Opinion Blog


Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Teacher Leaders: Expanding our Spheres of Influence

By Guest Blogger — February 15, 2014 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Note: Last week and this week RHSU is featuring guest bloggers from the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. For more on NNSTOY, check them out here. Today’s post is from Greg Ahlquist. Greg is a social studies teacher at Webster Thomas High School in Webster, NY, and was New York teacher of the year in 2013.

“Mr. Ahlquist, why aren’t you teaching more this year? We really miss you.” Lizzie, a bright red-haired AP World History student, leaned in and pointedly asked me that question during the second week of classes this fall. And it was a thoughtful, fair question that deserved a long, deliberate answer but I only had 25 seconds before the bell rung and we arrived at different classrooms. So I offered this explanation: “Lizzie, I have the opportunity to be part of team that is revising New York’s K-12 social studies program, and the chance to impact learning and students in social studies throughout the state for the next ten years or so was one I could not ignore.” She turned her head to look me square in the eyes, tilted her head and said, ‘Oh! That makes perfect sense.”

I have had variations of that conversation--not all with the same positive understanding--over the last year with colleagues, friends, and family as I have explained the unique hybrid role I have this year teaching part-time at Webster Thomas High School and also working as a consultant hired by the New York State Education Department. As a teacher with one foot in the classroom and another in the Department, I work in a role the Commissioner of Education has crafted that I am hopeful will be a replicable model.

Teachers bring on-the-ground credibility to such work and can speak powerfully about perception and reality through real stories about real students. And, while I recognize the limitations of my perspective, I have grown through the year as I listen to teachers across the state from Jamestown to New York City share their perspectives on our social studies frameworks and resources that would add value to their work.

One of my roles this year has been to bridge the perspectives of the Department and the field. All teacher leaders serve as bridges between colleagues, between administration and colleagues, between the community and the school, and even between education departments and teachers. And, I have found that I have had to listen even more than speak. Listening carefully to concerns and perspectives is critical because it allows us to communicate ideas thoughtfully to all parties and move the entire system toward solid common ground. Listening lays the foundation for us to use our voices, and I have felt the weight and responsibility of speaking to and on behalf of teachers.

Teachers are uniquely positioned to use our voices to affect change. Admittedly, I continue to grow and wrestle with this role since I first caught a vision of what leadership and using my voice might look like after talking with leaders of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY), including my friend and 2007 New York State Teacher of the Year, Marguerite Izzo. NNSTOY’s commitment to raise up and encourage teacher leaders, coupled with New York Commissioner John King’s vision to craft a role for a teacher inside the State Education Department, encouraged me to step into this hybrid role this year. The timing could not have been more perfect because the frameworks for Social Studies were being revised, and I jumped into the work last July.

I am proud of the product that the team has produced. From the cadre of teachers who advised and offered feedback to the team of writers I joined to the leaders in the Department I serve, we have collaboratively created a product that I hope will shift learning and instruction in New York. We are reframing the usual dichotomy of content vs. skill to build a creative integration of content and skill that is driven by questions and the inquiry arc as articulated in the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework (http://www.socialstudies.org/c3). We are re-imagining social studies so that inquiry, careful reading, and analysis drive our classrooms so that the invaluable insights of history, geography, economics, and civics become more than dull words but translate into deep understanding, a sense of civic responsibility, and ultimately into action. One of our noble goals is to prepare our students for citizenship in a locally and globally interconnected world.

And, it is that civic responsibility and action that ultimately pushed me to accept this position. As a social studies teacher, it was a moment in time for me to put into practice so many of the lessons I taught and learned in my classroom. It is not surprising that a student like Lizzie immediately understood and appreciated that vision. I hope that my role in the Department is a replicable model at the state level for other disciplines, departments, and states. The responsibility to lead where we are, to listen carefully, and to use our voices to build bridges is one that every teacher leader should carefully consider.

--Greg Ahlquist

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Building Teacher Capacity for Social-Emotional Learning
Set goals that support adult well-being and social-emotional learning: register today!


Content provided by Panorama
Jobs October 2021 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Tiny Wrists in Cuffs: How Police Use Force Against Children
An investigation finds children as young as 6 and a disproportionate amount of Black children have been handled forcibly by police officers.
15 min read
Jhaimarion, 10, reacts as he listens to his mother, Krystal Archie talking with an Associated Press reporter in Chicago on Sept. 23, 2021. Archie’s three children were present when police, on two occasions, just 11 weeks apart, kicked open her front door and tore through their home searching for drug suspects. She’d never heard of the people they were hunting. Her oldest child, Savannah was 14 at the time; her youngest, Jhaimarion, was seven. They were ordered to get down on the floor.
Jhaimarion, 10, reacts as he listens to his mother, Krystal Archie talking with an Associated Press reporter in Chicago on Sept. 23, 2021. Archie’s three children were present when police, on two occasions, just 11 weeks apart, kicked open her front door and tore through their home searching for drug suspects. She’d never heard of the people they were hunting. Her oldest child, Savannah was 14 at the time; her youngest, Jhaimarion, was seven. They were ordered to get down on the floor.
Nam Y. Huh/AP
Education Gunman in 2018 Parkland School Massacre Pleads Guilty
A jury will decide whether Nikolas Cruz will be executed for one of the nation’s deadliest school shootings.
3 min read
Annika Dworet and her husband, Mitch Dworet, wipe away tears as their son's name is read aloud during Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz's guilty plea on all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. The Dworet's son, Nicholas Dworet, 17, was killed in the massacre.
Annika Dworet and her husband, Mitch Dworet, wipe away tears as their son's name is read aloud during Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz's guilty plea on all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. The Dworet's son, Nicholas Dworet, 17, was killed in the massacre.
Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP
Education Briefly Stated: October 20, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Gunman in Parkland School Massacre to Plead Guilty
The gunman who killed 14 students and three staff members at a Florida high school will plead guilty to their murders, his attorneys said.
4 min read
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school.
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school.
Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP