Monday, April 28, 2014

The Redundancy of "Teacher Leader"

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Designating a teacher as a "teacher leader" is sort of like calling something a "final completion" or that you'll "repeat the directions again." There has been plenty of talk about empowering teachers with the tools they need to implement the new standards and boost student achievement. What a fabulous idea!


In fact, we should have been doing this all along. We know that leadership takes time and intense discipline to develop, yet we expect teachers to effectively 'lead' their classrooms on limited prep time (let alone time for meaningful professional development). 




So it's interesting to me that these popped up in my article feed this morning:

Especially since Tony Klemmer references the 10,000 hour rule in his RealClearEducation post. 

Professional development in K-12 is relatively well-defined and is at least penciled in; whether or not it's effective is still a question, but it at least is recognized and has a space. In post-secondary, especially where I teach, there is much to be explored, to say the least. 

One challenge is that much of our professional development consists of, essentially, reaffirming to somebody that our classes are valid. This is a start; many of our instructors benefit from reminders about things like assessment and curriculum and standards. But the actual execution of assessment and curriculum and standards - and classroom management and instructional delivery and technology integration - is pretty much left unsupervised. Now, consider why and who our instructors are: for the most part, ours are alumni and were excellent students themselves who did well in their trade, and love that trade so much that they want to impart that passion on to the next generation. In other words, our instructors are experts in their trade, no necessarily teaching. In general, they possess a leadership characteristic that has driven them to a classroom; but what happens when we don't sharpen those skills on a fundamental level? 

This leads to the second challenge. The Inside Higher Ed article cites a study suggesting that students' perceptions of a field is highly correlated with their experiences with faculty. So, our challenge becomes this: an information superhighway between instructor and student. It may not matter how subject-matter smart an instructor is if he/she can't connect with a student, and at a level that downright requires training, guidance, feedback, and adaptation. 

Both of these connect with the 10,000 hour article. Author Maria Popova states that:

The secret to continued improvement, it turns out, isn’t the amount of time invested but the quality of that time. It sounds simple and obvious enough, and yet so much of both our formal education and the informal ways in which we go about pursuing success in skill-based fields is built around the premise of sheer time investment. Instead, the factor Ericsson and other psychologists have identified as the main predictor of success is deliberate practice — persistent training to which you give your full concentration rather than just your time, often guided by a skilled expert, coach, or mentor. It’s a qualitative difference in how you pay attention, not a quantitative measure of clocking in the hours. [emphasis mine]

Very often, teachers are leaders by their very nature, and so it may be difficult for us to admit that we need guidance, or that our practice needs evolution and constant priming. Or, maybe it's just one less thing we need to give mental attention to, or fit on our schedule. But - especially since we are leaders - teachers need to take more control of this vital part of the profession, and in a big way in post-secondary. The first step is in defining "leadership" not as a role, but as a characteristic. We can start using leadership skills in most facets of life - a conversation with a co-worker or friend, an interaction with our spouses and children - at any time we're exchanging information. Only then will we understand the need, and be brave enough to creative the tools we need to address it. 




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