By Jen Orr
In 2015, what is the state of teacher leadership–its sources, its voices, and its new potential?
Last month I had the opportunity to participate in ASCD’s Whole Child Symposium on teacher leadership. It consisted of two panels, the first was a big picture focused on systemic models and issues and the second narrowed in on districts and schools. It was a fabulous experience and one that I have continued to think about. All seven participants, including the moderator, are educators in some way. At least six of us are or were classroom teachers.
When I consider what makes someone a teacher leader, I believe it is a teacher who impacts education beyond their own classroom. In that way, I am not so different from most people defining teacher leadership. But I believe I am defining teacher leadership a bit differently. Differently than most on the panels and differently than most folks talking about teacher leadership.
When teacher leadership is discussed it is typically focused on what that means in a school, how teacher leaders can work with administrators, how teachers can impact their school. The conversation focuses on teachers and principals and how they can work together and the benefits of doing so.
This is definitely a conversation worth having.
However, maybe because I’ve been lucky enough to always work in schools where I felt teacher voice was valued, I want to go far beyond that idea of teacher leadership. I want there to be teachers involved at all levels of decisions and policy. I want teachers to be writing about education for the general public. I want teachers to be sharing with other teachers what works in their classrooms. I want teachers to have a voice in education beyond their schools.
I believe this model of teacher leadership, one in which teachers are actively and meaningfully engaged in all parts of the world of education, is critical because teachers have a dog in this fight.
That dog isn’t money, like it can be for companies or consultants.
That dog isn’t power or prestige as it might be for principals, superintendents, or school board members.
That dog isn’t tenure as it can be for college professors.
Our dog in the fight, our only dog, is our students; when we raise our voices in conversations we are doing so with our students in our minds.
No one else in education comes to the table with the perspective teachers do. Teachers are doing the daily work of education. Every policy decision, every curriculum adopted, every new regulation, every change in boundaries, impacts that daily work. Teachers have a unique understanding of those impacts.
This isn’t to suggest that other voices aren’t valuable in this conversation. There are many who bring expertise to the table that is critical. However, the voices least heard are often teachers and students, ironically the voices closest to the issues.
Somehow, in some way, teachers need to raise their voices and engage in the wider work of education because no one else knows children as well as we do.
Jennifer Orr is an elementary school teacher in Fairfax County, Va. She was selected as a 2013 ASCD Emerging Leader and was a panelist at ASCD’s fall 2014 Whole Child Symposium on teacher leadership; Raising Our Teacher Voices: A Call For A New Generation Of Teacher Leadership; image attribution flickr user usdepartmentofeducation