Teaching Profession Opinion

Follow-Up: Teacher Leaders’ Responsibility to Advocate

By Jessica Cuthbertson — July 24, 2012 2 min read
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Jessica Cuthbertson

What is advocacy? A quick dictionary search surfaces a list of synonyms that include: insistency, active support, urging, pleading and arguing in favor of something. “Advocating for Student Learning and the Profession,” the seventh domain of the Teacher Leader Model Standards uses the word to capture what teacher leaders say and do to advance the profession, inform policy, and improve student learning.

My initial post explored the public persona of teachers—we represent the profession wherever we go and whatever we do—and this involves both responsibility and opportunity. But we do not have to work as independent advocates on behalf of our profession. We do not have to advocate in isolation. In a Wordle image of the language in the seventh domain, “learning” and “colleagues” are the most frequently used words, followed closely by “student,” “teacher,” and “resources.” Indeed, it is only through ongoing learning and collaboration with others that our advocacy and actions will reach broader audiences.

This past spring, 8th graders created a public stir when they pushed back on standardized testing by publicly critiquing a test passage and questions. Through the use of their collective voice, ranging from posts on Facebook to conversations with parents and teachers, the “Pineapples don’t have sleeves” moral became an overnight catch phrase that shed light on the limitations of and inherent problems with using standardized testing as a measure of authentic learning.

The documentary Mitchell 20 showcases a group of 20 teachers who collectively committed to a professional learning experience and supported one another through the National Board certification process. What they learn about themselves, their students, and each other shifts both the rhetoric and the student achievement results at their school. As a result of this film, growing groups of teachers are replicating the process.

Mitchell 20 and the “pineapple question” serve as two powerful examples of how collective action can further our advocacy agendas. Who better to insist on authentic assessments and question the status quo than a group of 8th graders? Who better to urge and argue for meaningful professional learning experiences that result in student achievement than a group of teachers dedicating themselves to the intensive National Board certification process?

Perhaps the most important thing we can take from the Teacher Leader Model Standards is that the phrase “teacher leader advocates” means you. But it also means me. It means all of us. It is our collective responsibility and opportunity to advocate for our profession and for our students.

Jessica Cuthbertson, a Colorado educator with 10 years’ experience, teaches middle school literacy and has served as a literacy instructional coach for Aurora Public Schools.

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