I just finished another great read for teachers called Teaching as Leadership. I wanted to read this book because I firmly believe that what’s missing from the education system here in America is empowering teachers as school leaders. After all, teachers represent the greatest opportunity to affect meaningful change in closing the achievement gap. That’s the idea this book explores.
The book tackles important topics and serves as a nice refresher for teachers like me who’ve been in the classroom for a few years. I like the organization of the book because it’s broken down into six easy chapter that each outline one major component of being a classroom leader.
For me, there were two important topics that I think separate good teachers from the best teachers. Those are 1) plan purposefully and 2) continuously increase effectiveness. All teachers learn these things as they go through their schooling and student teaching experience, but something I’m noticing now in the classroom is how few teachers actually work to grow and develop those skills.
When it comes to planning purposefully, I was terrible at this my first few years of teaching. Curriculum, such as textbooks and workbooks, represents just a guide for teachers and is not the actual delivery. Teachers have to craft lessons by planning strategically to accomplish the goals of the curriculum. I understand this a lot better now but I have revised and improved my lessons for five years now. This is a never-ending process because every year there are new students with different needs, abilities, and motivations. So many teachers I know reuse the same lessons year after year without taking these things into account. To truly close the achievement gap, we need teachers who plan purposefully according to their students.
After the planning, execution is the next important step. Here is where I want to highlight the biggest difference between a good teacher and an outstanding one. The book’s author, Steven Farr, makes the comparison that teachers should be “social scientists.” What he means is that teachers must be vigilant observers of student behavior and how their lessons are working. As scientists, teachers should be experimenting, tracking data, and modifying their instruction. There are so many variables that teachers must account for that the work of the social scientist never ends. Every year I overhaul my teaching by evaluating how well my “systems”–from homework to classroom management to instructional strategies–are working. Many teachers, however, get complacent in this and stop examining how effective their teaching actually is for their students and instead put on the same show year after year.
After reading this book, I had two thoughts on improving teacher quality that leads to leadership capable of closing the achievement gap. First, I think teachers should be trained as social scientists. Teachers must learn how to identify variables in their classroom, tweak various inputs, and monitor the outputs to increase the effectiveness of their instruction. I think this is a fun part of the job, but the uncertainty of trying new things scares away many teachers from taking risks that could ultimately help their students. Secondly, I think schools should incentive teacher leaders to share their best practices and lead other school initiatives. Teachers have first-hand knowledge of the students and could serve in meaningful ways on various committees and projects. Currently, though, this comes from generous teachers giving up their free time and earning no extra pay to do so. I believe results would change if these positions were earned and rewarded so that teachers wanted to become not only leaders, but also necessary change agents.
Overall, Teaching as Leadership is a great book for all teachers serious about their craft and closing the achievement gap. I appreciated the viewpoint and refreshing reminders about what I need to do every day in my classroom.