Real change can occur in our schools only when teachers take the lead.

Within all school systems there are classrooms that are hidden islands of excellence and innovation. The teachers in these rooms are potential leaders and change agents. Between us, we have over 50 years of experience working as teacher leaders in very diverse settings, including one of the toughest districts in the nation. Our experiences have taught us how to nurture and develop teacher leadership from the ground up. When it comes to leadership and on-the-ground experience, we have full tool bags--but also a wide-open perspective on leveraging the existent expertise in all schools.

Why Teacher Leadership Matters

We run into trouble when we try to tell someone else what to do, especially when it is a colleague, a person whose job title and responsibilities are equivalent to our own. Although we have innovative and effective ideas to share, the egalitarian nature of teaching makes us fearful of speaking up--and can make those on the receiving end of our insights suspicious or affronted.

This does not mean isolation or complete autonomy are healthy. Only that the "egg crate" school, with teachers working alone in their classrooms, has become an ineffective, even destructive, model. None of this is news to teachers.

We need to find a balance, a place where cooperation is seen as a positive thing, where we understand the benefits we get when we develop mutual goals and pull together as a team. Our belief: This is the golden essence of effective teacher leadership, and the reason why it is so important for real school change.

If teachers create collaborative communities, where every voice is valued, and commit to the highest goal-- helping our students succeed--then it is not about telling one another what to do. It is about learning from one another and collectively figuring out the direction we are all going to take, together.

When direction comes from a hierarchal leadership model, the level of cooperation is highly variable--even when the program or goals are good. The most powerful cooperation comes from real bonding between the individuals in a community, and an awareness of mutual responsibility toward goals. We do not want to let each other down. If something is difficult, we do not mind making that sacrifice when we see our colleagues with their shoulders to the same wheel.

This commitment to pulling the best out of all teachers, and constantly reinforcing our mutual goals, is our framework for custom-tailoring professional learning experiences and communities.

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