Wednesday, February 11, 2009

bill ferriter on teacher leadership

Well, there you go. Yesterday I mentioned Bill Ferriter as a thoughtful commentator on all things related to teacher leadership, and today he rewards us with reflections about what teacher leadership looks like in action.

His post is framed around a speech he'll be giving soon to a group of teachers who recently earned National Board certification. To help them chart their professional paths, Bill offers his own definition of what it means to be a teacher leader, a definition developed over "the better part of the past 12 years stumbling through the professional dark." The short version first:

Teacher leaders are practicing educators who are committed to driving

And the expanded version (emphases mine):

For me, teacher leadership started by simply engaging my colleagues
in meaningful conversations
about teaching and learning. I figured that it was impossible to drive change unless we had some real transparency around what it was that we were doing with students.

Teacher leadership probably also means supporting new colleagues, don't you
think? No matter how good university education programs are, nothing can really prepare you for this gig! Driving change means lending a hand to the teachers on
our hallway who need us the most.

And I reckon that driving change requires a deep and meaningful understanding of current practices, too. Teacher
leaders, then, are constantly researching and reading about effective
instruction. They've got an almost unsettling fear of stagnation!

Driving change also requires a willingness to raise your
a bit. Teacher leaders are always willing to speak up
in faculty and team meetings to lend guidance or expertise.
They're presenting at conferences and finding new ways to use
digital tools like blogs and wikis to share ideas and resources with the world.

But most importantly, driving change means having a steadfast
belief that reform rests in our hands. Teacher leaders don't stand around patiently waiting for others to take action. Instead, they're always acting.

You can take those points to the bank. Better yet, take them back to your school.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

how teachers learn

The February 2009 issue of Educational Leadership focuses on the theme "How Teachers Learn." Hmmm. It's timely stuff as we shift from developing our own technology integration chops to sharing knowledge and supporting colleagues' exploration. As you think about the specific challenges and opportunities facing teachers in your setting, and how you plan to approach them as a teacher-leader, you may find some practical gems and immediately-usable ideas from this issue's articles. Many of the articles from the print version are also available online.
Moving Beyond Talk by Debra Smith, Bruce Wilson, and Dick Corbett discusses professional learning communities as a model for teacher learning, and poses the question:
But it's easy for learning communities to become stalled at the stage of
collegial discussions about improving teaching practice. What spurs
communities to progress beyond talk to collective action that brings change
to schools?
They identified six conditions that continually cropped up in their interviews with learning community participants and facilitators. When most or all of these conditions were in place, the quality of adult learning improved, and teachers moved from talk to action:
  • a preexisting supportive culture
  • time to meet
  • satisfying processes
  • voluntary participation
  • support from principals
  • a cadre of trained facilitators

As you work with teachers in your school, how might these six conditions guide your planning?

Also, be sure to give a close reading to Bill Ferriter's article, Learning with Blogs and Wikis. Three passages popped out from the first section as being useful to teacher leaders (the second section, devoted to practical advice on getting started with blogs and wikis, will feel like more familiar ground but definitely still worth a read). Bill opens with a quote from Richard Elmore, professor of educational leadership at Harvard, about how school structures straightjacket adult learning:
As expectations for increased student performance mount and the measurement and publication of evidence about performance becomes part of the public discourse
about schools, there are few portals through which new knowledge about teaching
and learning can enter schools; few structures or processes in which teachers
and administrators can assimilate, adapt, and polish new ideas and practices;
and few sources of assistance for those who are struggling to understand the
connection between the academic performance of their students and the practices
in which they engage.

Then he offers two counterpoints updating Elmore's view, two ways in which times and tools are changing. First this:
Times have changed in two significant ways, however, since Elmore began
describing the hostile learning environments that have often held schools back.
First, there's a new emphasis on the importance of collaborative learning among
members of close-knit teams in schools. School leaders are beginning to believe
in the human capacity of their faculties and are structuring opportunities for
teachers to reflect on instruction together. These joint efforts are targeted
and specific, increasing educators' motivation and engagement.

And this:

Second, digital tools now help fulfill Elmore's desire for fresh "portals
through which new knowledge about teaching and learning can enter schools."
Specifically, thousands of accomplished educators are now writing blogs about
teaching and learning, bringing transparency to both the art and the science of
their practice. In every content area and grade level and in schools of varying
sizes and from different geographic locations, educators are actively reflecting
on instruction, challenging assumptions, questioning policies, offering advice,
designing solutions, and learning together. And all this collective knowledge is
readily available for free.

Bill also reflects on teaching and leadership at his excellent blog, The Tempered Radical. Visit him there for more keen insights.