the review of assessment measures; and
  • Creation of support materials and curriculum aligned with the Common Core State Standards.

It also included a million learning opportunities as I worked to hone my craft as a writer, researcher, speaker and, most importantly, as a teacher and teacher leader.

Even with all of my growth and successes, in April of that year, I decided not to renew my contract. Instead, I would resume my full-time teaching responsibilities the following fall.

It had been great to work in a hybrid role where I didn’t have to leave my students to be a leader in my profession. But I missed the day-to-day organic experience of being immersed in a school. My balance was better but it wasn’t quite right for me. I couldn’t bring myself to spend another year with limited contact time with students… at least at that point in my career.

A difficult transition

The transition back into my school community was not easy. I had catapulted up to the 30,000-foot view of education for a year, and this meant my perspective on policy and other initiatives had become very different from my peers’.

I admit that I didn’t make the transition very elegantly. I grew frustrated with the negative attitudes and pessimism shared by my friends and colleagues about what felt like positive changes in curriculum and policy.

Granted, it was a very tough year in my district, with tension between our school board and teachers’ association— but eventually I realized that I was making things worse for myself. I was not being the best ambassador for myself or the cool, teacher-led initiatives that I had experienced during my year as a policy-focused teacherpreneur at CTQ.

Finding my groove

It wasn’t until this fall—a full year later—that I finally started to find my groove. After three years of dedicated thought about teacher leadership, I think I know now, better than ever, how to be a teacherpreneur.

What finally clicked was how to focus my efforts. As a teacherpreneur at CTQ, I had focused on being an ambassador for teachers in the realm of policy. But now, back in my role as a full-time teacher, I realized I wanted to focus on being an ambassador for policy in the hallways of my school.

My year as a CTQ teacherpreneur helped me become aware of the potential promise of some specific reforms: the implementation of Common Core Standards and of our state’s new evaluation system. Now I’m looking for ways to make these reforms relevant and powerful in my practice and my peers’.

For example, I am part of my school’s instructional leadership team to support teachers as we work together to achieve exceptional ratings on our state evaluation rubric. I collaborate with four other teachers, studying data, picking apart the rubric, and leading small groups of teachers to define and celebrate exceptional teaching practices at our school.

To support the implementation of CCSS, I am working with the National Education Association and Betterlesson.com Master Teacher Project to write, revise, and refine my instructional materials into usable formats for teachers across the country. Each day, I formally write up my lessons, record my students’ classroom activities, and reflect on assessments and data to create Common Core-aligned resources.

In other words, I am fully immersed in changes that will impact me, my students, and the system. I am taking my experiences as a policy-focused teacherpreneur and applying them to a very different kind of leadership role within my school. Even though I am no longer released from part of my schedule, I still feel like I am having a great impact on the future of my profession—and I am loving every minute of it!

I will never not be a teacherpreneur—this much has become clear to me as I have worked to define my identity.

The vision of teacherpreneurism is spreading—with the hope that by the year 2030, there will be 600,000 of us shaping and supporting an new and improved, effective education system. With that vision in mind, I know there may be opportunities for me to be a formal teachepreneur again in the future.  However even if there are not, I have found a better balance for my teaching and leadership. I know that as long as I keep my focus on the practical side of policy, I can and will make a difference in the profession I am so passionately invested in.