What Leadership Opportunities Can Teachers Pursue In A Changing World?
contributed by Dr. Jana Hunzicker, Associate Dean and Professor, Bradley University, [email protected]
Without warning, the year 2020 unleashed an era of schooling that took most of us completely by surprise.
In the blink of an eye, schools closed. Overnight, classes went online. Before we knew it, daily commutes and dry cleaning were replaced with Zoom meetings and pajama pants. Now almost three months into the new school year, most of these unprecedented trends remain strong as we begin to settle into the ‘new normal’ of PPE (personal protective equipment), hand sanitizer, and social distancing. But we don’t have to settle. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous opportunities for teacher leadership offer the potential to significantly transform American schooling.
I recently developed a simple teacher leadership framework called the Five Features of Teacher Leadership (see Figure 1). Teacher leadership is student-centered, action-oriented, beyond one classroom, a positive influence, and collaborative. Teacher leadership is student-centered because its ultimate objective is student learning and well-being. Teacher leadership is action-oriented because it involves hands-on effort and engagement toward a specific purpose.
Teacher leadership extends beyond one classroom because it involves, affects, and/or benefits students across classrooms, grade levels, teams, schools, and/or districts. Teacher leadership is a positive influence because it benefits students, builds relationships with colleagues, and encourages participation and engagement. Teacher leadership is collaborative because teacher leaders work together with others to accomplish tasks, address challenges, and resolve problems.
When all five features are enacted at once–not to mention the ways schools and classrooms have been subject to disruption through learning technology for decades now well before COVID-19–teacher leadership flourishes and everyone has the chance to benefit.
With this framework in mind, let’s consider four leadership opportunities teachers can pursue right now.
Teacher Leadership Opportunity 1: Effective Teaching
With the onset of COVID-19, teachers across the nation had to pivot from teaching practices that were familiar and comfortable to online alternatives that were new and challenging. America’s teachers are still working to master the most effective instructional technologies and approaches for teaching face-to-face, online, and in many cases, both. The time is ripe for professional development for teachers related to pedagogy and learning technologies, differentiated instruction, and instructional accommodations aimed at customizing learning based on each student’s needs.
This is a huge opportunity, and teacher leaders are our instructional experts. They are the best people to mentor fellow teachers and model best instructional practices to optimize our ‘new normal.’ They are also the best people to make recommendations to administrators for things like professional development needs and technology purchases. If COVID-19 leads to more effective instructional practices schoolwide, districtwide, and nationwide, we all win!
Teacher Leadership Opportunity 2: Parental Involvement
With students across the country participating in classes while sitting in front of a computer at home, parents have naturally become more involved in their children’s learning. As students attend classes virtually, parents – not teachers – are making sure students are in the right place at the right time, supervising their instructional time, and providing follow-up and technical assistance. This is a wonderful thing!
Wise teachers, schools, and districts are taking advantage of this increased parental involvement by seeking constructive feedback, recruiting volunteers, and expanding parent participation on advisory councils and parent boards. Because teachers are the ones who make home-school relationships bloom, teacher leaders are in a prime position to lead this charge so that parental involvement remains high even after COVID-19 is behind us.
Teacher Leadership Opportunity #3: School Choice
Our nation’s schools are not equitably funded. Some are overfunded to the point of excess while others struggle to provide basic supplies like paper and calculators. The gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ has deepened during this unprecedented era of learning at home since some families don’t have internet access, multiple computers, or comfortable, quiet study spaces for their children. Some of these families also rely on federally funded school breakfast and lunch programs for daily nourishment.
Already, COVID-19 has forced a type of school choice in terms of letting parents decide whether their children will attend school face-to-face or virtually, or even to home school. This is a good thing! Just as effective teachers differentiate instruction based on individual student needs, COVID-19 has presented an opportunity for schools to offer within-school and within-district choices.
Due to their expertise and experience, teacher leaders are prime candidates for envisioning what these choices might look like as well as the best ambassadors for communicating their advantages in accommodating student and family needs and preferences. And why must these choices be temporary? Because of COVID-19, schools and districts have a chance to embrace significant and lasting change in ways never before possible.
Teacher Leadership Opportunity 4: School Restructuring
Along the same lines as school choice is a golden opportunity for large-scale school restructuring. COVID-19 has caused educators across the United States to re-think many of the assumptions that have provided the foundation for the way we’ve always done schooling. Why do we have a six-hour school day? Why do we take three months off in the summer? Why does teacher-centered instruction continue to dominate, even when we know that active student engagement is more effective? Why is one teacher responsible for 25-30 students?
Why are some classrooms continually allowed to be disrupted by students who don’t even want to be there? Why are schools organized into neighborhood attendance centers? COVID-19 has given us a chance to consider all kinds of new possibilities, and teacher leaders have the experience and expertise to envision what our ‘schools of the future’ might look like as well as to help develop programs and policies to create them. With the help of teacher leaders, America’s post-COVID schools can become the best schools in the world!
These are just a few of the leadership opportunities available to teachers right now, as we work together create a new – and improved – normal in American education. From effective teaching to school restructuring, when teachers engage in leadership endeavors that are student-centered, action-oriented, beyond one classroom, a positive influence, and collaborative, the possibilities are endless.
Dr. Jana Hunzicker is the Associate Dean of the College of Education and Health Sciences at Bradley University.