Opinion
Recruitment & Retention Opinion

Move Out of the Left Lane and Let Teacher Leaders Drive Through

August 02, 2018 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Teacher Leadership is tough. There are obstacles everywhere.

Much like those who disrespect the purpose of the left lane on a freeway, inconsiderate drivers on the educational highway impede the work of teacher leaders. They slow the momentum teacher leaders build and block the lane needed to reach other teachers. These obstacles are more than just frustrating, however. They are a danger to the future of public education.

Teacher leadership has been disregarded as a worthwhile investment in schools, evidenced by the small number of states with recognized positions of teacher leadership. A 2016 study by NNSTOY focused on teacher career advancement initiatives showed few teachers are paid beyond teaching contracts for informal leadership roles. And while teacher leadership is significantly related to student achievement, few states offer hybrid positions wherein teachers can lead colleagues while still in the classroom.

So, why doesn’t teacher leadership just drive through? What’s the hold up?

Administrators are often camped in the left lane, resistant to trust in teachers who challenge the thinking of colleagues and encourage creative instructional changes. Some administrators even limit support for teachers recognized for their innovative practices. Obtaining permission to leave class to speak at a conference can be uncomfortable, even for teachers who are asked to speak. I have often thought that administrative resistance may be based on intimidation or fear of losing a strong teacher, when in fact, by supporting teacher leaders, school instruction and learning are strengthened, and teacher leaders are motivated to do more. On a personal note, I was lucky. After my state recognition, my principal moved out of the left lane and offered me unwavering professional support both in our school and beyond. But for so many, administrative obstacles are enough to discourage teacher leaders from driving through, and often cause teachers to take the exit, leaving the school, or worse, the profession. Every year, master teachers, wanting to share their expertise, leave for district coaching positions or private consulting opportunities. With few hybrid options, they see this as their only opportunity to broadly lead instruction.

Policy can seem like a semi-truck in the left lane, mostly because it’s so difficult for a teacher to get around. In many states, an absence of teacher leader career pathways is often perpetuated by policy crafted by those without educational backgrounds. Lack of teacher voice in the policy making process may also be a contributing factor. Why don’t teachers speak up? The policy semi is long and intimidating, and many potential teacher leaders drive in the shadows rather than sharing their voices with policy makers and pressuring them to change lanes. Teacher leaders must courageously pull up to the side of the policy semi: invite legislators and board members to observe you while teaching, remembering that you are the expert! Connect with policy makers via email and on social media platforms: share both your successes and discouraging experiences in teaching while posing important questions about policy.

Tradition often rolls along in the left lane, stereo playing loudly, comfortable with the systems already in place. Systems grounded in the antiquated belief that district instructional coaches are sufficient to supplement instructional leadership, ignoring the benefits of master teachers leading their peers while still experiencing similar challenges in their own classrooms. Teachers often resist instructional coaches who are not in the classroom, feeling their perspectives lack relevance. The opportunity for hybrid positions opens the left lane for teacher leaders to travel within their schools and share expertise with those more open to feedback from master teachers still in the classroom.

Teachers, unfortunately, often create the back up in the left lane themselves. Some who have tried to lead beyond their classrooms have become disheartened by the inconvenience of unofficial teacher leadership. Feeling intimidated by prohibitive policies and a lack of appreciation for teacher leaders, they fall back in the lane and assume a slower speed. Even if a teacher leader feels his or her ideas are worthy and appreciated by colleagues, the challenges of writing sub plans can be enough to discourage teachers from engaging in opportunities beyond school walls. Anyone who has spent the time to develop meaningful sub plans only to return to find their kids did not have a worthwhile experience knows the feeling of guilt that prevents you from dodging the lanes to find an alternative leadership route.

Today, a significant danger in blocking the lane for teacher leaders is that traffic for potential teacher candidates may make the drive not worth the effort. The lack of career options in teaching continues to lessen the pool of applicants in every state. Creating teacher leader career pathways is quite possibly one of the greatest recruitment and retention tools available. Not every teacher desires to be a school administrator, nor should they feel they have to in order to be challenged instructionally or enjoy career-worthy compensation. Feeling your expertise is valuable enough to be acknowledged both in pay and position can be a game changer for teachers who may be tempted to leave as well as for those considering a teaching career. We cannot be complacent with so few lane options in teaching. The future of public education demands we open more lanes for teacher leaders.

To those individuals and policies that are camped out in the left lane, move over and let teacher leaders drive through.

Allison Riddle is the 2014 Utah Teacher of the Year and a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY). She is the Elementary Mentor Supervisor for Davis District I in Northern Utah.

Photo by Farhan Chawla, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Teacher-Leader Voices 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

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
Start Strong With Solid SEL Implementation: Success Strategies for the New School Year
Join Satchel Pulse to learn why implementing a solid SEL program at the beginning of the year will deliver maximum impact to your students.
Content provided by Satchel Pulse
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
Science Webinar
Real-World Problem Solving: How Invention Education Drives Student Learning
Hear from student inventors and K-12 teachers about how invention education enhances learning, opens minds, and preps students for the future.
Content provided by The Lemelson Foundation
Jobs 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

Recruitment & Retention Emergency Certified Teachers: Are They a Viable Solution to Shortages?
Emergency teachers are in bigger demand than ever. Can states and districts make smarter use of them?
6 min read
Three hands, each holding a certificate against a caution (yellow and black) striped background.
Collage by Gina Tomko/Education Week and Getty
Recruitment & Retention Contractors Are Filling Staffing Gaps in Schools. Know the Benefits and the Drawbacks
Schools turn to private companies for help filling positions with no local job candidates. It can be costly, but some say it's a big help.
7 min read
Conceptual illustration of district substitute being directed to a school in need
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and iStock/Getty
Recruitment & Retention The Latest Perk Schools Are Using to Attract Teachers: 4-Day Weeks
The pros, the cons, and the unknowns of a shorter school week.
8 min read
Illustration of calendar on teacher's desk with days falling off.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and iStock/Getty images
Recruitment & Retention Push Is on to Grow and Nurture Latino Teacher Pipeline
Latinos for Education has created a new advisory council to better inform federal policies on hiring and retaining more Latino educators.
3 min read
Teacher Classroom Latina 1210604340
JohnnyGreig/E+