Last year we started a Teacher Academy at my school. It is one way we are trying to build capacity from within and empower our teachers. The concept of teacher leaders is new for our faculty. A few weeks ago we created a mission statement:
Teacher Academy is a community of learners who share expertise, enhance each other’s school experiences, strive for professional growth, and celebrate each other’s work in their classrooms.
We dissected the mission statement and teachers worked with the element of the mission statement that resonated with them the most. Then they created a recipe for how to create each component here at our school. Sharing expertise is a tricky one and at its core is whether teachers feel empowered to share.
One of the questions posed during the live stream on Saturday was: what are we doing to squash student empowerment? My bigger concern is what are we doing to squash teacher empowerment?
To me, this is an issue with school culture. Yes, there is a balance between always touting the competence of particular teachers. But, if you are successful in your classroom that success should be shared. We also have to understand that each teacher has their own strengths. One may be really great at incorporating technology, but not so great at assessment. We can all learn lessons from one another if we are confident in our strengths and willing to acknowledge where we can improve.
Another point that resonated with me from the live stream was the contradictions in education, specifically students not interacting beyond their classroom. The same goes for teachers not interacting beyond their classroom.
Coincidentally, I spent the week at another school on an accreditation team. Site visits are the best professional development out there. They are the opportunity to see strategies and pedagogy translated into action. So, although I was there wearing an evaluation hat, I walked away with a ton of ideas for my school and my individual practice. Not only from visiting classrooms and speaking with constituency groups, but also from conversations and sharing successes and challenges with my accreditation team.
But, how do we foster that within the walls of our school if we can’t get our teachers out to other schools, if our teachers are not sharing via social media or in national forums, and if they aren’t comfortable sharing their strengths?
Our Teacher Academy group came up with a few great ideas:
- A Google Form or spreadsheet available to teachers including teacher points of expertise and topics/ideas they would like to learn more about. For instance, I may list my expertise on Understanding by Design, project-based learning, and arts-integration so other teachers have a go-to person for assistance in these areas. On that same form I may list digital portfolios and design thinking as areas I want to learn more about. Any teacher in the school could look at the form and find connections.
- Time. This seems to be the ever present teacher request. How are we providing time within our structures for collaboration, especially vertical collaboration? Can we host school meetings and professional development sessions in a different classroom each time? Can we use learning management systems to showcase student learning? Or maybe Twitter using a school hashtag? Are there opportunities to provide coverage for teachers to visit other classrooms during the school day? Can we restructure meetings so they are less agenda/calendar driven and more focused on collaboration?
- Open Invitations. Dave Burgess mentioned the analogy of the snowball in the live stream. I am a true believer in this. All it takes is one teacher offering an open invitation to visit their classroom, via a pineapple chart or an email, to shift the culture. Find your ambassadors and your prophets and encourage them to invite others into their classrooms. The idea will spread.
- Instilling confidence in strengths. Some teachers don’t share because they aren’t confident in their strengths. Capture photographs of innovative instruction and share with your communications department. Leave small notes on teachers’ desks during class visits. Encourage teachers to share specific strengths at the beginning of group sessions. Create Faculty Excellence grants for teachers to pilot new strategies and then share with the larger school community. If we want to build a community of learners, we have to recognize individual teacher efforts so they will be more willing to share as professionals.
When teachers come into the profession they are like those five-year old students mentioned by Kate Simonds in her Tedx Talk. Full of ideas, full of passion, and full of empowerment. Let’s consider harnessing that empowerment for the duration of their careers in ways that build up our community of educators.