My teacher leadership started with a principal who believed I had the potential to make an impact beyond my classroom. She first invited me to write a grant for the school and continued to push me beyond my comfort zone, asking that I take on student teachers. Mine became a model classroom for teacher observations.
At the same time, a colleague who was already a teacher leader nudged, guided, and mentored me into leading professional development outside of our school and district.
The more experience I had as a teacher leader, the more opportunities came my way. And it all started with a simple invitation. Sometimes it just takes someone recognizing your potential and showing you how to take advantage of opportunities.
I believe that there are many ways to lead, and every teacher has the capacity to be a great teacher leader. I feel a strong sense of responsibility to encourage and support colleagues so that we become a profession lead by teachers.
I appreciate how the Teacher Leader Model Standards identify different domains in which teachers can lead and not specify how they should lead. Just as students have strengths and areas to build upon, so do teachers. There are many ways to lead—some more visible than others, but all vital to our profession.
For me, the most challenging and important domain is Number 7: Advocating for Student Learning and the Profession. Talking to the media, the public, or policymakers does not come naturally to me. But it is an essential part of who I am as a teacher.
If we don’t make teaching public and speak out on our behalf, someone else will.
I have forced myself to say yes to every opportunity or invitation where a teacher voice is needed. Sometimes I am the only teacher, and most of the time I am terrified! But with every committee and panel I have participated in, I have gained more confidence in my abilities to represent my students and profession.
I have learned that people do want and need to hear from teachers.
And “teacher voice” is not just “out loud": Written words can be powerful, too. When a local administrator questioned the use of center time in our kindergarten classrooms, I wanted to advocate for our students and explain the importance of choice and unstructured play on a child’s development. I wrote and published an essay and found that I was not alone in my opinion. I may not have changed minds, but I did inform and make public what effective practices looks like in the classroom.
No one knows more about what students, teachers, and schools need than we do. If we don’t advocate for ourselves, we lose a critical opportunity.
Jane Fung is a National Board-certified teacher in urban Los Angeles, where she currently teaches 1st grade.
The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable 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.