Sarah Brown Wessling
One of the undercurrents in this forum has been the role of teachers in creating their own best professional learning experiences. Whether through personal reflection, participation in online conversations or attendance at an “unconference,” we teachers are asserting ourselves in new ways. The landscape of professional learning is vast and what we most need are those assertive teacher voices, bringing our classrooms into the conversations with the confidence that we, too, are experts. In order to develop and utilize that necessary teacher voice and experience, many schools and districts are creating hybrid positions where teachers are both in the classroom and in leadership positions at the same time.
This year I took on a hybrid position that taught me a great deal about the challenges and celebrations of having this kind of dual role. My assignment was to teach three high school English classes in the morning and then coordinate professional development for the district in the afternoon. Honestly, I didn’t think there could be a more ideal situation. I would be able to hone my leadership skills, have a larger circle of impact and still keep my feet firmly grounded in the reality (and magic) of the classroom. Here’s what I learned.
Credibility of Being in the Classroom
Whether I was working with administrators or teachers, being able to talk about my own successes and vulnerabilities in the classroom spoke volumes. I wasn’t a talking head, but a colleague who was also trying to make sense of the gradual release of responsibility model (the work of Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey) in my classroom as much as through the research.
Power of Teacher Voice
When a school district or building principal sees the importance of teacher voice in professional learning, the culture for creating a system of effective teaching takes on new potential. Recognizing and cultivating this voice is not only important in our own communities, but will benefit our entire education system.
Balance Is Crucial ... and Tough
Perhaps the greatest challenge of this role was feeling as though I was never in the right place at the right time. On paper it seems clear enough: teach in the morning, leadership in the afternoon. But despite educators’ predisposition to compartmentalizing (i.e. bells every 44 minutes), the reality is that both jobs don’t live in compartments, they thrive on waves. The classroom may need to take precedence for a few days and then it’s leadership’s turn. Learning to ride these (sometimes simultaneous) waves without falling under is the real challenge. However, having a network of trusted and like-minded colleagues makes all the difference.
So as we continue to understand how to provide the best professional learning for our teachers, we must also remember the ways in which cultivating teacher voice in our processes will lead us to more vibrant communities of learners.
Sarah Brown Wessling is a high school English teacher at Johnston High School in Johnston, Iowa. She is also serving as TCHr Laureate for the Teaching Channel and was the 2010 National Teacher of the Year.
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