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 2: Promoting Teacher Leadership
This chapter is about why we should promote teacher leadership. Again, I felt like many things I thought were expressed more clearly. I wrote “yes!” in margins a lot. In particular, I like the discussion of creating and modeling democratic communities. I have been ranting about the ways that schools need to model democracy if we want people to participate more in democracy since I was in high school, so of course I agreed with that. They also discuss common obstacles to building this, such as culture or administration unwilling to share power.
I found their explanation of how describing a school as a family can actually be detrimental to the culture *fascinating.* We tend to talk about the C— Family in my building, which had occasionally made me uneasy but I’d never really given it much thought. It does have positive aspects, such as the support we give each other when people are facing outside problems. However, they point out that the idea of a school as a family “preserves the hierarchical structure in which the administrators are the parents and the other faculty and staff members are dependent children.” (p.27) This is in direct opposition to the idea of a democratic community where everyone is equal, and can cause conflict when trying to change a school.
The finding that “unless teachers were involved in the decision-making around the innovation, there was little chance that the reform efforts would succeed” did not surprise me. (p.28) The reality is that any change that teachers don’t buy into, they will follow along with enough to fill out all the necessary paperwork (grumbling all the while) and no more. The best way to get people to buy into something is to give them a chance to be part of the decision – then they have a stake in it, and may even feel responsible for making it succeed since it was, in part, their idea.
They also point the ways that mandates can make teachers feel that they are not treated as professionals – and I know from experience how much it hurts to be highly qualified in something and then basically treated like a robot who doesn’t have the brains to make their own decisions about what to do or how to do it. I firmly believe that in any endeavor, when you have experts, you tell the experts your goal and then leave them alone to achieve it. Unfortunately, this does not happen in public education.
Another chunk of the chapter concerns itself with the benefits of teacher leadership. It’s a long list, but two items really stood out for me. One was retaining excellent teachers – they mention that the “teacher shortage” exists because we are not retaining teachers, not because people don’t want to be teachers. This is very very true. Related was the idea of career enhancement – based on the problem of “how to provide an environment in which good teachers are motivated throughout their careers.” (p. 33) I posted along time ago about this issue – what was keeping me motivated at that time was how much I cared about teaching well and not repeating my mistakes, but caring on its own is a finite resource. This is a big source of teacher burnout.
Finally they debunk some assumptions they’ve encountered about teacher leadership. The most interesting one to me was the discussion of the idea that leaders are born. They disagree, obviously, and feel that leadership skills can be learned. More importantly, they talk about the need for effective professional development around leadership, so that teachers are supported and have chances to practice leadership skills. I guess I found this reassuring because I have been just getting my feet wet as a teacher leader and thinking that my inability to jump right in meant I wasn’t really suited for it. The idea that this is something I can learn to do and get help practicing sounds great!