Teaching Profession Opinion

The Public Persona of Teacher Leaders

By Jessica Cuthbertson — July 17, 2012 2 min read
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Jessica Cuthbertson

My parents said it often: “Never do something today that you don’t want to read in tomorrow’s newspaper.” Their warning foreshadowed how quickly the lines can blur between a private and public persona—even before Facebook, Twitter, and rampant blogging.

Much of the work that goes on inside the walls of our classrooms is still invisible to those outside of the immediate learning community. But all teachers have public personas: We are recognized as teachers in coffee shops, grocery stores, and on walks with our dogs in the park. Community members ask us to speak for and as teachers, to provide our perspectives on everything from class sizes to cafeteria food.

I recently had dinner with a group of teacher friends. Over burgers and beer, we engaged in a lively conversation about the limitations of standardized testing and how testing is being used in our respective schools and districts. At one point in the evening, we noticed the family in the booth behind us had grown quiet, listening intently to our discussion. As parents of school-age children—children who had likely taken the state standardized assessment a few months earlier—they were clearly curious about the thoughts of teachers on this subject.

Knowing our conversation had been overheard by a captive audience, I reflected on what we had shared with each other. Were our comments, questions, and critiques appropriate for a more public audience? Did our discussion reflect what we want people to know about the challenges in our profession? And if our statements were relevant and appropriate, why weren’t we sharing our ideas more broadly rather than making them accessible only to eavesdroppers? How could this kind of conversation, made public, be a conduit for change?

The Teacher Leader Standards articulate and elevate the qualities and characteristics of teacher leaders. Divided into seven domains, they cover terrain from collaboration to professional learning to action research. The seventh domain, “Advocating for Student Learning and the Profession,” outlines aspects of a teacher’s public persona: what advocating for our students and our profession should look and sound like.

These standards provide a framework for thinking about everything from casual grocery store conversations to writing our policymakers to publishing scholarly articles. They call upon us as teachers not only to think critically about our daily work with students inside the classroom, but also to advocate for our students and our profession after the end-of-day bell rings.

As 21st-century teacher leaders, we must ensure that our ideas find a more public place. Ours are perspectives worth considering—both in today’s tweets and tomorrow’s headlines.

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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