In May, I joined a team of education professionals from Maine at a second Teach to Lead convening in Virginia. Karen MacDonald (2014 MTOY) and I saw this as an opportunity to extend the idea of teacher leadership beyond plans for Maine’s first Teacher Leadership Summit. This team, lead by Scott Harrison (Schools for Excellence Project Director), included Sue Williams (NBCT and TIF Professional Development Coordinator), Sheila Chochrane (CBCT), Rachelle Tome (MDOE Acting Deputy Commissioner), Katie Joseph (MSAD #11, Director of Curriculum and Instruction), and Lois Kilby-Chesley (MEA President). Together, we examined the challenges of teacher leadership in Maine and set goals to advance teacher leadership in our state.
Teachers should have opportunities to become leaders, and their leadership is vital to strengthening the education profession. In her keynote address at Maine’s ECET-2 Teacher Leadership Summit on August 6th, Katherine Bassett, National Network of State Teachers of the Year CEO and 2000 New Jersey Teacher of the Year, spoke about how long it takes to become an expert in a particular area or field. The answer might surprise you–Bassett notes that some research indicates it takes ten years to become an expert. You may wonder why this fact is important to teacher leadership. Trust me, it is! Bassett infers that If it takes a teacher ten years to become an expert in the field, and if the same teacher only teaches in his/her classroom, never lending expertise outside of those four walls, then how will the profession improve? How will educators better serve their students without the guidance of experts?
In every field, we rely on experts. When I think back to when my father had his heart attack, I am thankful for experts. The doctor on duty in the emergency room ordered tests and provided treatment for my father the best way he knew how, but the cardiologist in charge thought it was vital to move my father to Maine Medical Center, where he could receive more extensive tests and procedures. This decision, made by an expert in his field, ended up saving my father’s life.
We should hold our veteran and most-effective teachers in the same regard as my father’s cardiologist. We need to look to them to provide us with guidance on standards, curriculum, instruction, and pedagogy. Teacher leadership should be visible in every corner of a school district: the classroom, professional learning groups, committees, mentorships, and most of all, where decisions about how schools will operate are being made. If a decision is being made that has the potential to impact students, an expert teacher should be at the table.
When Karen MacDonald was in her year of service as the 2014 Maine Teacher of the Year, she scratched out a plan on a napkin. Her plan was to design a conference for Maine’s teachers on the topic of teacher leadership. MacDonald recognized a need. When teachers are first learning how to be teachers, they aren’t learning how to be leaders. The opportunities for teacher leadership come after years of experience as an educator. But, how does one gain leadership skills? MacDonald saw this conference as a way to address that need. And that is how the idea for Maine’s first Teacher Leadership Summit was born.
During the two days of Maine’s ECET-2 Maine Teacher Leadership Summit, presenters tackled many of the same challenges of teacher leadership that the Maine team addressed during the Teach to Lead convening in Virginia. Presentations and interactive sessions answered these questions: How do we engage adult learners? How do we share innovative ideas with principals and superintendents? How do teachers share their voices with policy makers? How can PLGs advance the work of teacher leadership and student achievement? What are some small steps a teacher can take to become an effective leader? Over 100 educators discussed these questions and learned about solutions during the summit. I feel that the energy from those attending this convening will serve as a catalyst for teachers to lead in their schools, districts, communities, counties, and our state.
In addition, Maine’s Teach to Lead work is not finished. In fact, it has just begun. Our group has sought out a larger committee membership in our efforts to educate the field about teacher leadership. We are examining, collecting, and planning to share effective models of teacher leadership from other states. We will advocate for schools to incorporate teacher leadership opportunities into their practices and encourage collaboration among professionals.
What will be gained by increasing opportunities for teacher leadership in our state? If you think about how the requirements of schools has increased over the past fifteen years, I think it is obvious that teacher leadership could help educators tackle the ever-increasing demands in our field. With new problems, we need new solutions. Our expert teachers, with answers grounded in decades of practice, are armed with solutions. Let’s let them lead!