teacher leadership Archives - The Jose Vilson

teacher leadership

Arne Duncan

Arne Duncan

Nancy Flanagan’s recent post on teacher leadership finally gave me the push to dive into my experience in Washington, D.C., where Dr. Jill Biden and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan hosted us.

The function was part of the White House’s new initiative, White House Social, a series of events for people who engage with the White House on social media. Of course, my social media presence helped a bit in their decision, despite my obviously socialist points of view (are they obvious?) and outwardly passionate demeanor. Anyone who’s read my work knows what I’m about, so I was curious when I got the invite, and accepted immediately.

Even though I slept about three hours between my book release after-party on Tuesday and hoping on the 5:30am train the next morning, I felt I had to be there. Admittedly, I understood that I wouldn’t just be representing myself, but the 2-3% of the male teachers of color in the nation, and I took that responsibility super-seriously. Representing the hundreds of us isn’t a burden / opportunity that I needed to take on, but, as with most things, I knew better than to listen and not engage in substantive policy talk.

After a quick tour of the White House (and an even briefer appearance by the President as he jumped on a helicopter to Arkansas to observe the tornado relief efforts), we were asked to meet in VP Joe Biden’s office. The rustic feel of the office felt super-comfortable. A few of us sat in his seat. When it was my turn, I engaged the other reasons from his seat.

It was all fun and games until I noticed everyone stand up. I didn’t know what was going on. Then I heard, “It’s cool. Stay right there.” It was Arne Duncan. We shook hands, and I said, “Well, we have a person of color at the president’s seat. It looks like we could use one at the VP desk, too.” He smiled and nodded to it.

After he sat, one of our hosts read off stats about the current state of US education. Rising graduation rates, Common Core, and the elevation of early childhood education were the key points of success. In my mind, I also started to go over the list of failures on the part of his administration: the inflation in class size, the thousands of school closures and teacher layoffs, the over-emphasis on testing and the capitulation of the department’s agenda to wealthy education reformers. But I preferred to hear him out, because I’m a classy guy.

Rather than ask him about things I knew (and that he’d duck), I asked him about the RESPECT initiative and the lack of diversity amongst educators, and how we can improve that. His answers:

  1. The department still goes through its daily proceedings with the RESPECT initiative in mind. Because of politics, they can’t get around to raising teachers’ pay across the nation, but they’re also trying to find ways to raise the prestige of the profession, too. He noted that, in other countries, they don’t pay significantly higher than in the US, but in high performing countries, only 1 in 10 teaching candidates get chosen for the classroom.
  2. This was a frustrating issue for him. There are some initiatives like TEACH.org and others he highlighted that are trying to attract teachers of color, but it’s just a start. Also, he noted that there have been plenty of complaints about different programs and routes for recruiting teachers from different cultural backgrounds (assuming he’s talking about TFA), but there hasn’t been any one program that stands out more than any other.

He seemed a little more candid than usual, and responded to dissent by nodding and moving on. As I expected. After his Q&A and photo op with us (I quipped on Twitter how it was his honor to meet us), he made a quick comment to me about the need for more of me. I replied, “If you’re down, so am I.”

After a photo op and lunch with Dr. Jill Biden, I had a quick thought about the teachers I saw around. Despite their politics and vehement disagreements, they’re still teachers. As is always my stance, I would never judge a teacher for not using my tactics, not having my level of followers, or any of those other arbitrary measures to determine whether they’re “real.” I prefer to see them in the classroom, or at least have a conversation around pedagogy in their specific contexts.

I much prefer a great teacher who may not engage in political debates than a weak-and-not-trying-to-get-better teacher who voices a political opinion I agree with. The best politics in education is making sure our kids are learning. All this other stuff we do is secondary.

The other power in that room was knowing that there were teachers ready to lead the charge on this effort, not in the form of certificates, badges, and medals, but substantive decision-making and designing. If Duncan, etc. were truly invested in listening to our suggestions (and not simply through pre-determined venues) remains to be seen.

Even though he has about five inches on me, it felt good to meet Secretary Duncan eye-to-eye, not in deference, but as equal in importance. That’s the type of respect we ought to fight for.

Jose

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Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin

I wrote an epic post on Edutopia about transforming teacher leadership, especially for those just starting out. Here’s something you ought to know:

1. Know Your Stuff

My advice to any teacher leader, new or old: know what you’re talking about. Teachers respect leaders who have expertise and demonstrate confidence in that expertise. Having classroom experience goes a long way, but if our message doesn’t sound classroom-based or substantive, it won’t ring true to your colleagues. For instance, if you’re asked a question about the Common Core State Standards, you should know about the shifts in English, the practices in math or the integrations in science, even if you disagree with the standards. In other words, know your stuff. Nothing inspires confidence like reading up on important policy and having a good sense of how that applies to the classroom.

Read the rest here. Click. Comment. Share. Thanks!

Mr. Vilson

image is from here: http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Jm8FiwmPAkOfnuEtoqiD2A.aspx

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Emphasize The TEACHER In Teacher Leadership

by Jose Vilson on May 30, 2013

in Mr. Vilson

I wrote a little something here as a thought on teacher leadership. Check it at the Collaborateurs:

That’s why I ought to start capitalizing the word “teacher” in the phrase “teacher leader.” The term “teacher leader” is so ubiquitous, you can’t help but wonder if people even know what it actually means, or at least have characteristics in mind when they think of TEACHER leadership.

We can knock out a few instances of what’s not teacher leadership. It’s not hiring a person at a teacher’s salary and giving them a position or a name. It’s not giving a person only a couple of years to teach before they’re walking around telling teachers what to do. It’s definitely not seeking to get famous for a few opinions.

For more, read here. Share. Comment, too. Thanks!

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The Dark Side of Teacher Leadership [Future of Teaching]

February 26, 2013 Mr. Vilson

I’m usually a fan of teacher leadership, but sometimes, it makes me nervous. Observe: I wonder if teachers who are deemed teacher leaders understand why so many of us put teacher in front of leader when speaking in front of teacher leadership. This falls on some of our colleagues too, who jump right into the […]

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Teach Others How To Lead, And Other Tips [Edutopia]

November 8, 2012 Mr. Vilson

An excerpt from my latest Edutopia article: Do: Teach Others How to Lead Everyone has expertise in some way, shape or form. Some teachers have great organizing skills (who doesn’t need this?!). Others understand how to put together curriculum materials. Still others have mastered building great teacher-student relationships. Rather than focus on deficiencies, we can […]

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