Teaching Profession Opinion

Teach to Lead Helps Teachers Turn Ideas Into Action

By Cristina Duncan Evans — January 26, 2015 3 min read
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At a national conference I attended several years ago, I was chatting with a colleague over coffee, and he posed an interesting idea. He constantly saw type-A, data-driven, technologically adept first-year teachers quit before Christmas. At the same time, his central office had many departments whose technological inefficiency on basic tasks was astonishing. Why not take all those new teachers who were good with spreadsheets and deadlines and offer them probationary placements in central office departments with high turnover, or not enough staff? You could give those teachers a second chance to impact students and inject new ideas into a bureaucracy that can easily become obsessed with compliance and consistency. He jokingly called his idea “Teach For Human Resources,” and every time I cross my fingers that our district office doesn’t lose my paperwork, I think back to his idea.

We all have ideas for big and small ways to improve education for our students. But most of the time, we put our musings away because we’re unsure how to get from an idea to a reality. Now, the Department of Education has created an initiative called Teach to Lead that’s intended to helps teacher do just that.

Teach to Lead (and its online community, Commit to Lead) is a new program that recognizes that teachers have great ideas for improving their schools and their profession. This program values the expertise that teachers bring to educational issues, and empowers them to develop their plans and pitch them to partners who can help support their work. Teachers can submit ideas online and those proposals are reviewed by fellow teachers selected by the DOE. Ideas already submitted range from a community norms course for incoming high-schoolers, to a doctoral program in teacher development designed for teachers who are still in the classroom. Anyone can view and vote on ideas, and Teach to Lead’s online community allows the most popular ideas to rise to the top.

The originators of the best ideas have been invited to in-person summits, where teachers can meet with public policy officials and support organizations to get feedback, and create plans to move their ideas forward. Summits have been held so far in Louisville and Denver, with one coming up in Boston next month. Each summit is organized in collaboration with the Department of Education and a specific teacher leadership. group like Teach Plus, or the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. Participants to these summits have attended workshops that help them understand their issue or topic more fully, and have been paired with partner organizations that give specific feedback about how to move the idea forward. As an example, a group of teachers from Oklahoma are getting help from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards to address the fact that Oklahoma teachers don’t currently have the time off or training to undertake National Board certification.

The Department of Education’s Teacher Liaison, Laurie Calvert, says that the real benefit of the summits has been “getting good ideas in front of critical friends who can make them better.” She likens the summits to speed dating, where participants take questions and concerned feedback from over 60 education organizations.

What I really like about this initiative is that it’s bridging the gap between teachers and larger organizations and allowing grassroots ideas and leadership to flourish. Schools and districts have long had access to the type of ‘technical assistance’ that allows them to develop and implement ideas—now teachers have access to those resources as well. Teach to Lead capitalizes on the type of energy and optimism of grassroots social entrepreneurship and applies it to the notoriously top-down, bureaucratic institution of public education.

The Teach to Lead site is a brilliant, buzzing brainstorm of great ideas that you should definitely check out. Applications for the final summit have passed, but the online community continues to hold a wealth of resources for teacher leaders. Since Teach to Lead is currently a one-year initiative, you should get on this sooner rather than later for two reasons—first, the time to get feedback from moderators and other teachers might draw to a close this spring, and second, the renewal of this program for next year will probably depend on how much traffic the website gets. You’ve probably got a great idea that’s come to you on your morning commute or when talking with your teacher friends. With Teach to Lead and the resources it offers, your next step just became a little bit clearer.

Photo: Participants at the Teach to Lead Summit in Denver earlier this month. Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education.

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The opinions expressed in Connecting the Dots: Ideas and Practice in Teaching 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.