I was reading through some of my old blogs (trying to be a reflective learner) and I came across a blog I wrote last August about New Beginnings. It was interesting to read my thoughts a year ago as I started a new school year with a slightly different job description. I was beginning my role as a Lead Teacher in my building in addition to my role as a band director. In that post I described my anticipation about the new role and some of my apprehension as well. After a year in that position I came to believe that there is a great deal that schools can gain through increased use of teacher leadership. There is power in the conversations that teachers have with one another about learning and instructional practice.
Within the last two weeks I have had some pensive moments as I packed up my office in the band room. People who know me well wouldn’t be surprised to know that I shed a tear or two as I looked around the band room that I helped design. But, all of that melancholy is equaled by the anticipation I feel to begin my new journey as the facilitator of our district’s teacher leadership program. A year ago I wrote that I was by nature skeptical of most “school improvement” initiatives. I sit here today looking to the future and wondering, will I be able to make a difference in this new role? I can’t answer that question today. What I do know is that the people I teach with will be actively making a difference for thousands of kids every day.
I frequently say that the older I get the less I am sure of. I have written this year of watching master teachers in their classrooms and realizing how many skill sets my colleagues possess that I would love to be able to replicate in my own classroom. I have a particular set of skills as a teacher, but this last year has taught me that there is a lot more that I don’t know. At it’s best, a teacher leadership program has the potential to bring teachers together to share what they know about helping kids learn, it can cause every one of us to become more reflective, and it can hopefully cause us to dream a little bit bigger when we collectively set our sights on the kind of school we can become.
I was in a meeting where a colleague presented a sentiment attributed to Henry Ford that said, “If you asked the consumers of the time what they wanted they would have told Mr. Ford that they wanted a faster horse.” It turns out that Mr. Ford had nothing to do with that statement, but it caused me to think about what we are being asked to do in education. Every stakeholder in education wants schools to improve, the non-educators cry for reform. Those of us teaching every day want to see our schools get better more than anyone. We go into teaching because we are passionate about young people and their potential. What is exciting, challenging, and scary about being a teacher is that we have the potential to impact young people each and every day. One of our challenges is to get our stakeholders to think beyond building a “faster horse.” We have the power to dynamically change the answer to the question, “what is school”?
That is where it gets scary though and it is where I begin to recognize all of the things that I don’t yet know. All I do know is that our schools have the internal capacity to make schools better. Schools will get better when teachers feel empowered to innovate. Schools will be better when classrooms integrate technology in new and exciting ways. Schools will be better when students have more of voice in their learning. Schools will be better when teachers have more of a voice when decisions are made about education. Schools will be better when teachers have more time to talk about the best strategies and practices in the field. Schools will be better when we find ways for every young person to be excited about and engaged in their learning.
I teach in a great school district filled with remarkable teachers. In my building this year I saw teachers use collaboration in so many amazing ways, I saw teachers facilitate the most creative projects you have ever seen, I heard musical performances that would make you cry, and I saw teachers demonstrate patience and empathy that changed the world around for some students. The stakes are high as we work to get better. We have something to lose if we don’t change for the better. So, we have to embrace the things that we do well; we have to embrace what makes our school special and while we do that we have embrace the changes that will make us better. Change can’t just be one more thing on our plate and it can’t just be change for the sake of change. We have to believe that there are changes that will make our school better. When we understand why we are changing it will be much easier to answer the questions of what and how we will change.
I believe that there has not been a more challenging time to be a teacher for a variety of reasons, but it is also an exciting time to be a teacher. Young people need great teachers now more than ever. In a time when there are lots of non-educators throwing stones at teachers and public schools it is important for us to advocate for one another, to advocate for our profession, to advocate for our schools, and most importantly to advocate for our students. They deserve the best. It is sad to me that I won’t be in a classroom in the same way next year, but my excitement comes from the knowledge that I will be doing all I can to amplify the great work that goes on in my district. Hopefully teachers will feel empowered to create an environment where our young people are challenged to be their best each and every day.