Opinion
Education Opinion

Teacher Leadership in Action

By David B. Cohen — July 18, 2009 1 min read

I can’t leave Atlanta without mentioning one of the more exciting projects I heard about. Lori Nazareno is about to take the helm as the Lead Teacher at Denver’s brand new Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy. Nazareno is an NBCT on the Board of Directors of NBPTS, and a member of Teacher Leaders Network. Her new school will be run entirely by the teachers, and it is a project that has certainly attracted attention, reflected in the full enrollment, the number of teachers who applied to work there, and the promises from staff at Denver Public Schools to lend the school its full support.

Nazareno thinks that the highly qualified applicant pool reflects an important characteristic about this type of teacher: they are not interested in working at schools that have tightly regimented principal leadership. (And I would add, they aren’t likely to apply at schools that use scripted curricula or impose other requirements that restrict the practice of accomplished teachers). With so many applicants, the school has been able to hire people who will be a good fit for the team. Nazareno says the staff has been working together to determine what it means to open a teacher-led school, considering everything from broadest principles down to minute logistical details - “everything from 30,000 feet, down into the weeds.” The team has also divided up all of the administrative tasks that teachers usually don’t manage, and they will balance those duties with their teaching.

How will a teacher-led school be different from traditional schools? One example is in teacher evaluation. Instead of a traditional and more common approach in which teachers are evaluated few times and rather superficially, Nazareno and her colleagues will identify weaknesses and goals immediately, and engage in critical self-studies, including analysis of videotaped lessons, at regular intervals throughout the year. To help ensure teachers have the time to dig deeply into their practices, the school will put teacher release time into a larger block of time each week rather than spread it too thinly.

Teacher-led schools are not a new idea: Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and San Francisco are among cities I’ve heard of that have teacher-led schools. I look forward to hearing about what develops in Denver.

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