Leading from the Classroom

How might we support teachers to grow and learn through out their career? What drives people to be motivated to continue to learn and grow? How might the teaching profession keep the spark of curiosity alive? These are important questions for schools and teachers to ask themselves since the answers are extremely important. We want teachers who are curious and life-long learners. We want teachers who continue to learn and grow, not only so that they are modeling what it means to be a learner for students, but because learning keeps teachers relevant and can help keep teachers passionate about being in the classroom. It’s impossible for teachers to learn everything they need to learn in a credentialing program — especially with the changing roles teachers are being placed in. It’s not just enough to know your content but you need to know how to be a counselor, a pr person (tell your story! Tell your student’s story!), a nurse, and as well as other hats that you end up wearing during the course of a day and year.

How do you find teachers with passion for learning? How do you sustain that passion? As a school, these are some of the questions we’re grappling with. We have a strategic planning strategy around it and have attended two Teach to Lead summits as part of our work. We’re exploring two different aspects of this with our work with Teach to Lead, both connected — looking at how to create pathways for teachers so that they have options beyond becoming an administrator or continuing to be “just a teacher” and how to support new teachers as they transition into homeroom positions.

Our first initiative looks at how to support and retain teachers through the creation of a career lattice (we’re currently calling it a “professional pathways plan”) so that they can set goals and focus their learning both on what is happening in their classroom and where they want to go in their career. How might we support teachers in leading from the classroom? What other opportunities are there for teachers so that they continue to be inspired, to grow as teachers and to positively impact student learning? We know that teaching one subject/grade level at one school for an entire career is no longer the norm for most teacher, but school systems are not set up to support teacher growth in meaningful ways once a teacher is not a new teacher. Most professional learning is geared toward the lowest common denominator and does not meet individual teachers’ needs. We want our teachers to be inspired, to want to grow professionally, and to be able to be what they want to be regardless of what path they want to pursue. Leading from the classroom, teacher coach, mentor teacher, administrator, education advocate — there is not “just a _________” about any of those roles.

Our second initiative, which we had the opportunity to work on at the Teach to Lead Summit in Washington State in September, focuses on the transition to becoming a classroom teacher. We currently have an associate teacher (AT) program, where a (usually new) credentialed teacher works with three classes and supports the homeroom teacher and students to improve student learning. Since our ATs are credentialed teachers, they are able to use the year they are associate teachers to grow as teachers while learning more about our school and its idiosyncrasies (of which there are a lot). The AT program is a great way for us to find teachers to become homeroom teachers and so the hiring process for AT is very important. Our work from the Teach to Learn summit is about becoming more intentional with our support for ATs and what that support might look like. Included in this plan is looking at what support/learning is necessary for both ATs and the teachers with whom they work. Add learning how to be a leader, a mentor, and/or a coach of adults to the list of skills teachers aren’t taught in credentialing programs and may never learn.

Our glorious logic models from both Teach to Lead summits provide a path for our team to follow as we explore teacher leadership, professional development, and adult learning. Reading blog entries from the New Teacher Project, the New Teacher Center, and Center for Teaching Quality (among others), show that looking at teacher learning and teacher leadership is a hot topic and serve as resources/inspiration for us on our journey. It’s not easy especially since it will only be successful if teachers are motivated to join the journey with us. We need to spark their curiosity and tap into why they became educators in the first place. We’ve only just begun the journey but are excited to where it takes us.

About Jessica Lura

I am the director of teaching and learning at public K-8 charter school in Northern California. I work to integrate technology and hands-on learning into the classroom. I develop and lead professional development for my school, helping teachers develop project-based learning and design thinking units, integrate technology and digital citizenship in the classroom, and create opportunities for real world interactions and projects. For my efforts, I was named Santa Clara County's Office of Education Charter School Teacher of Year for 2013 and a 2014 Comcast All-Star Teacher. I am also a Google Certified Innovator
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