The book we are reading for the summer for the Teacher Leadership Academy is Awakening the Sleeping Giant: Helping Teachers Develop as Leaders by Marilyn Katzenmeyer and Gayle Moller. I’m blogging chapter by chapter my thoughts and impressions.
Chapter 1: Understanding Teacher Leadership
Reading this chapter felt like someone had taken a lot of my vague criticisms and unease with my situation over the last few years and laid it out, nice and clearly, with suggestions on how to make things better.
It starts out with the idea that the best way to improve schools is to invest in teacher learning, and create a leadership structure that includes teachers. Yes please? They talk about the challenge of school reforms that are top down – when the principal or whoever initiated the reform leaves, it can be very hard to sustain if the teachers have not bought into it or do not continue to get the support needed to pursue it. I think this is one of the biggest issues that schools face – building structures to allow for continuous improvement that doesn’t rely on a few key people doing all the work. I know that many reform schools have done great work and then failed when new management was brought in or the key idea people left. I can see this in my own quite ordinary school – ideas without a champion die.
They also spend some time criticizing existing models of professional development, because it “does not result in changed teacher behavior in the classroom unless follow-up coaching and support are offered.” (p. 4) I paused here and thought about the prof. dev. I ‘d attended through the district compared to my grad program, which had teams and thus the support was strongly embedded in the structure. That had much more affect on what I did in the classroom than anything else I’d experienced. It seems obvious, after all, we don’t expect our students to change habits without follow-up support. Yet I still periodically sit through professional development activities which will never be mentioned again.
A lot of the chapter discusses just what a teacher leader is and barriers that many teachers face to becoming leaders. I did like that they discussed both formal and informal leadership roles for teachers. One thing that I think was very absent from the discussion was the role of the internet in teacher leadership. According to them, one of the aspects of a teacher leader is that they “lead within and beyond the classroom.” (p.6) Looking around at the influence of people whose blogs I’ve read or who I’ve communicated with on twitter about education, I can see that online communication allows us many new opportunities to be leaders. This is very valuable, and missing in a discussion that focuses on in-building leadership.
They also talk about how hard it can be to build a professional learning community. I know that this is becoming the next big educational buzzword (and acronym, PLC and PLN are showing up everywhere now) and I really worry that the concept is not given the thought it deserves before being attempted. Just like other fads that had some value before people tried to simplify and spread them, I guess. I am hopeful that this will not be true in my building/district, because I have been seeing acknowledgment on many levels of the time and effort creating this community will take.