By Ceri Dean, CO ASCD Board Member
This month, we continue our dialog with Colorado teacher leaders about their views on teacher leadership.
There are several paths to becoming and growing as a teacher leader. In past blogs, we have featured interviews with the executive director of Colorado Teach Plus and two Colorado Teachers of the Year. In this month’s Teacher Leadership blog, we feature Shane Saeed, an instructional coach in St. Vrain Valley School District and a newly designated ASCD Emerging Leader. The Emerging Leader program recognizes educators who have been in the profession for 5-15 years and provides them with networking and learning opportunities to grow as education leaders. I recently interviewed Shane about her journey as a teacher leader. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why did you decide to apply for the Emerging Leader program?
It was at the advice of my doctoral advisor, Scott McLeod. I've been working with him through my administration license and principal licensure, and then also in my doctorate program. He said, "Hey, I'd like to nominate you for this. What do you think?"
Is there a professional learning community for the Emerging Leaders?
There is. We have one monthly meeting and it’s a great way to reconnect, see what's happening in ASCD, and how can we get involved. ASCD has refocused the program to support our own learning - what we would like to work on as leaders within education? Is it professional learning, professional presentations, advocacy, book writing? They’ve tried to tailor it to ensure that we have mentors in the areas that we are trying to grow ourselves. I'm currently in Jessica Holloway's area of expertise of professional learning. It melds very well with my job as a learning coach here in St. Vrain Valley schools, as well as my commitment to being a professional lifelong learner.
Being able to have a vast network of educators who you can reach out to, call for advice, or content expertise is huge. That’s not to say that the districts that we work in aren't plentiful with those, but it's also nice to have people that are outside that might have a different perspective and a different lens.
Is there an aspect of professional learning that you'd like to focus on as an Emerging Leader?
The art of professional presentations is always a focus. It’s just like a teacher teaching a lesson in the classroom. You're always trying to find the best instructional practices to engage your learners, and it's the same thing with adult learners. What are the best practices to utilize to ensure that you have high engagement and high retention during the presentation, and that after the presentation you're also getting a higher level of transfer into practice because you've embedded ways for teachers to experience the theory or you’ve given them ways to work with their peers or with a coach to embed that practice or implement that practice into what they're doing in the classroom.
How do you think being an Emerging Leader will allow you to amplify your voice in the state or across the nation?
I think it comes down to that networking and connecting with other Emerging Leaders. My advisor connected me with Krista Leh, who read a book that I wrote and then asked me to be on her Social Emotional Learning in EDU podcast. It’s just all of these ways that we have ripples and impact on the world. And a lot of that tends to be, who else do we know that is invested in our work, that wants to share it out with us? We can be sharing our work as loudly as we can individually, but having partnerships who share out as well has been really powerful.
How do you think students in your district have or will benefit from your role as an Emerging Leader?
Well, my hope is that through this process of being an Emerging Leader I'm going to be able to bring better professional learning to St. Vrain Valley schools. A part of that is another instructional coach and I just relaunched our Vrain Waves podcast. In the past, it was very popular, especially with teachers in our district. The podcast was bite-sized professional development that featured the giants of education - educators like Dr. Caitlin Tucker and Zaretta Hammond, who we're hoping to get back here soon, and Joe Feldman (author of Grading for Equity) and Kim Scott – talking about the theory of their work. The relaunch of the podcast will still bring in the giants of education and add a mini podcast episode – we’re calling it Mini Waves – that follows up the giant with the perspective of teacher practitioners in the classroom.
A lot of those teachers will be from our district, but some of them will be from outside the district, from my personal network, either from Emerging Leaders or from those that I've connected with through my professional learning network on social media. We’re bringing teachers on to talk about how to make the transfer from theory to practice. The teachers will talk about how the theory looks in the classroom and how they are actually implementing it. The hope is to bring more expertise, more content knowledge, and more people to the educators here in St. Vrain to bolster their instructional practices and impact student outcomes.
How long are the podcast with education giants and the mini podcast? Is the podcast available to everyone?
The podcast with education giants is 30-60 minutes and the mini podcast is 30 minutes. Both are available on Apple Podcasts. The goal is to have at least one podcast per month. We’re picking up where the previous podcast series left off. Look for season five which starts at episode 61. We have two episodes and a third one being edited to send out soon.
One of our key ideas about teacher leadership is that you don’t have to leave the classroom to be a leader. Do you think it is important to provide teachers with opportunities to lead from the classroom?
Definitely. That's where I got started. As a 4th grade teacher, I was working toward my principal licensure, so I sought out leadership opportunities in my school. It helped that I had three other coworkers that were going through the same program, and it was nice to have other teacher leaders who wanted to run all of the committees together. I was a co-coordinator of the MTSS program at our school. Over the course of three years, the two other co-coordinators and I completely revamped our MTSS system and rolled it back out to staff and received a lot of positive feedback.
Part of that work was not only planning the how the system would function, but also providing professional development to the staff on how the system worked and around shifting the mindset of what MTSS is. We also realized that we needed to be more data driven, so when my principal wanted us to look into professional learning communities, using the DuFour “Learning by Doing” framework, I joined that committee. We did a book study, rolled out professional development, and did a lot of modeling within grade level meetings to ensure that we were having data driven discussions. Being a leader in that process was huge. It gave me not only a sense of belonging within the general community, but also a sense of accomplishment knowing that we were doing what was right for kids.
In addition, through my involvement as a leader in these committees, my administrators saw me as a leader and valued my opinion. When my team had feedback about a decision made by administration, I was the one who would walk into the administrator’s office and say, "Can we sit down and have a conversation?" I spearheaded those two big committees from the classroom and made a huge impact schoolwide. That was very exciting!
What moved you into the position where you are now?
Through my principal licensure program, one of the things that I noticed was that shifting adult values and perspectives is a lot more difficult than teaching kids. I felt that instructional coaching was my step toward being the best building administrator I could be. In my doctoral program, the best leaders we read about are instructional leaders. I’m focusing on how I am using my instructional prowess to support the needs of teachers within the classroom. This step into a coaching role is helping me hone my skills for working with adults and supporting them in the best way possible.
When you're creating leadership opportunities for teachers, what do you think is most important to keep in sight?
I think it's a multi-pronged approach. One, you want to pick teachers to lead in something that they're passionate about so that it doesn't become extra work or an extra job, but it is something that they actually want to drive. And then encouraging the consistent professional learning that goes along with that professional drive. If we don't continue to learn we stay stagnant, and when we're stagnant we're not innovating or meeting the needs as we see them. Third, is the mindset piece – you’re excited about it, you’re continuing to learn about it, and now let’s ensure you have a solution-based approach rather than becoming frustrated with potential barriers.
When you were emerging as a teacher leader, you had a passion or saw something that you wanted to do. What do you think encourages teachers to take that first step to becoming a teacher leader?
I think it starts with professional learning. How do we engage teachers in potential leadership opportunities and how do we make it exciting for them? If you want to have a wonderful leadership team but you are not able to hand-pick the people you want, think about how you are marketing the opportunity to make it enticing for people to participate.
Sometimes teachers are reluctant to take leadership positions. They either don't see themselves as a leader or they're afraid that if they do that, their colleagues will view them in a different way. Do you think that's true?
Unfortunately, and that's because I experienced it. I heard Patrice Bain, the author of Powerful Teaching, speak at a symposium a few years ago and she talked about the tall poppies can sometimes feel alone. All the poppies are happy when they’re the same size. But as soon as you become a tall poppy rising above, sometimes you are looked at or perceived differently. If you are a tall poppy, the idea is to go and find other tall poppies. Jennifer Gonzalez from the Cult of Pedagogy uses the same metaphor with marigolds. I try hard to surround myself with tall poppies, with marigolds, and frame the work that I’m doing not in terms of the power that I hold, but in terms of the impact it has on students.
What can principals, district leaders, or professional organizations do to encourage teachers to develop as leaders?
Sometimes it's just as small as noticing the things that they're doing well and consistently pointing them out, so that their self-efficacy grows in terms of, "Oh, I am doing well, I know it." As teachers, we are our own toughest critics, especially in the classroom. Having someone consistently point out that they're doing some really great work gives teachers their power and efficacy back. There are so many great things that educators are doing, and they don't even realize how incredible they are until those things are pointed out.