I was going to start by saying that I am not a teacher anymore, but that wouldn’t really be accurate. I am no longer a classroom teacher. I still hold a valid teaching license and my job is to support—and sometimes teach—teachers. However, my world has not been upended in the ways that their world has. Pre-pandemic, I spent many days at my work computer communicating with teachers and administrators and other gifted leads and state department of education staffers via email and Zoom. (I also visited schools and attended meetings in person, but that was a smaller proportion of my time.) In pandemic times, I still communicate with those audiences via my work computer. The only big difference is that my work computer is in my house, as am I, almost all the time.
For teachers though, there was an almost instantaneous sea change in their work life. One day, they were with their students, getting ready for Spring Break and all of the other events that happen in MarchAprilMay (thanks to my boss for that scrunchy view of spring in education world) and the next day they were at home, wondering what would happen next. Two weeks later, they were expected to be up and running with remote teaching via the Internet or printed packets or some combination thereof. Now they are wrapping up the school year without seeing their students or celebrating any of the rites of spring with them. And they did it. By and large without much complaining and with more success than anyone has a right to expect. They miss their kids, and their colleagues, and their routines, but they reinvented their jobs basically overnight because their kids (and society) needed them to do that.
What I’m saying is that teachers are already leaders. They lead their students to learn and to be better people. As a society, we don’t often recognize that teachers may want to broaden how they lead—without necessarily leaving the classroom environment that they love. I tend to interpret this through a lens of gender, since teaching has traditionally been “women’s work” while leadership, even in education, is dominated by men. Fortunately, there is movement to expand the opportunities for leadership in education to more adequately include practicing teachers.
A key resource in the Leadership course this semester was the Teacher Leader Model Standards document developed by a consortium including national organizations (such as the National Education Association), institutions of higher education, practitioners, and state education agencies. The standards were published in 2011, but they were sadly/surprisingly new to me. Seven domains are used to describe dimensions of teacher leadership:
I: Fostering a collaborative culture to support educator development and student learning
II: Accessing and using research to improve practice and student learning
III: Promoting professional learning for continuous improvement
IV: Facilitating improvements in instruction and student learning
V: Promoting the use of assessments and data for school and district improvement
VI: Improving outreach and collaboration with families and community
VII: Advocating for student learning and the profession
Interestingly, the authors acknowledge that not every teacher leader will be active in every domain, an important point. Teachers should be encouraged to develop leadership capacity in areas where they have passion to contribute.
I was excited to hear that Colorado will be rolling out a Mentor Teacher Endorsement this year, as that will provide an important pathway for developing teacher leadership skills—and recognition. The endorsement standards (as of this writing, programs are not yet approved) overlap significantly with the teacher leadership domains above, but also include a strong focus on equity and cultural responsiveness.
For my own practice—being outside the classroom as previously discussed—I have used the teacher leadership standards to influence the design and implementation of grant-funded professional development projects. Although these projects are not specifically targeted to teachers of the gifted, nearly all impacted teachers have gifted students in their classes, and I am always thinking about how instruction affects gifted students. Going forward, I would like to incorporate more teacher leadership skills into professional development for gifted coordinators, particularly in outreach and advocacy.
Whew! For those who came for general discussion and LEGO, I hope you’re hanging in there (or have safely scrolled through). It’s the last weekend of the college semester, so in addition to this blog series I’m completing a project for my other course. That means I will have to wait to make progress on the Hogwarts Express. It’s day 7 on the Advent Calendar, which is…
a kid minifigure, with cookies! The Advent Calendar is a minifigure bonanza. And a treat for the easily amused adult fan in pandemic times.