I once thought that if a teacher wanted to move up the career ladder, the only next step was to become a principal. I will even admit that one of the reasons I left teaching was because I did not feel like there were opportunities for me to grow in that role. If that was ever the case, it isn’t anymore. Teachers across our state are taking advantage of teacher leadership opportunities, growing in their profession, and making a difference in both practice and policy.
Last month, SCORE, in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Education, hosted a Teacher Leadership Summit, which brought together organizations and districts that are doing innovative work to develop teacher leaders, as well as some of those teacher leaders themselves. Knowing the value of teacher leaders, this group explored how to develop, support and leverage teacher leadership to drive and deepen instructional improvement aligned to the Tennessee State Standards and the TNReady Assessment across the state.
If I had known while I was teaching seventh-grade math what I learned at this summit, I might not have ever left the classroom. At this summit, we had the opportunity to learn about more than a dozen teacher leadership opportunities that are available in our state. School districts like Sumner County, Lincoln County, and Shelby County are creating systems where teachers can design and lead professional development, mentor other teachers, and serve as liaisons between teachers and administrators, all while remaining in the classroom. Organizations like SCORE, Hope Street Group, America Achieves, and the Center for Teaching Quality are engaging teachers with trainings on communications and advocacy and with briefings on policies and best practices.
While these efforts are impacting thousands of teachers – and students – across Tennessee, more can be done. After we learned about the opportunities that already exist, we rolled up our sleeves and started to explore how we could focus and expand that teacher leadership work so it can have the biggest impact. Small groups brainstormed what teacher leadership could look like on a broader scale. We did not try to come up with a silver bullet, but we did come up with a focus and incredible ideas.
We do not want to stop here, though. Expanding teacher leadership is an important tool for keeping great teachers in the classroom, where their work is crucial to helping us reach the goal of preparing all students to meet the challenges they will face after high school. We have a strong beginning with the many efforts under way in Tennessee to foster teacher leadership, and I am eager to continue to work with everyone who attended Teacher Leadership Summit to create even more opportunities for teachers to lead while they also teach.