Teach to Lead: From Rubber Stamps to Voice and Vision

Panelists at Teaching and Learning

Panelists from left to right: Secretary Duncan, Maddie Fennell, Omari James, Kim Ursetta, Sarah Brown Wessling and James Liou.

“That was inspiring; I’m walking away giving myself permission to lead,” said Alan Chen, a teacher from L.A. Alan had just heard Secretary Duncan’s remarks and panel discussion with teachers at the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) Teaching and Learning Conference.

In the midst of discussing the tremendous changes now under way in American classrooms, Secretary Duncan announced that over the next year, he and Ron Thorpe, NBPTS President and CEO, will co-convene a new initiative called “Teach to Lead,” or T2L. The initiative will foster ambitious commitments on authentic opportunities for teachers to take up leadership roles without leaving the classroom. The goal is to ensure that when important decisions are being made about the work teachers do, they are there to help set the direction for their classrooms, schools, the profession, and ultimately ensure students have the best opportunities to learn.

The Secretary explicitly identified a few things teacher leadership is not (managing projects and initiatives in which you had no say; rubber stamping ideas that have already been decided) and also what it could be (hybrid roles that involve vision and voice). However, Secretary Duncan said, “Ultimately, it’ll be up to all the folks involved to define what powerful, ambitious commitments look like – this effort must be shaped by teachers.”

Teach to Lead will entail a series of meetings that engage teachers, principals, state chiefs, teachers’ groups and district leaders. In the course of the year, participants will commit to acting on the steps necessary to create more opportunities for teacher leadership in the field. The Secretary and President Thorpe will then report back on the commitments and activities from this diverse group at next year’s NBPTS meeting.

Secretary Duncan also promised ED’s support: “I am asking our team to make supporting teacher leadership a focus in all relevant funds, and to make sure we can build authentic teacher leadership into everything we do. We will also get information to states and districts about how those funds can be used to support teacher leaders.”

The foundation has already been laid for this work. In 2012 ED released the Blueprint for RESPECT, which was informed by input from thousands of educators and calls for strengthening and elevating the teaching profession in the United States. Importantly, rather than envisioning this teacher leadership as requiring teachers to leave their classrooms, RESPECT calls for career pathways so teachers can lead from their classrooms.

The U.S. Department of Education and NBPTS are currently working out a process for participation that will engage national organizations and educators across the country. More information, and video of the speech, will be posted on this blog when available.

While I am excited about this initiative, it alone cannot create cultures and structures that support teachers leading our profession in all schools. We, as teachers, must give ourselves permission to lead and we must encourage our colleagues to join us. This idea struck a chord for me personally. I had always challenged my students to seek out ways that they could change the world, but realized that I had restricted my own leadership to the classroom. And while there is much to be done in the classroom, for teachers to truly step into their roles as leaders, we must also look beyond our classrooms and participate in larger education debates in our schools, districts, states and nation.

Lisa Clarke is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow and social studies teacher on loan from Kent, Washington.

15 Comments

  1. I am thrilled to see the RESPECT Project become more of an action plan than a pipe dream. This T2L is proof to me that the U.S. Department of Ed and all who work there are truly committed to elevating the teaching profession. I am glad to see Arne specifically say this will not be another case where teacher voice is just the parsley on the plate. Meaningful leadership opportunities for teachers who, like myself, do not want to stop working with children but want to help make the best decisions that will impact student learning and career satisfaction. The two should be forged together as they will propel each other forward.

  2. Hi Nancy,

    Thank you for your enthusiasm about T2L! If you would like to be put on a list of educators that will help drive this work and receive updates on our progress, please complete the following survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/TeachtoLead

    We are still in the planning stages of this initiative with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards so stay tuned for more information. In the meantime, you can find blogs, videos and the latest information about T2L on the National Board’s website: http://www.nbpts.org/teach-lead

  3. I am a high school principal here in Puerto Rico. How can my school participate in this program?

    • Hi Charlene,

      Thank you for your interest in T2L! If you would like to be put on a list of organizations that will help drive this work and receive updates on our progress, please complete the following survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/TeachtoLeadOrgs

      We are still in the planning stages of this initiative with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards so stay tuned for more information. In the meantime, you can find blogs, videos and the latest information about T2L on the National Board’s website: http://www.nbpts.org/teach-lead

  4. I am tremendously excited about this initiative! I pursued National Board Certification because I wanted to be a better teacher – I wanted to continue to hone my craft. I also wanted the opportunity to be an instructional leader among my peers. However, I have found that there has been little opportunity to do so, without leaving the classroom and students that I love. I will complete my 20th year of teaching next year, and don’t plan on retiring for at least 15 or 20 more years. The first part of my career has been spent acquiring skills and competencies – and while I will never stop learning, I would like the second half of my career to be in service to the teaching profession. I would welcome and honor the opportunity to serve in a leadership role.

    • Hi Amy,

      Thank you for your enthusiasm about T2L! If you would like to be put on a list of educators that will help drive this work and receive updates on our progress, please complete the following survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/TeachtoLead

      We are still in the planning stages of this initiative with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards so stay tuned for more information. In the meantime, you can find blogs, videos and the latest information about T2L on the National Board’s website: http://www.nbpts.org/teach-lead

  5. I’ll believe when I see it. Putting into practice what has been proclaimed about this initiative is something I would most certainly like to see and of which I would like to be a part. We need strong, forward thinking, ground breaking leadership that will revolutionize teaching and teacher roles in education.

  6. I am very excited about this initiative- this seems to be a movement in many places – teacher leadership roles. I, too want to know how to possibly become involved? Where do we get more information?

    • Hi Krissy,

      Thank you for your enthusiasm about T2L! If you would like to be put on a list of educators that will help drive this work and receive updates on our progress, please complete the following survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/TeachtoLead

      We are still in the planning stages of this initiative with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards so stay tuned for more information. In the meantime, you can find blogs, videos and the latest information about T2L on the National Board’s website: http://www.nbpts.org/teach-lead

  7. “The initiative will foster ambitious commitments on authentic opportunities for teachers to take up leadership roles without leaving the classroom,” Very good idea, but how will this happen? How will teachers become leaders without leaving their classrooms?

  8. As a Nationally Certified teacher with 41 years of teaching expereince, I would be very interested to become part of this new intitiative. How can I become involved?

    • Hi Donna,

      Thank you for your enthusiasm about T2L! If you would like to be put on a list of educators that will help drive this work and receive updates on our progress, please complete the following survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/TeachtoLead

      We are still in the planning stages of this initiative with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards so stay tuned for more information. In the meantime, you can find blogs, videos and the latest information about T2L on the National Board’s website: http://www.nbpts.org/teach-lead

  9. I’ve been praying for and working toward this for 25 years. Thank you, Arne Duncan and Ron Thorpe! I hope there are opportunities for Southern rural school districts to participate in these committees. This is where there is the most resistance to teachers taking leadership roles. We know that without teacher leadership, there will be no change in the status quo. Unfortunately, many districts are satisfied with the status quo as long as the decisions continue to be made from the top down.

    • Hi Nancy,

      Thank you for your enthusiasm about T2L! If you would like to be put on a list of educators that will help drive this work and receive updates on our progress, please complete the following survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/TeachtoLead

      We are still in the planning stages of this initiative with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards so stay tuned for more information. In the meantime, you can find blogs, videos and the latest information about T2L on the National Board’s website: http://www.nbpts.org/teach-lead

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