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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

Teachers, Teacher Leaders, and Principals: A Winning Team

By Guest Blogger — March 15, 2017 4 min read
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This week, Rick is off talking about his forthcoming book, Letters to a Young Education Reformer. Letters won’t be officially released until late April, but you can learn more about it here and order an advance copy here. While Rick is away, we’ve got an illustrious line-up of guest stars. This week, Irvin Scott, Senior Lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Education, will be guest-blogging.

A few weeks ago, I watched the National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star basketball game be played in New Orleans, LA. What struck me about this game, as with all All-Star events, is that it wasn’t the same game that’s played during the regular season. Sure, there were similarities between this All-Star affair and regular season games (e.g., there were officials, the same rules applied, there was a large crowd, there was a winner and a loser, etc.). But what made the All-Star game a very different game was that each player on the court was a star on his regular season team, and this fundamentally changed the game.

When reflecting on the importance of teamwork, Michael Jordan said it best: “Individuals win games, teams win championships.” When it comes to running effective schools which have the power to transform the lives of students, I can’t think of a truer statement. Over the years, I have learned that effective schools rely on effective teams.

Teams and Schooling

Ever since Race to The Top was signed into law nearly nine years ago, there’s been an intense focus on teachers. In my humble opinion, this was a correct focus. For too long, it appeared as though policymakers and educational leaders thought about the role of the teacher more symbolically than substantively and strategically. That is no longer the case. Recently, the role and voice of teachers has been front and center; and I couldn’t be happier.

At the same time, this can’t be a zero-sum game when it comes to the need to ensure school leadership receives the substantive and strategic attention it deserves. And I would go even further to suggest the real secret sauce for school success happens when teachers, teacher leaders, and principals come together to distribute the leadership of schools.

What is clear to me after nearly 30 years in education is that great schools require 1) visionary strategic principals, who empower 2) capable and emboldened teams of teacher leaders, to 3) inspire and support great teaching and learning to happen all day, every day, for each child.

Running an effective school is a team effort. Only through these collaborative efforts can leadership teams and teachers make smart decisions about the “stuff” of schooling, such as:

  • Managing resources (including time, money, people, and technology) strategically, which Education Resource Strategies talks about in really smart ways.
  • Choosing the appropriate curriculum materials and tools to support teachers and students as they both pursue higher standards at an accelerated rate, which is not a simple task. Going after these standards is much easier with great curriculum materials tools—especially ones that support students who are behind their peers academically or who face English language acquisition challenges.
  • Finding time during the school day for teachers to collaborate around student products (especially writing), analyze data through the use of processes like Datawise, and discuss effective teaching practices. Doing this with the support of teacher leaders is not only smart—it’s essential.
  • Interweaving evidence-based practices to build students’ social and emotional capacities, so they come to realize the Habits of Mind that are associated with becoming successful lifelong learners and citizens.
  • Ensuring the climate and culture of the school is one where students and adults can do their best work and be their best selves.

The Next Movement: Teachers, Teacher Leaders, and Principals—Teaming Up

I am so excited to see the number of teacher and teacher leadership groups that have come to life over the past few years. They’ve ignited a much needed movement. Teachers and teacher leaders are elevating their voices and their practice through groups like Teaching Partners, New Teacher Center, Center for Teaching Quality, Teacher2Teacher, #ECET2, Teaching Partners, Educators for Excellence, TeachPlus, Teach for America, as well as AFT and NEA.

I would argue that principals should be looking for ways to partner with teachers and teacher leaders to create empowered school teams. I am convinced these types of efforts—similar to the ones that Tony Bryk, Louis Gomez, and the Carnegie Foundation espouse in their work with Network Improvement Communities and the work of Kitty Boles and Vivian Troen in their work on the Transformative Power of Teacher Teams—are the collaborative partnerships we need to make real progress in schools all across the US.

In my view, the real way to continue America’s greatness is to ensure the following quote by John Dewey is more than a symbolic, feel good gesture, but one we strategize around and hold ourselves accountable to, as teams: “What the best and wisest parents want for his child, that must we want for all the children of the community. Anything else is unlovely, and left unchecked, destroys our democracy.”

—Irvin Scott

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.