Thursday, October 30, 2014

Reflection on Teacher-led Professional Development

Today the Collab Blog welcomes guest blogger Paul Kelly, principal of Elk Grove HS.  He can be reached @EGPrinciPaul 

A wise man once Tweeted  “Aside from our students, teacher leaders are the most important part of a school!”  Profound words, indeed.

OK, I admit it.  I Tweeted that… But it’s true!!  To my credit, I acted before the amazing teacher-led Institute Day I witnessed just 3 days ago.  It was almost as if I knew something special was on the way.  Luckily for the teachers at EGHS, there was.

ALL teachers are leaders…every single one. Every teacher is a leader of his or her students. To be a teacher leader of students is the most meaningful endeavor I can imagine.  The impact each teacher has is immeasurable. 

However, this post is a shout out to the teacher leader of teachers.  The teacher leader of teachers is a truly remarkable individual.  Why?  To be a teacher leader of teachers is to be a fearless risk taker. In addition to declaring one’s professional vulnerability to the world, the teacher leader of teachers must climb out onto a figurative limb.  You see, the teacher leader of teachers is unafraid to challenge and to be challenged.  He is willing to accept that some of his colleagues will deride his efforts as a leader, labeling him "suck up" or "golden child.”  The teacher leader of teachers knows that some peers will greet her with pointed looks that silently ask her "who do you think you are?"  And yet, the teacher leader of teachers continues to push for the professional growth of every member of the organization.  This irreplaceable function is what keeps a school moving forward.  

The #GrenAir2014 experience, the third consecutive teacher-led October Institute Day at Elk Grove High School, raised the bar yet again with 38 teacher leaders creating and delivering nearly 30 unique professional development sessions for their colleagues.  Their compensation?  Only smiles, “thank yous,” and follow-up emails.  And 24 hours later, they were back at their day job…teaching their students. #Inspiring.

Since the day I walked into Carl Sandburg High School as a first year teacher in 1998, I knew that teacher leaders make all the difference in a school.  It was other teachers who taught me how to teach.  It was other teachers who taught me how to assess student learning.  It was a teacher leader, Christina Simpson, who reminded me that instead of stumbling around for cool class activities, I needed to figure out what the kids were supposed to PRODUCE after my teaching.  It was a teacher leader, Mike Woolley, who taught me how to ask questions that really inspired student thinking.  It was a teacher leader, Tom Schroeder, who taught me that it was OK--even necessary--to evolve and embrace new teaching practices after 25 successful years in the profession.

In too many school environments, the teacher leader of teachers concludes that real leadership of teachers by teachers is impossible.  There is a lack of support either from administration or from peers (or both).  He/she ends up feeling as if on an island, abandoned and frustrated.  Too often, one of two outcomes follows: abdication of the teacher leadership role or pursuit of an administrative role.  For most teacher leaders of teachers, neither of these was ever their vision for their professional careers.  What a shame that some of our very best teachers are unable to be all that they can be for the profession as a whole.

But not at Elk Grove High School.

So here’s a toast to my favorite education professional, the teacher leader of teachers.  The one who takes chances and creates the culture of professional improvement and student learning above all else.  Take heart, teacher leaders; there are others like you, and there is strength in numbers.  Find each other and make each other great.

At Elk Grove High School, I just watched 38 teacher leaders of teachers create and deliver a complex, rich institute day program, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  It didn’t happen overnight, but the teacher leadership of teachers that has evolved at EGHS has transformed our school into the most collaborative learning environment I have ever been part of.

I think I’ll go Tweet that.   

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