Teacher Leadership Requires Teachers

 — The NEA and VIVA Couldn’t Agree More!

By: Elizabeth Evans

Teacher leadership cannot happen without teachers.  Unfortunately, in most aspects of how our public schools work, teachers are all too absent from important leadership positions and broad decisions.  In fact, the trained professionals with the most experience with student learning are almost entirely absent from policy making process.  

It’s encouraging to see the National Education Association (NEA) tackle that dynamic head-on through the Teacher Leadership Initiative (TLI). Rather than wait for public administrators to invite them to the table, the TLI equips teachers to use their professional experience to help make their districts and state education policy work.  Teachers understand that what happens in their classroom is shaped by decisions that are usually made around and about them but not with them.  TLI is changing that dynamic by leveraging the professional experience of teachers and bringing their expertise to bear on all the complicated decisions that happen outside of the classroom . It’s inevitable that policies and practices shaped by teachers’ expertise will have fairer, higher, and better impact on learning opportunities for more children.  .

It’s time that we remember the central role our public school teachers play in making the American dream attainable for all.  For 150 years, teachers have offered students a path from the margins into our melting pot of individual opportunity and common purpose.  Yet, we’ve developed a bad habit of keeping teachers out of the big decisions about how our schools work and how our students learn.  Imagine a world where the doctor was given a map of our gut and told exactly how to perform that surgery.  And because the surgeon was in charge during the operation, we called her a leader of the hospital.  Weird right? And downright nerve-wracking for the patient on the table.

That’s why the recent kerfuffle on testing in schools was a missed opportunity to give all of us a lesson from the experts.  President Barack Obama admirably called for a more reasonable approach to student testing.  Superintendents in our nation’s largest school districts issued a report a few days later chock full of data about the number of tests, the number of minutes of testing, the kinds of tests, whether they were required by some other level of government or regulation. They all suggested a limit on testing time.  

I suggest that in our 24/7, information overload, globally connected world, teacher leadership is both incredibly important and needs a larger stage.  Our world is unceasingly more complex and we all need a broader, deeper set of skills to survive, let alone thrive in the information age.  It’s high time that political leaders and public administrators make decisions using the best expert information available.

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