What is the Teacher Leadership Movement & Why Should it be Capitalized?

When I was a young boy, I had a wicked good impersonation of George H.W. Bush’s “thousand points of light” phrase; which could make my parents laugh on cue. Fast forward 25 years and that phrase pops into my mind continually.  I have no idea why H.W. used that phrase, and I am sure it is not in anyway related to Pee-Wee Herman’s “Connect the Dots, La-la-la-la-la” song; yet for me the two seemingly disparate contemporaries occupy a common childhood memory.

A few months ago, I presented on the power of Twitter for educators. My primary question for that presentation was “What happens when we connect the dots?”

If you are reading this, you are most likely a connected educator.  What purpose does that connection serve in your professional growth?  When we are smack-dab in the middle of our day-to-day routines, do we pause to realize what exactly we are doing when we connect with fellow teachers across time and space?

We are the many members of a Teacher Leadership Movement.  No longer in siloed isolation, we are the new drivers of our profession. We reflect the various needs of our local context, yet we have a single commonality:  We know the value of teacher expertise and the power of solution-oriented teacher voice.  We value each others’ perspective.  We probe for commonality.  We are grouped by interest.  We cluster based on common need.  We collaborate because we enjoy each others’ company.

Being an active member of the Teacher Leadership Movement is like sitting down to a five-course meal for the first time after eating bar food all one’s professional life.  Once you have had a Sancerre and mussels in a beurre blanc reduction, it is really hard to wash down pickled eggs with a Pabst Blue Ribbon.

All of this being true, what separates this teacher-led movement from previous teacher movements?

Perhaps I am biased after reading The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, but this is the first teacher movement (that I know of at least) that has systematically embraced a broadly decentralized organizational structure.  It does not matter if you are a Hope Street Group Teacher Fellow, a Center for Teaching Quality Collaboratory participant or perhaps both.  You have the freedom to pursue your own particular articulation of Teacher Leadership.

There is no one person driving the Teacher Leadership Movement.  Some may claim that the Gates Foundation or other shadow-players are pulling the marionette’s strings behind the guise of Teacher Leaders. The Teacher Leadership Movement is no marionette. It can’t be. Every Teacher Leader I know, in Kentucky, out of Kentucky, advocates for the students they serve, the local needs of their learning community.  Teacher Leaders have found a way to be a champion of their context while simultaneously finding ways to form and maintain deep connections to Teacher Leaders from across the nation.

Our Teacher Leadership Movement is driven by tribes, driven by collective pursuits and it is self-correcting.  Built on a culture of trust among peers, the Teacher Leadership Movement is a starfish. No centralized brain making strategic decisions. In order to move as a whole, each arm, each spiny outcropping, must find a common pursuit.  For Teacher Leaders everywhere, there is a hunger to professionalize our profession; to own teaching as, well, our own.  The value of teacher voice cannot be understated.  Our collective voice is the means by which we will achieve our ends.

It is easy to mistake a decentralized Teacher Leadership Movement for a centralized one.  Most of the organizational structures in our society are hierarchical, and education is no different.

You may expect to find a master-mind behind the curtain, but our open-system does not have a central intelligence. We do not have a centralized voice either. That would be far too simplistic.

Our intelligence, wisdom and wit are spread across multiple teacher networks, with various aims and thousands of connections to thousands of communities across the globe.

The Teacher Leadership Movement possesses a culture that values the strengths of individuals:  self-accountability and autonomy, purposeful mastery of teacher craft and the ability to assess problems at hand in order to continuously adapt to prevailing conditions.

Teacher Leadership culture is open source. Collectively, we have the most up-to-date information from active classroom practitioners.  Information and knowledge naturally filters into our discussions from classroom to classroom, from teacher to teacher across the expanse of America.

Do you know the beauty of decentralized movements?  They beget more decentralized movements.  We are in the business of transfer of concept; transfer to local policy needs, transfer to state legislation, transfer to classroom practice, transfer to parent communication.  We are the drivers of the new education agenda and we are just warming up.

George H.W. Bush, or at least my childhood version of H-Dubbya, would call us a thousand points of light.

We have the knowledge. We have the expertise.  We have strong voices for the necessary changes that must occur for local student learning and our profession as a whole.

It is time we begin capitalizing the T, the L and the M in the Teacher Leadership Movement.  It is happening.  Let’s make it official.

Next time… 10 Questions We Must Ask Ourselves about the Teacher Leadership Movement.

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