One drum I beat constantly is that if we want education reform to work, teachers must be the ones empowered to not only implement the change, but to be the ones who design it.
I often hear about "layers of bureaucracy and waste" in school districts. The comments under the news website articles about education tout the inefficiency and top-heaviness of school systems. That is perhaps the case in some places. Over the last few decades, instructional coaching has been in fashion as a layer somewhere in limbo between classroom teacher and building administrator. In tight budgets, these positions are often the first to go, since their impact on students is not always so obvious and traceable.
To some, coaching or being a TOSA (like I am for .4 of my day) is a stepping stone out of the classroom into administration. That's fine, but I believe that for most of us in that role, it isn't a means to some personal ladder-climbing end. For me, having no aspirations to be in administrative leadership, coaching or TOSA-ing is about supporting classroom instruction.
Logic and research both prove that of all the factors within the control of a school, the one with the greatest impact on student learning is teacher pedagogical skill. If this is the case, the potential power of teacher-leaders in coaching or TOSA roles cannot be understated. With so many demands on building administrators for everything from student discipline to recess duty to teacher evaluation, it is very easy for the difficult and time-consuming work of improving instruction to get unintentional short shrift. In too many cases, efforts to improve instruction manifest as hastily assembled sit-and-get powerpoint assaults or the spending of inordinate amounts of money to fly in some expert to talk at teachers for a day or two about decontextualized theory and the next new curriculum to buy. Missing are the intense and reflective one-on-one probing conversations that demand not only time but strong relationships that likewise require time to develop.
Many administrators will justifiably lament that they want to fulfill that role of instructional leader who coaches classroom instruction--but that there are so many other tasks and obligations that nudge that oto the margins. In my district, a new layer of leadership has been evolving over the last year. Last year, a small cadre of TOSAs (two of us part time, two full time) was carved out and given relative carte blanche for how to define our role as leaders. This year, the cadre is expanding to include teacher-leaders at every building who will be given time and compensation to chart the course for professional development in our district. These home-grown teacher leaders are part of a new philosophy in mutual professional development that values and seeks to draw out the leadership already present among our ranks.
The nice part: the unknown.
The district didn't come up with a plan, pick people, and then say "now you implement." Instead, they are saying to this growing group of teacher leaders: "we want to help teachers in this district grow; you know what is best." We're not tasked with implementing an already-decided-upon mission or initiative with pre-determined roles, outcomes, and job-descriptions. That would be mere facilitation--important, but not what we need.
Instead, we're being asked to do what real leaders in history have always been asked to do: step into the unknown and blaze the trail. There is risk, uncertainty, and no obvious path to success. This is authentic leadership.