Empowered to Lead

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend ASCD's annual conference Empower 2017. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to present some of my work as one of the first cohort of Teacher Impact Grantees. Each of the grantees in attendance had an opportunity to share some of their work, including the successes and challenges of grant implementation and our thoughts on how to advance teacher leadership in our schools.

After our project presentations, we held a brief Q&A session with the audience. There were many great questions about how to find and apply for grants, how to overcome challenges with implementation, and what we have learned from the grant process. Below are some of my thoughts on the issues of implementation and leadership.

How has the Teacher Impact Grant (TIG) Process helped to enhance your ability to improve outcomes for students? 
Co-teaching is really about providing opportunities for inclusion so that all students have opportunities to engage in meaningful instruction that supports growth in both academic language and content. Implementing my TIG project has allowed me to provide opportunities for teachers to deepen their own understanding of co-teaching, making them more effective practitioners in the classroom. My TIG project has equipped teachers with strategies that are immediately relevant to their work and it has built capacity within our program so that changes in practice can be sustained over time. Better trained teachers means greater opportunities for the students we serve.

What challenges have you faced in trying to implement your teacher leadership idea through the TIG? How have you worked to overcome those challenges? 
For me, the greatest challenges have been logistical. From gaining research approval from my district to streamlining the process for teachers attending conferences and peer observations, there has been a lot of behind-the-scenes work that has had to happen in order to ensure that my TIG project continues running effectively. The key to resolving most of the challenges I have encountered is communication. In a large urban district, there are many different departments that are involved in some form or another in grant implementation. Building healthy professional relationships with leaders in each of those departments has been essential to the resolution of most problems I have faced.

What is something you have learned that you wish you had known at the start of your teacher leadership project? 
Be flexible and expect the unexpected. Flexibility and adaptability are musts when working in education. The implementation of a grant project involving multiple co-teaching partnerships is no exception. When I first started my grant project, I had a detailed timeline, budget breakdowns, and countless other resources to help keep me on track. After the first few weeks, I realized I would need to make adjustments to almost all of my plans. At first, I felt like I had failed. I had all of these great plans and they simply weren't coming to fruition as I had anticipated. With time, I have come to see my initial plans as the foundation of my work - instead of as a blueprint that had to be followed. That shift in mindset has allowed me to celebrate the unplanned successes and see deviations in my plan as necessary adjustments to ensure that my work is truly driven by teacher and student needs.

What advice would you give to teachers or administrators that are looking to implement teacher leadership opportunities in their school or district?
For teachers, I would say, "You can do it!" I know the process of applying for a grant or stepping into a leadership role can sometimes be overwhelming. Believe in your ability to do great work and know that there is a community of like-minded educators willing to connect and support you in any way. The digital world has made collaboration possible across classrooms, schools and districts. Take advantage of those opportunities to collaborate and build a network of resources to support your implementation. For administrators, "Trust your teachers." They are well-trained professionals with invaluable experience in the classroom. What does trust look like? Trust means stepping back to let teachers lead, listening actively, and being intentional about how you engage teachers in decision-making processes. Trusting teachers is not a hands-off process. The presence of trust does not mean an absence of care. Make sure your teachers are supported in their leadership roles. Find out what resources teachers need to be effective in their roles and ensure that teacher leaders are equipped with what they need.

What do you think is needed in order to expand teacher leadership opportunities and roles in schools? 

In order to expand leadership opportunities for teachers, there are a number of pieces that need to be present. First, teachers need time. The enormity and urgency of the tasks many teachers face on a daily basis often consumes a great deal of time. In order to truly provide teachers with opportunities to lead, the issue of how to reduce demands on teacher time needs to be one of the primary considerations. One way to do this would be through a hybrid model that reduces a teacher's overall teaching load. Although it would require additional strategic funding, the benefits of a hybrid model are clear. It would allow practicing teachers to stay in the classroom while also being a part of decision-making processes that affect the greater school community. Putting practicing teacher into leadership roles requires a mindset shift. Teaching and leadership should not be an either-or. Teachers need the opportunity to affect change outside of their classroom without having to leave the classroom.