By Sarah Yost and Josh Rhodes
A few weeks ago, we had the incredible opportunity to attend the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers (ECET2) conference in San Diego. We connected with other teacher leaders from around the country and were excited by the good work being done in Kentucky and across the nation.
There is still work ahead of us to ensure all students achieve at high levels. As we push forward with that mission, we must create opportunities to elevate and celebrate teachers and support our colleagues along the way.
As teacher leaders, we may often feel overwhelmed by the amount of work to be done to ensure all our students receive the most engaging and empowering learning experiences. Coaching and leading can be particularly taxing, especially while we remain in the classroom working hard daily to inspire the students on our rosters. There are challenges at all levels that sometimes threaten our optimism and hope.
Yet both our optimism and hope are critical to achieving great public schools that meet the needs of all students, and are worth fighting to hang on to. When the going gets tough, re-energize your colleagues and yourself using the following strategies.
How many of our teacher leaders get recognized by administration or district leaders when they are a part of a convening, leadership group or fellowship that is driving the profession and student learning in a positive manner? You can lead by example by sending a simple handwritten note or congratulatory email. These small steps can go a long way toward validating teachers’ leadership and hard work.
For some who don’t like a big “to do” at a staff meeting or in a school newsletter, a simple note can privately elevate and celebrate a colleague. Recently, Josh received a letter from his assistant superintendent regarding a district initiative for which he was selected. He felt recognized and accomplished, without feeling embarrassed to be in the spotlight.
Recognition from an administrator or district leader is flattering and appreciated. Recognition from a coworker can be equally invigorating. Our peers see us in action with our students each day.
At Wilder Elementary (Jefferson County), we have Apple Awards. Teachers receive a simple apple trophy, but the message is clear: you have done something in the school that stood out and your peers want to recognize it. Once a month, a current Apple Award winner stands up and recognizes one staff member for either an outstanding one-time accomplishment or a year-long deed. He or she announces the new winner and states why they are passing the Apple Award on to that person. Think of it as a “Shout Out!” to a co-worker.
Likewise, at Westport Middle (Jefferson County), our principal sends out a Staff Member of the Month survey. In addition to voting, staff have the opportunity to write kind, worthwhile messages about the nominated individual. Our principal reads the anonymous messages aloud at monthly faculty meetings. This can not only build positive culture in a building, but it also provides a way to provide meaningful peer-to-peer recognition.
Time is the most valuable commodity inside of a school day. When administrators or teacher leaders find ways to give extra time to other teachers, it feels like a reward in itself.
When release time is well planned and expectations are clear, teachers can gain so much. Many schools use release time for data analysis, analyzing student work or peer observations. Some schools have even found ways to release teachers from the classroom part time and allow for hybrid teacher leadership opportunities that are key for bridging the gap between administration and teachers.
While creating hybrid teacher leadership roles takes a lot of careful planning and creative funding, there are other ideas that could be implemented immediately without schedule changes or extra school funds. Consider the following:
- Observe a teacher during your planning period and have the favor returned at a later time.
- Offer to complete clerical duties during your planning time during a busy stretch for a team teacher. A day will come when you are swamped and need extra hands.
- Grade common assessments or analyze student work with your professional learning community.
- Put lesson plans in Google Drive and exchange feedback to grade level or subject area teachers.
Advocacy can take many forms. It can be as simple as speaking up for the teaching profession and verbally lifting up the teaching career. When we hear negative generalizations about teachers or public schools, we can advocate for our students by respectfully reframing the conversation and not staying silent.
Kentucky is a national leader in education and our students have been making great gains in the past several years. We have much to be proud of as Kentucky teachers, and should not be afraid to share that excitement and positive message.
As mentioned above, teaching is an enormous job that can sometimes feel overwhelming or exhausting, especially for teacher leaders who take on more than is asked of them. As much as we love teaching and appreciate the immeasurable rewards of helping young people realize their full potential or overcome barriers, we all get tired.
If you feel disconnected or uninspired, attend Kentucky Writing Project conferences or apply for the Summer Institute and learn how to use the written word to advocate for great public schools.
You don’t have to go it alone! Work to build professional learning networks through conferences or social media. There is a vibrant professional community on Twitter advocating, collaborating, celebrating and elevating teachers and teaching right now. Join the conversation by following any and every education group and educator, as well as hashtags like #KyEdChat and #JCPSChat.
As you make strides to join other teacher leaders, get involved and affect positive change, invite your colleagues to join you. When we lift each other up, we elevate the teaching profession as a whole. These efforts can only prove to empower teachers to improve their practice and ultimately reach more students. Join teacher leaders today and let your voice be heard.
Sarah Yost is a National Board certified teacher who serves as the University of Louisville Teacher In Residence at Westport Middle School (Jefferson County). She is in her eleventh year teaching and has participated in many teacher leadership networks, including Hope Street Group, JCPSForward, Center For Teaching Quality, Louisville Writing Project and Teach Kentucky.
Josh Rhodes teaches 4th grade at Wilder Elementary (Jefferson County) and is a founding member of the JCPSForward initiative, which is designed to create a system-wide professional learning culture. He is also an active member of the Next Generation Instructional Design cohort and the JCPSVoice learning community.