I’ve been in a lot of schools in my time. Whether as a student, a staff member, or a casual observer of Kentucky’s public schools, I’ve always commented that each school has its own personality, created by the unique community both inside it and surrounding it. And yes, while it’s true that administrators are responsible for setting the tone and safeguarding those communities, teachers are largely the ones responsible for being the hands and feet of school culture.
That’s what sets apart the schools that excel from the schools that are just getting by. Successful schools have teachers who lead.
In a profession still often rife with silos and isolation, teacher leaders break down barriers among colleagues and constantly seek ways to improve for the benefit of their students. They’re the first ones at school in the morning and the last ones to leave in the evening, and more often than not, their penchant for leadership comes out of their own time and money. Teacher leaders aren’t just the ones organizing field trips, collecting permission slip money, and decorating the auditorium for graduation. They’re the ones who, without hesitation or excuse, go the extra mile to create conditions for real professional growth to occur.
Teacher leaders are visible and impactful. Truth be told, they’re essential. That’s why we desperately need to develop more of them.
In their award-winning book Teacherpreneuers, authors Barnett Berry, Ann Byrd, and Alan Wieder point at the necessity of molding teacher leaders in every school. “We need a bold new brand of teacher leadership that will create opportunities for teachers to practice, share, and grow their knowledge and expertise,” they posit, and rightly so.
Kentucky began the foundation for that work in 2015 with the publication of its Teacher Leadership Framework. At the core of the framework is the idea that all teachers are leaders; a solid starting point for a state where teacher morale has recently found itself in the doldrums. But that’s not enough. As public schools continue evolving alongside our changing economy and workforce, it’s imperative that state education departments and school districts start looking at new ways to develop teachers as innovative leaders.
We’ve seen that happening in pockets across the state. Since 2015, Kentucky has introduced hybrid teacher leader roles for highly effective teachers like these folks, allowing them to grow as leaders without having to leave their classroom. Opportunities like these to work alongside Kentucky’s education department and improve teacher quality is a win-win for educators and school districts, but even four years later, they’re slim for the picking. And, as author Tom Rademacher has pointed out before me, teacher leadership of any kind is no cakewalk.
The next few years look poised for redirection and refocus in Kentucky education, and we know that every effective school has hardworking teacher leaders to thank. Will a new vision for teacher leadership be among the many changes coming down the pipe?