Teacher Leadership and Taking Risks

I was privileged to attend a conference last week in which schools from around the country were engaging in conversations about how to progress from a learning environment where teachers are seen as content providers to a culture where teachers are facilitating learning in new and innovative ways.  It was enlightening to see all of the different approaches schools are taking to support innovative instructional strategies.  It was also interesting to see all of the challenges that schools from around the country are facing as they work to implement change.  It was particularly eye-opening to talk to educators from places like New York where standardized testing has become high stakes for teachers and students.

As we were engaging in conversations about how schools were transforming, people were fascinated about how we are engaging in shared leadership through our TLC grant.  While many schools were in the early stages of using Instructional Coaches in their classrooms, very few districts were engaging as many teacher leaders in as many ways as we are.  In many ways we are truly on the cutting edge of what teacher leadership might look like across the country.  In the last few days I have seen teachers supporting technology integration through modeling.  I have been able to observe teacher leaders developing and delivering professional learning on high yield instructional strategies to their peers.  I have seen teacher leaders talking colleagues through data in a PLC setting.  I have also seen veteran teachers coaching a new teacher on classroom intervention strategies.  These are all ways that teacher leadership is impacting student learning and well-being in our district.  Many schools were envious of the amount of peer to peer job-embedded learning we are engaged in.

We have to see the opportunity to implement teacher leadership in our district as a gift.  We have to continue to find ways to share leadership in such a way that makes every member of our staff feel empowered to be a leader in learning.   We also have to continue to find ways to stay focused on the right work.  By having more people at the table making important decisions about how we learn in Johnston we will be stronger.


The final session of the conference last week was a student panel where they were asked what they wanted from their schools.  A young lady from a Texas High School looked at the audience of grizzled educators and her advice was to “take risks.” It was great advice as we were processing how we continue to move our schools through a time of such rapid change in our culture and in our schools.  As teacher leaders we have to be willing to model risk-taking and along with that model vulnerability.  We know schools are changing and if we, as teachers, don’t shape that change someone else will change it for us.  We really have been given a gift and it has been exciting to see all of the ways we are taking advantage of that gift.  I encourage you to model a risk-taking attitude as you prepare our young people for a world in which they are certainly going to be asked to take risks in order to be successful.

People from all over the country are watching Iowa to see if teacher leadership will impact student learning and well-being.  I believe it already is impacting our students as we are having more conversations about what learning looks like than I have ever had in my career.  As classroom doors are opened and we seek out constructive feedback from our peers, our students will benefit from all of that collaboration.  If we do this right it will be teachers who will shape the schools of the future to meet the needs of a rapidly changing student population.  That should help us to know that the work we are doing is important and urgent.

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