What is Teacher Leadership? A Candid Conversation

Tch Laureate Team

Last April, a group of colleagues and I applied to the New York Teacher Leadership Summit (powered by Teach to Lead). It was billed as an opportunity to:

  • Develop the skills to design and advocate for a teacher-led initiative  
  • Network and build relationships with critical national thought partners    
  • Connect with teacher leaders and administrators from across the NY Metro region

Driven by our love for our south Bronx public middle and high school students, we aspired to improve our practice. To do so, we wanted more professional learning opportunities and a structure to help us share what we learned with each other. We submitted a proposal that would allow us to do just that. Our proposal was one of twenty selected from across New York State, and we were excited to join other teams working to create opportunities for teacher-led learning and leadership at their schools, in their districts, or across the state.

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Tch Podcast: 7 Ways to Innovate Your Professional Learning

The Big TentIt started with one idea on how to help support our National Board Certified Teachers. Four years later, we have at least seven ways we’re building teacher leadership in our district with the support of Teaching Channel and Teams. Click below to hear all about how we’re redefining professional learning via video and helping make #anewkindofPD.

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Break Away From Perfection

The Big Tent

As a new teacher, I’ve struggled in my classroom this last year. I’ve had lessons that don’t go as planned, students that I can’t seem to reach, and days where no matter how much I prepare, it doesn’t seem to be enough. I had this idea that I needed to be the “perfect” teacher. But let’s face it, there is not enough time to always be perfect, and perfect is boring.

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Big Ideas Need Big Spaces: Creating Room for Teacher Voice and Choice

Getting Better Together

The life of an instructional coach is a balancing act. On the one hand, you are still a teacher. You still plan lessons, they’re just called agendas. You still assess the effectiveness of your instruction, but now refer to the process as follow-up professional development sessions. On the other hand, you are a part of the instructional leadership team with the assistant principals and principal of the school. You have “crossed over” to the other side, to use teacher parlance.


This straddling of two perspectives can help you craft initiatives for great teaching that work for both teachers and the instructional leadership team. The beauty of this duality is that it allows teachers and leaders to work together to determine what the initiatives will be. The improvement of teaching is best realized when teachers are involved in the conversation, rather than summoned to the table. Here are four ways I’ve worked with teachers and administrators to create room for teacher voice and collaboration:

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Supporting Great Teaching: A Tangible Vision of Excellence

Getting Better Together
My first example of love was from my parents, which is probably true for most people. Their care and attention to my moral, spiritual, and physical development provided the template for what I hope to achieve with Laila and Joshua, my two children. In the space between the example that I saw and the habits I hope to repeat, learning took place. This relationship is essential to creating an infrastructure that allows great teaching to flow.

You must set a vision of excellence that is visible, practical, and impactful. For many, this vision requires an intentional shift. Throughout my work at Paul Laurence Dunbar Senior High School, it has become clear that there are three high-leverage actions that begin to facilitate this change: establishing common language and expectations, building a standards-based foundation, and maintaining a tight feedback loop. Here are some dos and don’ts to consider when engaging with each action:

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#TchLIVE: Professional Learning Over The Summer


What are your plans for the summer? The beach, visiting family in a faraway city, or backpacking in a national park? How about studying green energy in San Diego, going to Space Camp to study physics and astronomy, or updating your curriculum map with NGSS-aligned resources as you lie next to the pool?

If you’re an overachiever and the second set of options appeals to you, please attend the next #TchLive Twitter Chat on Thursday, May 19th, 4 p.m. PT/7 p.m. ET. Boeing Science Laureate Tom Jenkins and Teaching Channel’s NextGen Science Squad will be hosting the event.

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Saturday… Really!? Saturday?

Asking a teacher to do anything teaching related on a Saturday is just as terrifying as being at the wrong end of a firing squad. How can we do this and expect educators to attend? These thoughts, and many others, were racing through my head as I logged off the Skype call with the team planning an upcoming Teacher2Teacher Engag(ED) Exchange Event in Washington, D.C.

But you DID come out on a cold damp winter day. You came from within the city of Washington, from Maryland, and from Virginia. You traveled down from Philadelphia… and even from Mississippi. You came!

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Clear Out the Clutter in Professional Learning

The Big Tent #anewkindofpd

Though the world has changed and digital communication has become the norm, the postal system has valiantly carried on, and in the process has plagued my household for years. Don’t get me wrong, I love getting some mail — birthday cards, seasons greetings, W-2s. Each of these plays an important role in our lives and are best communicated in a tangible manner. But the rest of it, the endless credit applications, coupon flyers, alumni donation requests, are often overwhelming and nearly always ineffective. As we attempted to develop a system for dealing with the onslaught of mail at home, I couldn’t help but notice the parallels to my work life.

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Supporting Great Teaching: Overcoming Obstacles

Getting Better Together

You cannot have great teaching without great teachers. Any education reform that seek to separate one from the other by means of technological advancements, all-in-one assessment systems, or overloading effective teachers, will have long-term, massive consequences. Although we can engage students with devices, tablets, and modules, they make real connections to human beings. To teachers. The human dynamic in teaching is vital, and the connection between students and teachers is a powerful and important bond.

However, in establishing systems to support great teaching and great teachers, the human element may cause the most difficulty. Teachers are humans first, which means they have emotions, pressures, and realities that can’t be hidden away, even from a dynamic principal (or instructional coach) who’s implementing a new initiative. One of the lessons I’ve learned as an instructional coach is that you have to be able to work effectively with a range of personalities and experiences in order to create a system that supports and unleashes great teaching. This is tough! Through my work as a teacher, I’ve seen three obstacles that can slow or stop the creation of this system: empathy, followup, and assessment. These obstacles will serve as running themes throughout my getting better together journey this year.

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Adjusting Our ELL Course: Watch Out for the Curves!

The Big TentThe Yakima School District embarked on an adventure in August of the 2015-2016 school year. We began a cohort of teachers who wanted to learn how to use video to improve their instruction of English Language Learners. Like most adventures in education, this looked like a relatively straight road. We soon found out that it was filled with crazy bends, steep climbs, rapid descents, and radical hairpin turns.

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