Whose Profession is This Anyway?

It’s the last day of our CTQ Teacher Advisory Board Summit, and I’m encouraged. I’ve been connected with CTQ for almost 10 years, and have watched the idea of bringing the expertise of teachers to the forefront of education reform and policy come closer to reality.

What’s been most amazing about this particular gathering is the willingness on the part of the staff to stay out of the way, and let us teacher leaders actually make decisions about which way the organization should go. You have to have been a classroom teacher and know how ignored and humiliated we have been in the educational decision-making process to appreciate how unique this is.

The Summit has also been one more opportunity for me to exchange ideas with other teacherpreneurs. As one teacher colleague mentioned, when we first coined the phrase, teacherpreneur, there was much trepidation and negative feedback. After all, why should teachers expect what we do to have measurable value, why should we be seen as the experts or the innovators in education…we’re just the hired help. Or, according to many so-called education reformers, we are THE problem in education.

CTQ founder, Barnett Berry, has taken flack over the years for his vision of promoting teacher voice, and building a way to do that. Barnett had a comfortable life in higher ed as a researcher and tenured professor. He easily could have sat back, kicked up his feet in a corner office with a window at the university, and done what so many others have done—spend his career studying and talking about teachers and what we should do. Instead, he made the choice to stand with teachers, and develop a vehicle to bring the expertise of outstanding teachers to its rightful place. Not to over-glorify, but I believe in giving credit where it is due.

Despite this good work and some other notable (and sadly rare) examples, the time has come across the field of education for teachers ourselves to take charge of our own profession. It’s time to stop waiting for others to give us permission, give us opportunities, or give us our due.  Warning: Teaching is the largest profession in the U.S., and as we become more vocal, we may also find how different we really are.

Nancy Flanagan just wrote about some examples of what is being called giving teachers voice, and questions when is it really authentic, especially if the teacher has a message that is not what those sponsoring the platform / event / outlet wanted to hear. Along with the increasing social media activism of teachers, several important education organizations are (finally) starting to show signs of teachers taking leadership rather than waiting to be invited.

Am I the only one seeing evidence we may be well on the way to just such a shift?

  • JonEckert

    Well said

    Thanks for this, Renee. Teachers like you have been leading without being asked to lead for years – a tremendous example for all of us. You have captured Barnett’s passion in your post, which is CTQ’s passion for a teacher-led profession. Maybe it is just because I was at the same summit with you, but I do think this could be a shift – at least I hope it is. 

  • jenniferbarnett

    Teachers owning the process


    Like Jon, it is possible that I am shaded by such an inspiring gathering, but I do see shifts in teacher ownership at a local level. I was struck by an example within minutes of leaving the TAB Summit. While waiting for my plane, I received a phone call from a teacher in my district needing some professional advice concerning a possible job change. An award-winning math teacher, he was offered an opportunity to teach at a school for the blind and was very intrigued by the career shift. (I really asked a lot of questions and that was where I recognized the shift.) He began to explain his deep concern that he would leave a district where his voice was heard, where he was not only free to create new pathways for improving instruction and schools but encouraged and supported to do it. Though the position paid more, he struggled with the uncertainty of the culture of his new work environment. Understand that BOTH places are high needs and challenging. But, this young teacher wasn’t easily lured away with money. Being truly valued in the process counted for a lot. This is a shift. Personal experience offers the best advice but I did try to explain how often I’ve been in his shoes, bedazzled by treasures when what I really want and need is to be valued, heard and expected to be an intregal cog in the wheel. Many in my district feel this way and we desperately need to tell our story. It really could create a shift for others.

    One point you raised, Renee, really struck me.

    Warning: Teaching is the largest profession in the U.S., and as we become more vocal, we may also find how different we really are.

    Your statement called to mind somthing we say often. “Be careful, you might get your wish.” Of course, the implication is that we might get something we don’t want. I can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of the need so many folks seem to have to control movements. More voice will complicate things. It will most definitely shine a light on our diversity, our frailties, shortcomings, and weaknesses. Yet, I believe that is why we need to go there. I’m glad you stated this as a warning, because it will come. And I know that you, Renee, will be at the head, celebrating the growth possible when we really bring the entire family to the table. It will be messy. It will be loud. It will be difficult. I can’t wait. It will be a great deal of fun, too.

    • LaurieKelly

      Teachers Lead Voluntarily Instead of By Appointment

      More voice will complicate things. It will most definitely shine a light on our diversity, our frailties, shortcomings, and weaknesses.

      You are so right, Jennifer. When teachers choose to lead, without being asked, they not only release themselves from the bonds of NCLB past treatment. Inexperienced, they make mistakes, accept it, and move forward.

      A school leader sets up a planning session for a teacher-led professional development training. He provides a PowerPoint to use as a guide for editing to save the teachers planning time. What do they do? They take out and change most of the slide presentation content. A light shines on the school leader. He accepts it. He’s courageous.

      A teacher raises her hand to join a group in developing the next school improvement plan. When the first meeting is set, she’s not notified, but appointed teacher leaders are. She finds out the time and place, shows up and gets to work. Daring to lead is complicated, but it worked. She’s courageous.

  • ReneeMoore

    Wishing and Getting

    Thank you Jon and Jennifer for your thoughts.

    You’re right, Jen, the more teacher voice is activated the more we will bust the myth that teachers are this philosophically monolithic group. For example, I’ve met teachers who genuinely love the CCSS and believe they will be game changers for their students; others are revulsed by the idea of all states having the exact same standards.

    I was inspired by your story of the math teacher; although, it’s sad that a teacher has to wonder whether s/he will be going to an environment  where her/his professional expertise will be appreciated. If you think about it, that’s backwards.  Only in America?

    • Shannon

      We are shifting the out of balance …balance

      I love the comments here and I am mining them for journal fodder. The idea Jennifer that “I have been bedazzled by the treasures when all I want is voice” that is so powerful! I am already archiving a notebook full of Renee quotes that have moved me to think beyond my own filters. I may have to start a Jennifer file.

      Being able to sit next to Renee and see the power in the collaborative voices in the room was transformtive in itself. There are so many ties to the civil rights movement here. The idea that lots of folks will make it more difficult was blown away by that group of divergent thinkers in the 60’s. Yes it is more complex but education is messy complex business. 

      Jennifer, I do feel the shift. I know I am impatient for the change to come but I feel more hopeful and empowered than ever. To have teacher ed folks also on the train (Renee, Jon and John) makes it so much deeper.


  • Jennifer

    Who should be Teacher Leaders?

    I am both encouraged and concerned about the new moves in some state legislatures to develop certifications in teacher leadership. What are your thoughts here?

    • ReneeMoore

      Teacher Leader Certifications

      While on the one hand, states recogning teacher leaders with specific licenses could be a welcome thing, there is certainly reason to be cautious. Hopefully, those licenses will be grounded in the Teacher Leader Standards or work coming out of NBPTS in the areas of both teacher and administrator certifications. Another good place to look would be the Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching report which outlined some possible, realistic career pathways for teachers, but these were grounded in the teacher actually demonstrating leadership over time and in the classroom first. 

      However, right now most states allow a teacher or a principal to receive a state license if s/he can pass one of the major standardized tests (usually Praxis). If they can find a quick and dirty test that claims to measure teacher leadership, that may be all that’s required. As teacher leaders, we need to be watchful of such plans and work actively to shape them around meaningful measures of teacher’s ability to lead.  

      • DavidCohen

        Optimistic – take a look around

        Renee – I’m optimistic about the direction we’re going as a profession. I think we’re turning the discussion, as I see the mainstream media taking up more questioning and less press-release-copying (though there’s still a lot of that). I see teachers winning elections in Indiana and California. I see NBCTs taking on the leadership roles in NBPTS. I see more hybrid roles and teacherpreneurs.

        I wrote about some of that optimism in a guest post on the Shanker Blog earlier this year.

        I’ve also been bringing up this question about teacher leader certification. We have some progress in California. First of all, some policy reports pushing the thinking in that direction, I hope. One was the ACT report on teacher career pathways and compensation, which I helped produce, and one was called “Greatness by Design” – produced by a state task force led by Linda Darling-Hammond (and most of the teachers on that task force were ACT members, with the teacher evaluation subgroup co-chaired by an NBCT). And the most concrete example is that in Riverside County, CA, the county office of education decided to get serious about ensuring quality teacher leadership and began a 2-year certification process. I visited their program, spoke to its directors and teachers, and I think it’s a great model. At the risk of seeming a bit self-promoting (or self-blog-promoting) here’s another link to check out, where any of you are welcome to cast a vote in a poll on teacher leader certification and jump into the conversation there as well. That page includes links to a blog post about Riverside County.

    • Leticia

      Teacher Leaders

      Jennifer, I am currently enrolled for my Masters in Teacher Leadership through Walden University.  It has been a great experience!  I have learned so much about collaboration, instructional planning, and about the benefits that a teacher leader brings to the school and/or district just to mention a few.  It has totally changed my perspective about teacher leadership. It has helped me to identify the needs of my school and most importantly to search for solutions in a very professional way.  I recommend it!

  • Barnett Berry

    Humbled and honored

    I am humbled and honored by our work together. Renee and Jennifer, you and so many other teachers, have taught me me and shaped our organization in its evolution from a think tank advancing teaching as a results-oriented profession to a “do” tank incubating and supporting classroom experts who will transform their own profession. CTQ will continue to evolve – and well before 2030 when I am 74 and there will be 600,000 teacherpreneurs in the US public school system — this organization that I founded in late 1998 will not be needed. 

  • AnneJolly

    Who could resist joining this conversation?

    When I saw the title of Renee’s post, “Whose Profession Is This Anyway?” I knew that this discussion was for me.  Advocating for teacher’s to have the primary voice in determining the direction of this profession has been my passion for 20 years now.

    I think, Renee and others, that the tide really started to turn more rapidly in this direction with the advent of the Internet and email, the ability to join with other teachers to share ideas and beliefs, and the ability to meet in real or asynchronous time with groups of teachers from around the world.  Wow – what we’ve all learned from one another and from our colleagues in other countries!  We’ve been able to grab onto policy issues that we weren’t even aware of before. We’re able to find online outlets through virtual organizations, blogs, twitter, etc. for our frustrations and our solutions. All of this is working toward building a critical mass of teachers in the “nation’s largest profession” (I did not know it was the largest, Renee!).

    First we need to reach that critical mass of engaged teachers who work together to make decisions that lead to real change. Then we will have arrived at a place where we can claim the profession as our own and begin exercising some muscle to make better things happen for schools and kids. It’ll be messy at first, but well worth it in the end. 

    That’s why I appreciate the work that the TAB did last week, and the fact that CTQ had so many outstanding teachers present to direct the work. This organization is a model for allowing teachers to determine the problems, the solutions, and the outcomes. I wonder – and I hope – that someone is documenting the process of letting teachers decide.  I know a lot of organizations that could benefit from that! And when teachers do occupy their rightful place – then it will REALLY be helpful! 

    Go TAB and CTQ! 

    • ReneeMoore

      Speaking of Documentation….


      I chuckled at your reference to documentation. In preparation for the TAB meeting, I pulled out the interview that you did with me back in 2003 (for SERVE) about Teacher Leadership.  You were one of the early pioneers and recorders of this work!  In many ways, I see the work of CTQ picking up where SERVE and some of the other regional labs were stopped. Hopefully, the CTQ publications and archives of discussions such as these will provide a record of the truly amazing shift in our profession. We have come a very, very long way. 

      • AnneJolly

        “The Leadership Shift”

        Good idea! (CTQ picking up with documenting the changes in leadership in our profession.)  We can call it “The Leadership Shift,”  Right on! 🙂


    • ReneeMoore

      Speaking of Documentation….


      I chuckled at your reference to documentation. In preparation for the TAB meeting, I pulled out the interview that you did with me back in 2003 (for SERVE) about Teacher Leadership.  You were one of the early pioneers and recorders of this work!  In many ways, I see the work of CTQ picking up where SERVE and some of the other regional labs were stopped. Hopefully, the CTQ publications and archives of discussions such as these will provide a record of the truly amazing shift in our profession. We have come a very, very long way. 

  • BriannaCrowley

    As a baby leader…

    I just wanted to visually add my thoughts to this conversation. As an upcoming 7th-year teacher, I consider myself a “baby leader” who has so much room to learn and grow. The process of becoming an effective, transformational leader is a long road fraught with  difficult compromises (Ariel’s recent post), hard work, and a courageous look in the mirror. But being with Renee, Jennifer, Shannon, and other teachers who have been leading since long before I even entered my own classroom inspires me to do the work and take the steps to, as Jose Vilson puts it, “learn the agency of [my] voice.” 

    The TAB summit energized me to pick up the charge and learn from those who have had skin in the game. I am so excited to come alongside you all to engage in this work. I am also so excited to learn from your examples and your work. In a profession that offers little accolades or respect, know that you have mine!

    • BillIvey

      If I remember right…

      .. my 7th year was about when I was beginning to feel settled. Yet, as Middle School Dean in a pretty small school (just 43 in our middle school program last year), I’m acutely aware that we need all voices participating fully on our team, and that all voices legitimately have something to contribute. I’m also acutely aware that, baby leader or not (okay, I’m 53 and have been at my school since 1985… still…) I too have a lot of room to learn and grow. So as you’re learning the agency of your voice (an ongoing process which, conincidentally, is part of my school’s mission), I look forward to hearing that voice in our community here. 🙂

  • JoseVilson


    I’m certainly seeing the shift here on the blogs. The idea that teachers will just sit back and take whatever reform gets thrown at us has taken a backseat to a re-energized voice from the teaching proletariat. The worse conditions get, the less fear we have seemed to show. We need to keep being forceful, because being nice isn’t getting us anywhere. More soon. In the meantime, keep pushing.

  • SusanGraham

    Leading isn’t lockstep

    When I first began my Teacher Leader journey it seems that there were three models of Teacher Leader. One was Recognized Teacher, but while recognition is laudable and those teachers deserving, the process tended to promote a sort of teacher beauty pagent winner who was suppose to be an inspirational and non-controversial representative relegated to welcoming speeches.

    Aonther model of teacher leadership that of facilitator who assisted in implementing policy or performed delegated tasks as deparment heads or committee chairmen. They were conduits, not generators of interaction between administration and teachers.

    The third model was Union or professional organization teacher leader. If they were union representatives, they were often perceived as a problem to be dealt with. If they were organizational leaders had some prestige value, but often the demands their professional leadership made on time and energy was suspect as a distraction from their primary obligation to students.

    Taking ownership is slow process. Nobody is going to do it for us and it continues to require sweat equity. But refusing to access grants from foundations and dues from unions or other  professional organizations to acheive our goals implies that we are uncooperative, naive, distrustful. But at the same time it takes money to acquire the tools and develop the skills we need. CTQ  has been able to tap resources from diverse stakeholders which gives me a degree of assurance that those funders realize that it is unlikely that any one of them can control the message–message belongs to the teacher leaders.  

    But I do see change…

    I see my younger colleagues find their teacher leader voice much earlier in their careers. I see teacher leaders who are more informed and who have a global as well as local perspective. I see teacher leaders who are much more sophisticated in their ability to navigate the maze of education policy and politics. I see teachers who accept that change can be a hard, slow, messy job, but who politely and persistantly hammer away at it anyway.  I see teacher leaders who are unwilling to accept that Education Leadership precludes remaining in the classroom.  . 

    Leading isn’t lockstep. None of us are agendaless, but this is a place where I feel that the collective agenda of teacher voice that speaks for the best interest of our students supercedes our individual agendas. And I think we’re moving forward.