This year I am living the 21st century American teacher’s dream—leading without leaving the classroom behind. As a teacherpreneur, I spend part of my day teaching—and the other part working to change policies and practices beyond my classroom.

This post originally appeared on Impatient Optimists, the blog of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Since 1984 the MetLife Survey has given voice to those closest to the classroom. The recently released 2012 survey examines challenges for school leadership.

These challenges include everything from funding cuts and budgeting, to parent and community engagement, to implementing the Common Core, to time for professional learning and collaboration. Familiar challenges for American teachers and school leaders.

Challenges that resonate with me—one American teacher.

This year I am living the 21st century American teacher’s dream—leading without leaving the classroom behind. As a teacherpreneur, I spend part of my day teaching—and the other part working to change policies and practices beyond my classroom. My colleagues and I—working in joint appointments between our district and the Center for Teaching Quality—are informing local, state, national, and international conversations.

According to the recently released results, just over half (51%) of teachers are at least somewhat interested in teaching in the classroom part-time, combined with leadership roles and responsibilities, and 23% are extremely or very interested in this option. Since 51% of teachers surveyed already hold a leadership position in their school (such as department chair, mentor, or leadership team member among others) there are many teacher leaders primed and ready for hybrid roles. Indeed, the time and conditions are ideal for the national expansion of a career lattice of opportunities for American teacher leaders.

The widespread creation of such roles could prove a powerful solution to many of the challenges outlined in the survey. The many benefits of hybrid roles and expanded opportunities for teacher leaders include:

Reduced stress and increased job satisfaction.

Working in a hybrid role allows experienced teachers to maintain and improve our practice within the classroom, while simultaneously allowing us to work to solve the big picture challenges that face our schools and districts. This type of role can improve job satisfaction by providing teachers with authentic daily professional learning opportunities and a network of colleagues and partners beyond other educators. Hybrid roles reduce stress by increasing the quality vs. quantity of time spent with students.

Creative use of human and financial resources.

Creating hybrid roles builds the capacity of teacher leadership within a school or district, and provides a creative solution to funding challenges.

Many districts employ full-time TOSAs (Teachers on Special Assignment) who work in leadership roles but not directly with students on a daily basis. Prior to my current hybrid role, I worked as a literacy coach for three years, released full-time from the classroom to support other teachers. This role was missing key components – regular student interaction and meaningful classroom practice.

Bringing our master teachers closer to students by providing them with a part-time classroom of their own is advantageous for all stakeholders. This would allow teachers to refine and improve their craft, boost their credibility with the teachers they support, reduce class sizes and creatively allocate human and financial resources within our schools and districts.

Our teachers and students should learn alongside our strongest teacher leaders.

Innovative collaboration and professional learning opportunities.

Hybrid roles would provide schools and districts with a cadre of teacher leaders who can allocate time to planning and implementing strategic professional learning. Teacher-created and facilitated professional learning meets the needs of a range of classroom teachers, in both virtual and physical spaces.

Professional learning experiences designed for teachers by teachers improve collaboration and expedite implementation of the dynamic and shifting needs of students and initiatives like the Common Core State Standards.

Powerful community partnerships.

Creating and expanding hybrid roles would allow practicing teachers to serve as community and family liaisons. Practicing teacher leaders are positioned to connect the work in the classroom to the lives of students beyond the classroom. Increased communication and partnerships with families and community members provides additional human and physical resources for students and schools.

As detailed in the most recent MetLife Survey, the challenges that face American teachers and school leaders are complex and nuanced. And the creation and expansion of hybrid roles for teacher leaders offers a very real solution to address many of these challenges.  Hybrid roles encourage and inspire teacher leaders to simultaneously support student learning andthe sustainability of the teaching profession.

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