Too often in the name of efficiency directors, coaches and other administrators choose for teachers rather than supporting the kind of collaboration and autonomy that gives educators the professional choice, voice and leadership they’ve earned through their education, experience and professional tenure.
Why do professional educators allow themselves to be directed with little voice or choice? Why do they follow along without speaking up, advocating and using the talent, skill and investment they regularly bring to the profession?
I know that both the way time is used and school structure is created often stand in the way of teacher voice, choice and leadership. The fact that the teaching/learning structure in many or most schools maintains that educators have tremendous time-on-task with students, leaves little time for educators to research and develop their craft, and allows coaches, curriculum directors, and other administrators to have significant research, development and decision making power rather than supporting professional frameworks that develop, honor and interconnect educators’ professional leadership, knowledge and decision making. This structural reality often obstructs professional educators’ confidence, collegiality, and their ability to meet professional potential with regard to student service and teaching.
I looked to the National Board of Professional Teaching Standard’s (NBPTS) book, What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do, for solutions to this dilemma since this book summarizes significant research related to effective teaching and teachers. Lee S. Shulman, Emeritus Professor Standford University, states in the Forward of the NBPTS guide, "As teachers we use the many sources of professional knowledge, skill and experience at our disposal to engage the minds and hearts of children and youth by teaching and inspiring them." This statement describes the leadership involved in teaching well, and does not state the contrary which maintains that good teachers only follow directives by administrators, business leaders, politicians and others who often manage and lead the profession.
So how can teachers advocate for voice, choice and leadership in educational settings where there is currently little autonomy? And, why is this important? The NBPTS guide notes that "A distinguishing hallmark of a profession is that those who are in it determine what its members must know and do.” and “the updated Five Core Propositions were written by teachers, for teachers." As in all NBPTS endeavors, the efforts are collaborative and teacher-driven, not top-down directives. Educators may use this NBPTS model of effective teaching including the core propositions to lead their practice with voice, choice and leadership in schools to teach children well.
To start, educators may study, share and post the five NBPTS propositions in spaces where decision-making occurs. These propositions will set the stage for teacher voice, choice and leadership with these clear NBPTS statements that describe how educators use the propositions for effective teaching:
- Teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning.
- Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from their experience.
When the individual and collective responsibility for managing and monitoring student learning as well as the ability to systematically think, share and learn to inform practice are taken away or diminished, teachers’ potential to do the good work possible is obstructed.
So, as educators committed to our craft and students, we must work together to regain, or gain for the first time, ownership of our teaching/learning communities and efforts, and then in collaboration with other stakeholders including students, families, administrators, other staff members and community members, we must continue our efforts to develop successful learning communities for every child.