Welcome to SmartBrief Education’s original content series about the unique stories of teacherpreneurs. These are the innovative individuals confronting challenges, creating solutions and challenging the traditional definition of “educator.”
Those advocating for teacher leadership roles often face daunting obstacles: lack of funding or trust, resistance to power-sharing or change and the inability of others to see beyond what currently exists. With tight budgets and a traditional hierarchy of leadership, how can teachers build authentic leadership positions within their schools and districts? How can they gain agency within the system, without relinquishing their important work with students in the classroom? These continue to be my burning questions.
As a Center for Teaching Quality teacherpreneur during the 2014-15 school year, I was given a half day of release time to work on my passions beyond the classroom. Charged with a national scope of action, I supported teacher leaders across the country to participate in large movements and ignite small revolutions — it was difficult and inspiring work. But as the end of that year approached, I realized I wanted to bring this authentic teacher leadership home to my school district, so more teachers could lead from and beyond their classrooms.
But how could I cast this vision locally?
In exploring the answer to that question, I learned a crucial truth: Administrators can be powerful collaborators. I am fortunate to work with district and building administrators who believe in supporting teacher leadership. In presenting my own leadership proposals, I learned valuable strategies about this type of collaboration, and I want to share them with other teachers. If you want to propose a hybrid role or suggest an innovative leadership idea, consider the following as you advocate.
Do your research: What do you know about your school’s mission, vision statement and strategic plan? Reviewing these key documents will help frame your idea within a larger context. If possible, schedule an informal, information-seeking meeting with an administrator you trust. This will help you develop a more on-the-ground perspective on these strategic plans. Knowing these documents demonstrates an understanding of the greater mission and vision of the building and district. In your proposal, be sure to answer how your idea or role supports the work and initiatives already in place.
Spend time planning: Before you approach administration with your idea or plan, consider its feasibility. Ask colleagues for feedback. They may provide perspectives you were not considering. Talk with people in your community to understand what they believe is “possible.” This doesn’t mean that you can’t push past comfort zones or introduce a never-been-done approach, but understanding how your idea is perceived is important to your presentation. Consider the scope of your idea. Although it may seem simple, in the complex systems of schools, even simple ideas can affect many people. Also consider this: Will your proposal have broad appeal and support in your community of colleagues, parents, students and business leaders? Frame your proposal around supporters and benefactors.
Consider the costs: New ideas often have financial consequences. Consider both the cost of resources and faculty compensation. If your idea requires time away from the classroom, know your district’s policies about short and long-term substitutes. Also consider pursuing alternate funding before presenting your idea. Think about the budget cycle and the timing of your proposal. Administrators are restricted by budget approvals and often need to justify new or increased spending. How can the funds for your proposal be justified? Valuing the cost will speak volumes to an administrator about the feasibility of your idea.
Be intentional in your approach: Keep an open mind to the perspective or lens administration brings. View them as collaborators, and be ready to offer shared ownership of your proposal. Having administration as an ally offers you valuable perspectives. Administrators often think about implementation of new ideas within a 3-5 year frame, while teachers often frame change within the school year calendar. An administrative perspective can be invaluable to creating a realistic timeline for implementation of an idea or proposal.
As I work with administration to craft supports and opportunities for teacher leadership in my district, I will take their advice to heart: “Very little can happen fast.” Incremental success keeps us moving toward a vision of fully realized teacher leadership where hybrid roles are created and teacherpreneurial opportunities provided. However, through that process, teacher leaders need to build a network of support. I have found support by becoming a connected educator, building relationships with teachers in my district, and having the courage to invite administrators to become allies. I encourage you to find your own network of support, and challenge you to invite principals, coaches, superintendents and policy-makers to YOUR table of teacher leadership.
Brianna Crowley (@akaMsCrowley) is an English teacher and instructional technology coach in Hershey, Pa. A 2014-15 CTQ teacherpreneur, she embraces innovative approaches to learning and leading. She deeply believes in the promise of technology, the power of the written word, and the deep capacity of students and teachers to solve complex problems. She is also a member of the CTQ Collaboratory and blogs at Red Pen Reflections.
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