Five years ago, the phrase “teacher leadership” was new and foreign. Now teachers across the country are involved in leadership that informs local and national decisions about education. Yet, so many questions remain about the role of teacher leaders.
Five years ago, I joined CTQ’s virtual community—then a listserv where conversations between accomplished teachers across the nation were conducted through emails. The term “teacher leader” was new to me. I remember one of the very first conversation threads I read through with keen interest was on the question someone posed: What is teacher leadership? The teachers had amazing things to say about the potential of teachers to change the course of education for the better. CTQ community members mentioned the text, Awakening the sleeping giant: Helping teachers develop as leaders, which was one of the only books out about teacher leadership and its huge, untapped potential. I was working in a school where there were almost no formal teacher leadership roles, and change most often came in the form of mandates from the district.
Five years later, the landscape I see in New York City schools and in many other states where I have teacher friends and colleagues is abundant with leadership opportunities for teachers. The various roles exist at the school level (including entirely teacher-led schools), through outside organizations such as the Center for Teaching Quality, teacher preparation schools, and to a lesser extent at district and state levels, though the US DOE is in its fourth year of employing both part-time and full-time teaching ambassadors now.
In the last five years, I’ve personally had the opportunity to try out many teacher leadership roles—from grade team leader, department chair, action researcher, and cooperating teacher, to edublogger, coauthor of TEACHING 2030, speaker at education policy conferences, presenter at curriculum workshops, and curriculum consultant. That’s a lot, and this has been possible because of the years of work of progressive organizations like CTQ, progressive school leaders and policymakers, and most of all, actual teacher leaders who helped pave the way.
The sea change toward teacher leadership is worthy of pause and celebration. Teacher leadership is not a foreign concept anymore. It’s (almost) expected that schools provide leadership opportunities for teachers.
So where are we now? Our work—on this large a scale—is still in its infancy. What are teacher leaders doing and what impact are we having? Does the answer to that question vary as much as our classroom teaching does? What kind of leaders are we and what is our function? Do we have the resources we need to be effective leaders? Toward what are we leading? Does that depend entirely on our context or do teacher leaders have common goals?