I am reading Learning by Heart, by Roland Barth. Many schools including my own have a reference to creating "life long learners" in their mission statements, but are we actually doing this? What is our culture of learning in our school? I believe establishing this type of culture for our kids starts with all of us. We need to establish a culture of learning, and that will trickle down to students.
"There are at risk students and at risk educators, an at risk educator is: any teacher, principal, guidance counselor, or librarian who leaves school at the end of the day or end of the year with little possibility of continuing learning." Roland BarthAccording to Barth, there are two types of schools: learning-enriched schools and learning-impoverished schools. It doesn't take long to figure out if a school places a focus on learning. I believe you can feel it when you enter the building, and all one has to do is to take a peek at what is occurring in the classrooms.
"If they (students) see adult models who are done, baked, cooked, finished as learners, they to what to be done, baked, cooked, finished as learners." Roland BarthSo how do we create a culture of learning? I think it starts with developing teacher leaders. I believe all teachers should and can lead in some way.
"The way to learn is by leading; the way to lead is by learning." - Roland BarthSo why do very few teacher leaders exist in most schools? Barth mentions reasons as to why below.
1. Our plate is full
Most of the time teacher leaders have a full plate and see school leadership as an add-on OR they feel leadership is only for the principal and superintendent. The mantra is, "they lead and I teach."
2. There's never enough time
It's all about time, and time is why the plate is full. How often as leaders do we use our busiest people, because we know it will get done? (I am so very guilty of this!) One way we have started to attack the time issue is to use a weekly late start for collaboration. I believe it is a start for developing our capacity and opening the doors to sharing.
3. Opposition from colleagues
I have seen this first hand, it is hard to believe that we have opposition from our teacher's colleagues when they put their neck out to lead. We organized our two in-service days this year around teacher led professional development. I thought it was some of the best PD I have seen, it was informal and teachers learned from each other. We recently received some survey results back and a few hint at resentment towards these teacher leaders that put their neck out there. This was mind boggling to me.
4. Caution and insecurity
Why is sharing our craft knowledge so risky? Barth shared a story from a Rhode Island teacher that may shed light on this.
"When a teacher is truly passionate about her work, others are threatened because they don't feel it, or can't impart it to their students. Sometimes I feel impeded in my work by teachers and administrators who are threatened by my enthusiasm."
This taboo prevents teacher leaders from wanting to present something great that is happening in their classroom. It's a shame that we allow this to happen. I think it goes back to the beginning of this post. Do we have culture of learning or a culture of isolation? A culture of learning encourages and promotes the sharing of best practices. People are open and willing to critique themselves.
5. Active resistance to teacher leadership
Toxic environments prevent teacher leaders. Those people who constantly say, "It can't be done" kills teacher leaders. Barth says there are two groups that prevent teacher leadership. The first group is well practiced at sitting back and waiting for new ideas to die. The second group actively sets up road blocks.
"Want to reorganize the day? Can't. The contract doesn't allow it. Want to form interdisciplinary teams? Can't."Regardless of how strong the superintendent or the principal are they may never be able to cushion teacher leaders from these groups. Therefore according to Barth, "teacher leadership can turn into ostracism."
So what are we doing to keep our teacher leaders safe from being outcasts and promoting the idea that every teacher can lead? This is my struggle.