Beyond Tokenism: Toward the Next Stage of Teacher Leadership
Six years ago, when I first joined the Teacher Leaders Network, I couldn't have even told you what teacher leadership was. Through conversations on TLN's online forum (then a listserve), I learned about this powerful concept, which was developing in response to several pressing needs. Teachers were looking for avenues to share their knowledge and provide input into education beyond their classrooms. At the same time, we felt frustration with decisions made by education leaders (from principals to politicians) that so often reflected a lack of understanding about teaching and the realities of students' lives. Teachers who served unofficially in leadership capacities lacked formal recognition and compensation for their contributions, while many early-career teachers were leaving the classroom for professions with greater mobility.
The concept of teacher leadership presented a promising, though vague, solution to this storm of unmet needs. The mostly untapped expertise of teachers seemed to hold the key to transforming our nation's public education system. In retrospect, I joined TLN at a tipping point in these conversations.
Today, teacher leadership is a popular idea heard in nearly every corner of education. Schools are turning to teacher leaders for help with professional development. They are creating positions that allow teachers to serve in formal, often compensated leadership positions. School-based hybrid roles, in which reduced teaching loads allow practicing teachers to mentor or lead departments, are becoming more common. A handful of organizations, such as the Center for Teaching Quality, which runs the Teacher Leaders Network, and the VIVA Project, an online exchange for teachers and public officials, are helping teachers gain greater visibility in policy discussions. Even the U.S. Department of Education has begun formally seeking...
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