My career-advancement opportunities have come in spite of the system, not because of it. I have had the opportunity to push school leaders and districts to think differently about how they utilize talent. Not only do I have the good fortune to work in a teacher leadership role, but I am also able to create similar roles that previously had not existed. I currently serve as the Co-Lead Teacher at a teacher-led school, where I teach approximately 20 percent of the time and carry out other responsibilities the other 80 percent.
Unfortunately, my experience is the exception and not the rule. Generally speaking, there are far too few opportunities for accomplished teachers to take on leadership roles while still maintaining a presence in a classroom. Our schools and our students pay a very steep price for not capitalizing on talent in a way that keeps good teachers teaching while they help other teachers improve. A world-class heart surgeon is expected to continue being a heart surgeon while training others. World-class teachers should be expected and provided opportunities to do the same.
Current structures and job descriptions are designed to place individuals in very specific roles. In my district you must choose whether to be a teacher, a facilitator, an assistant principal, or a principal. In short, a person must decide whether they want to teach or lead. For teachers to work in a hybrid role where they teach and lead, they would have to be hired for one role and agree to follow a nontraditional schedule that includes responsibilities that are not in their job description. Such an arrangement creates significant hiring challenges for a variety of reasons.
Rather than trying to manipulate the system, we need to create a system that recognizes that some teachers have additional talents that must be shared. We can no longer afford to have our most talented teachers close their doors and work in isolation. We need to create positions that support teachers who teach part time and lead part time. These teachers could spend part of their day training other teachers, engaging in peer observation, and leading professional development and other initiatives that directly improve instruction. In these hybrid roles, accomplished teachers can positively influence student learning not only for their own students, but also for students across the school because they are spreading their expertise more widely.
My school, the Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy, has found a way to put these practices into place and make a difference for students every day. We have several teachers that teach part of the day and then assume leadership roles for the rest of the day. At our school it is an expectation that everyone teach and lead. You can see what it looks like in this video clip.
Lori Nazareno is the Co-Lead Teacher at the Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy in Denver.
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.