Saturday, December 31, 2016

Seven Steps to Becoming a Teacher Leader

Seven Steps to Becoming a Teacher Leader from #education #leadership #edpolicy #advocacy
“What is a teacher leader?” Ask 10 different people and you'll likely get 10 different answers. For some, a teacher leader is someone who serves as an instructional specialist, coaching and mentoring other educators through peer observations. Others picture teacher leaders as quasi-admin, teachers whose course load has been partially or fully reduced in exchange for taking on a new job title and some administrative responsibilities. Still others view teacher leaders as those vanguard educators who are continually introducing or adopting the most innovative classroom practices.

In my professional opinion, being a teacher leader is more than just a new job title. A teacher leader is someone who inspires others and uses their influence to affect change. As educators, I believe it is something we all aspire to, but it is also something that can easily get lost in the urgency of the day-to-day tasks that so often consume our lives. Becoming a teacher leader is not something that happens overnight; it is a process. So wherever you are on your journey, I hope the seven steps listed below can help drive your development.

1) Educate Yourself - First, teachers must educate themselves. Education policy and practice is a complex and dynamic field. Teacher leaders must be aware of the legislation and regulations that govern their work. There is great power in being informed. Oftentimes, awareness is the first step towards action. Teacher education shouldn’t be limited to a handful of relicensure credits. Professional learning encompasses a wide range of opportunities and all of them can be leveraged by teacher leaders.

2) Educate Others - Just as it is important to educate yourself, being a leader also means being intentional about educating others. As teachers, we are engaged with our students and our school on a daily basis. For others, their understanding about our schools can be shaped by their own experiences, their children, or even the media - for better or for worse. Educating others means being transparent about our education system, including the policies and practices of that system. 

3) Organize - As someone who collaborates on a daily basis, I can say with confidence that working with others offers far more opportunities than working in isolation. When we close our classroom doors, we lose valuable connections that could help us all advance the goals of education. By organizing with other teachers and education professionals, both in-person and online, we build a network that has the potential to impact more than we ever could on our own. 

4) Elevate the Profession - Although enhancing the status of teaching is something that needs to happen at the system level, there are actions that individual teacher leaders can take to make a difference. Elevating education means making conscious choices about how we represent ourselves, our schools and our jobs. Professionalism is more than showing up on time and doing your job. It means learning how to communicate effectively and share knowledge in meaningful ways. 

5) Amplify Good Work - There is incredible work being done in classrooms all around the country. It is our responsibility as educators to promote the creativity, innovation, talent and success of our students, teachers and schools. To be clear, amplifying the good does not mean ignoring everything else. There are systemic challenges within our classrooms and schools today that need to be addressed. In our efforts to address those issues, however, we cannot forget to share the work that inspires, motivates and affirms.

6) Infiltrate - Although the word ‘infiltrate’ often conjures up images of espionage and deceit, I believe the strategy of ‘overt infiltration’ is a necessary step in affecting change beyond the classroom. I learned long ago that if you want your voice to be heard, you need to put yourself in positions to make that happen. This is especially true in my position as an EL Teacher. My students are often some of the most marginalized students in the school. To meet their needs, I must make sure that I have a place at the table where decisions are being made.

7) Advocate Locally and Globally - Finally, it is imperative that teachers become advocates for their students, their schools and themselves. Education advocacy can take on many forms, but it should not stop within your school. Too often, education policy is made by leaders who have limited experience in the classroom. Taking time to connect with local, state and national leaders can build a bridge between practice and policy.

If you’re interested in developing your skills as a teacher leader, you can start today by educating yourself. There are countless resources available online for learning more about education policy and practice. Some of my favorites are the US Department of Education and their What Works Clearinghouse along with professional organizations like ASCD and (for language teachers) MinneTESOL and CARLA. These resources will help prepare you for wherever your leadership takes you.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Inside the US Department of Education

On November 16th, I was honored with the opportunity to visit the US Department of Education in Washington, D.C. While there, I was able to connect with Department staff and with leaders from ASCD and the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). In addition, I was also able to meet many of the other ASCD Teacher Impact Grant finalists.

I enjoyed hearing from other grantees about the successes and challenges of grant implementation. I learned about STEM-focused professional learning communities in New York and religious literacy training in Maryland. I heard from teachers in Arizona developing a Parent Empowerment Project and from teachers in Idaho focused on distributive leadership and code-writing. From Wisconsin to Kansas and North Carolina to New Mexico, I heard stories from practicing teachers doing amazing things in their classrooms, schools, districts and beyond.  

Through our training, I also developed a better understanding of the Every Student Succeed Act (ESSA). I've written about ESSA before in relation to my work with Learning Forward. Simply put, ESSA is the latest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), originally passed in 1965. The reauthorization of ESEA was five years overdue, the most recent being No Child Left Behind (NCLB) passed under the Bush administration in 2001. ESSA, signed by Obama on December 10th, 2015 will fully go into effect on July 1st, 2017.

One of the highlights of the day was the opportunity to have tea with current Secretary of Education Dr. John King. We discussed the implementation of our grant projects and the benefits of investing with teachers at the local level. As we all discussed, I couldn't help but feel optimistic about the future of our nation's schools. I feel blessed to know so many passionate educators who are doing incredible work all around the country.

As federal administration shifts in the coming months, I hope that the incoming Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, will build on the work done by previous Secretaries Duncan and King. I hope the Department remains open to teachers and that it continues to advocate for best practices by elevating the voices of practicing teachers. There is power in teacher leadership and our collective efforts as Teacher Impact Grant recipients are demonstrating just how impactful grassroots efforts can be in creating sustainable solutions in our schools and communities.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Collaboration and Co-Teaching: What's the Difference?

Collaboration and Co-Teaching: What's the Difference? from #collaboration #coteaching #education #teaching
At last weekend's Minnesota English Learner Education (MELED) Conference, I attended a number of sessions on collaboration and co-teaching. I spend most of my time this year in a co-teaching partnership, and I was looking forward to learning some new skills and strategies to take back into the classroom. While I did gather some great ideas, I also realized that there is some confusion in our field as to what exactly we mean by 'collaboration' or 'co-teaching'. The phrase 'collaboration and co-teaching' often appears as a set collocation within academic conversations. It also happens to be the title of one of the more commonly referenced books in these circles, Collaboration and Co-Teaching by Honigsfeld and Dove.

Because of the frequency with which these words are used together, I have often seen the terms 'collaboration' and 'co-teaching' used interchangeably. In fact, the co-taught class sections at my school are informally referred to as the 'collab' sections. Having spent a significant amount of time co-teaching over the last several years, however, I think it is worth creating a clear distinction between these two terms. While the terms are closely related, there are some significant differences.

Co-teaching is an intentional partnership of two teachers who share responsibility for the planning, instruction and assessment of a set group of students. There are multiple models of co-teaching, ranging from the more passive "One Teach; One Observe" to the more active "Team Teaching". Depending on the sources used and the titles given, the number of co-teaching models can vary from five to eight. What does not vary, however, is that both teachers have a shared responsibility for all aspects of education within the class. In a true co-teaching model, both teachers have a defined role and are actively engaged in the classroom.

Collaboration, on the other hand, can be more broadly defined as two or more educators working together towards a common goal. As an EL teacher, I can collaborate with teachers across multiple subject areas without being actively involved in their classrooms. Collaboration may involve aligning curriculum so that my Academic Language class reflects the linguistic needs of a particular subject area or helping to scaffold assignments and assessments for a mainstream teacher. At its core, collaboration means working with other educators to support student needs together.

Co-teaching, therefore, is an example of teacher collaboration, but it is not the only way that teachers can collaborate with each other. Some teachers have created a distinction between vertical and horizontal collaboration. Vertical collaboration generally refers to efforts to align curriculum and instructional strategies from one grade level to the next. Horizontal collaboration describes collaboration that occurs within groups of teachers of a particular grade or content area. It is also sometimes referred to as teacher teaming, but should not be confused with the co-teaching model of Team Teaching mentioned above. Along with co-teaching, each of these types of collaboration can positively impact the educational outcomes.

It is clear from these examples that the relationship between co-teaching and collaboration is far from simplistic. Collaboration is a necessary condition of effective co-teaching, but it is not sufficient. For co-teaching to truly be effective, research has shown that several other factors must be considered. In their book, Collaboration and Co-Teaching, Honigsfeld and Dove identify several components that are essential for a healthy co-teaching partnership, including joint planning and professional development, reflective practice and a shared vision for a collaborative and culturally responsive school classroom.

Simply placing two teachers together in a classroom, even two experienced and effective teachers, is no guarantee that co-teaching will be effective. It takes time and energy for two teachers to co-plan, co-instruct and co-assess. The ACSD Teacher Impact Grant I received this year is helping to focus attention on professional learning opportunities for co-teachers, including dedicated time for peer observations and partnership planning time. For more examples on how my grant is being implemented, along with examples from grant recipients across the nation, you can follow along on Twitter under the hashtag #ASCDTIG. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

ASCD Teacher Impact Grant Press Release

ASCD Teacher Impact Grant Press Release from #ASCD #education #grants #leadership
I am so honored to have received this grant and I am excited to begin implementing grant activities this year! I truly believe in the power of teacher leadership and I am confident that an intentional focus on improving sustainability in co-teaching practices will improve the school experiences of teachers and students alike!

Minneapolis Teacher Awarded Grant to Support Leadership Project
Contact: Ross Romano, ASCD, (703) 575-5607,

ASCD announced this summer that Ashley Karlsson, an English language teacher at Washburn High School in Minneapolis, is one of 17 teachers nationwide to receive the first-ever ASCD Teacher Impact Grants, which will directly fund teacher leadership initiatives to drive transformation and improve student outcomes. The Teacher Impact Grants, which were announced at a White House ceremony in May, are the first of their kind in the United States and reflect the growing movement across the country of empowering teachers in the classroom to play a more central role in transforming the teaching profession. Each of the awardees―who hail from 14 different states―is a teacher leader who spends at least 50 percent of his or her time in a classroom setting. Karlsson’s grant award is $15,000.

“It is incredibly exciting to be one of the few nonprofit organizations in the country to be directly funding teachers in the classroom,” said Deborah S. Delisle, ASCD Executive Director and CEO. “Teachers across the country are hungry for opportunities to lead, and given the right resources and support, we know they can transform learning experiences and change students’ lives.”

There were 580 applications submitted and the winning proposals were selected through a peer review process completed by a panel of current and former classroom teachers associated with ASCD, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and the U.S. Department of Education. The program is part of Teach to Lead, an initiative jointly convened by the U.S. Department of Education, ASCD, and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Teacher Impact Grants are administered by ASCD and financially supported by The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Grants will be distributed in August and each project will be planned and executed during the 2016-17 academic year. Karlsson’s project will provide opportunities for teachers to learn new strategies for collaborative instruction by observing other co-teachers in action, engaging in professional learning through conferences and research-based readings, and dedicating time to establish and reflect on co-teaching relationships. 

Each project is targeted toward two specific strategic goals. Karlsson’s goals are: (1) motivating and mentoring new educators through leadership opportunities and collaboration with fellow educators; and (2) leveraging teacher leadership opportunities and structures for recruiting and retaining talented and highly effective educators.

The awardees will receive ongoing support from ASCD staff and will provide detailed progress updates each quarter. Learn about all 17 awardees and projects at Visit to learn more about ASCD’s commitment to teacher leadership and to find useful resources. To learn more about the Teach to Lead initiative, which aims to cultivate the expertise of teachers to drive transformation in schools, districts, and states, including the development of policies that affect teacher work and student learning, visit

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

How Many Languages Do You Speak?

So, How Many Languages Do You Speak? Life as an English Language Teacher from #education #teacherlife #esol #eld #esl #efl
"So, how many languages do you speak?"

This questions seems to come up every time I try to describe my job as an English Language teacher to someone new. For most people, the assumption is that teachers and students must have some sort of linguistic common ground. And in some cases I do. I've studied several languages - a little bit of Spanish here, a little Greek and Latin there, and just a touch of French and Arabic for good measure. But in many cases I don't.

"How can you teach them if you don't speak their language?"

This is usually the follow-up question. And it's a good one. If I could, I would love to speak my students' language(s). Unfortunately, that's just not possible. There are literally thousands of languages in the world and my own personal teaching journey has brought me in contact with students who represent hundreds of different languages.

This is where it helps to remember that communication involves more than just language. Thoughts and ideas can also be communicated through pictures, visuals, gestures and emotions. Oftentimes, it takes more time to understand ideas without a shared language, but it is time well spent.

Back when I was teaching elementary, one students came to me with a story about a bird. He really wanted me to know what kind of bird he was talking about, but he didn't know the name in English ... and I didn't have any idea what he was trying to tell me. But I knew it was important to him.

We must have spent at least 15 minutes acting out bird flights, making bird calls and searching Google images for any leads. For anyone walking by, it probably looked like we were trying to re-enact a certain Hitchcock film. We negotiated the meaning - back and forth - until we finally figured it out. The excitement in my student's eyes when we finally got it reassured me it was worth it. Taking the time to really understand helped to build his confidence in himself and in his ability to communicate.

Being an English Language teacher means being patient. It means knowing what your students' need and figuring out ways to get creative when language isn't enough. Helping a child or an adult learn how to express themselves gives me the kind of satisfaction that money can't touch. It's not always an easy job, but I'm pretty sure I have one of the best jobs in the world. I'm looking forward to a great school year!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Learning Forward: #agents4learning

Learning Forward: Agents for Learning Competition from #teacher #agency #ESSA #policy
This month I was honored to lead a team of educators from Minnesota as part of the Agents for Learning Competition hosted by Learning Forward and the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (NCTAF). All teams travelled to Chicago to present their vision and recommendations for effective professional learning under Title II of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

The competition represented a collaborative effort not just between program hosts and sponsors, but also between teachers, districts and states. There were 12 teams selected as finalists, representing a total of 56 teachers, administrators and education leaders. Each team received targeted coaching from program sponsors, including the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Center for American Progress, Educators 4 Excellence, Hope Street Group, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, National Education Association (NEA), and Teach Plus.

After each final presentation, a panel of distinguished educators and leaders offered feedback and constructive critiques for moving recommendations forward. The panel included Stephanie Banchero, Program Director for the Education Program of the Joyce Foundation, Jahana Hayes, 2016 National Teacher of the Year, Chris Minnich, Executive Director of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and Rachel Wise, the Chair of the Nebraska Board of Education.

If you're interested in watching the final team presentations, the two-hour webcast is available online at My presentation starts at 1:07:30.

After all teams had presented, we were ushered into a beautiful awards ceremony where each team was given a specific award, along with some swag from Corwin Press, Scholastic and Learning Forward. My team, Twin Cities Teachers, won the award for "Most Clear and Ready for Action." All-in-all, this experience was a tremendous opportunity to network and learn from teacher leaders across the country and to provide key stakeholders with practical recommendations from practicing teachers. Win-win!