Teacher Leadership in the COVID Era
by Ceri Dean, CO ASCD Board Member
The purpose of the Teachers as Leaders blog is to promote understanding and advocacy for teacher leadership, which is at the core of CO ASCD’s vision and mission.
This blog is based on the second part of a conversation about teacher leadership that I had with Mark Sass, Colorado Executive Director for Teach Plus. During this part of the conversation, we focused on teacher leadership in the current education environment, which has been significantly affected by all that surrounds COVID. The good news is there are some opportunities despite the challenges!
“Go for it.”
I asked Mark whether the pandemic has supported teacher leadership or called it into question. He explained that during the 2020-2021 school year, much of what was happening with schooling was new for everyone. When teachers told administrators they had an idea they wanted to try, administrators said, “Go for it.” They gave teachers space to try new approaches and empowered them to be innovative. Mark acknowledged that it’s not always easy for teachers to step up with new ideas that they think will solve problems with teaching and learning, but he added that stepping up can be empowering if done appropriately. That means framing the problem and offering a solution that is based on professionalism and includes specific actions.
“Don’t let the pandemic go to waste.”
Teachers have been the “boots on the education ground” during the pandemic, with the location of that ground shifting from in-person, to remote, to hybrid multiple times. Mark hopes that teachers will be able to exercise their leadership and help the system reap what they learned from these experiences. Without opportunities for teachers to share their learning, Mark predicts that we’ll fall back on the old ways of making decisions that affect curriculum and instruction with little, if any, teacher input. When accountability and agency do not go hand in hand, opportunities to improve teaching and learning are lost. If we do not want to waste the lessons of the pandemic, or the lessons of any year in education, teachers need to be willing and able to share what they learn.
“I’m happy to show you the things we are doing.”
The current education climate is marked by public scrutiny of the curriculum and teacher practice. In Mark’s opinion exercising teacher leadership in this environment includes being open and transparent with parents and the community about what, why, and how one teaches. Teachers can’t simply say, “Trust me, I know what I’m doing.” By being transparent about their practice, teachers build trust and recognition that they are professionals who make decisions based on a certain code of practices – for example, the use of research and evidence.
The pandemic presented opportunities for teachers to interact with parents more collaboratively, with each sharing strategies that might work based on what each knows about their students. Such collaboration, another aspect of teacher leadership, also makes it easier for parents to trust that teachers know what they are doing.
As has been said so often during the pandemic, “It’s an unprecedented time.” Whether stepping up to propose new ideas, being more transparent about teaching practice, or collaborating with parents to help students succeed, demonstrating teacher leadership during this time is both possible and necessary.
I welcome your comments and insights about what was learned about teacher leadership during the pandemic. Do you think it provides more or fewer opportunities for teacher leadership? What do these opportunities or barriers look like in your district? How is the pandemic changing your view of teacher leadership?
I hope you’ll visit the Teachers as Leaders blog regularly for more information about teacher leadership.
If you’re ready to demonstrate your knowledge and skills as a teacher leader, check out CO ASCD’s teacher leadership microcredentials.