What is Teachership?Read Now
The name of this podcast is Time for Teachership. But what is teachership? Today, we're diving into the scholarship and the practice behind this term.
Hi, I'm Lindsay Lyons and I love helping school communities envision bold possibilities, take brave action to make those dreams a reality and sustain an inclusive anti-racist culture, where all students thrive. I'm a former teacher leader, turned instructional coach, educational consultant and leadership scholar. If you're a leader in the education world, whether you're a principal, superintendent, instructional coach, or a classroom teacher, excited about school-wide change like I was, you are a leader. And if you enjoy nerding out about the latest educational books and podcasts, if you're committed to a lifelong journey of learning and growth, being the best version of yourself, you're going to love the Time for Teachership podcast. Let's dive in.
I'm so excited to talk to you today on this solo show about my dream for teachership. I use the word teachership in the podcast title, and I'd love to just comment a little bit on what that looks like and why it's a dream for me. So here is the dream. I think it would be great if all educational institutions had teachers along with other stakeholders (students, family members) have leadership roles in the school. And then also the leader roles like administrators in the school are deeply connected to what's going on in the classes in terms of class instruction and pedagogy and curriculum. So I get this from Steinbacher-Reed and Rotella who came up with this term “teachership.” This is not a term of my own making. They say, and this is a quote from them. I'll read their description.
“Teachership weaves exceptional, leading with exceptional teaching. It emerges when administrators engage in classroom based professional learning and exemplary teachers lead from within the classroom by working together to tackle the unique challenges of teaching and leading administrators and teachers can develop a deep level of understanding for other roles. The end result is administrators and teachers who work with one another to improve school culture, teaching practices, and student learning.”
That's the end of the quote, but I just wanted to share a little bit about what teachership actually means. And I love that it's this idea on the one hand that everyone can be leaders. Teachers are leaders, certainly in this space, all stakeholders can be leaders, but there's also this idea that people in formal positions of leadership, administrators, principals, assistant principals, instructional coaches, superintendents are also intimately connected to what is going on in the classroom. They're part of those coaching conversations. Part of defining what our curriculum and pedagogy should look like and really working closely with educators to help them achieve the dreams that they have for themselves. And they're able to articulate it for themselves.
Now, in terms of how we actually make this happen. I think it's great to have big dreams, but I always want to go through kind of a step-by-step what does this actually look like in practice so that it can be actionable for us. I pulled again from Steinbacher-Reed and Rotella's research in scholarship, and they talk about “professional sandboxes.” So they refer to professional sandboxes as these learning opportunities for teachers and administrators to develop this practice of teachership, here's a quote from them on these ideas of professional sandboxes and what they look like in practice.
They say, “Sandboxes are designed along a continuum of intensity, focusing on improving culture practice and learning. Professional sandboxes are a shift from traditional professional development activities towards intentional and systemic professional learning. No two professional sandboxes are the same yet. They all share the following key characteristics: [they’re] Intentional, Contextual, Sustainable, and Evidence-Based.”
So this idea of sandboxes that Steinbacher-Reed talks about here—this is a quote from her work actually in, in 2016—she talks about this idea of professional sandboxes to really say, we're not talking about a regular PD workshop here. A one-time I attended it, check the box kind of thing, where the binder of paper kind of lives in your desk or closet for years. And it doesn't really get translated into practice. That's not the kind of professional learning we're talking about. It's more intentional, she says, and also systemic. So when we think about those key characteristics, that it's intentional, that it's sustainable, which I think connects to that systemic piece, that it is contextual. So every person, every educator is going to need something different and unique. That is context dependent. It might be the grade that they teach or the content area that they teach, or just, you know, what is interesting to them or where they need to grow.
Everyone has different areas for growth. So that context is also really important there. The idea is that it should be evidence-based. It should be based on what we know from the research works for our kids. It shouldn't be this full-on innovation with no research backing, but it's kind of a blend of creativity, innovation, thinking outside the box and what works for each individual learner. We talk about personalized PD on the podcast, you know, what does that look like? But also how does that balance with what we know from the research base? What we know is rooted in educational evidence as we move into this episode, and we think about this context of teachership and professional sandboxes as a way to develop teachership and our school communities. Let's first dive into this idea of teachers as leaders in the field. Teachers, I think, have great potential to lead as they say “from their classroom.”
So this idea of teachers leading professional development in their own schools, I have had a lot of success as a teacher leader in that position where I was invited to lead numerous PDs at my own high school that I was teaching at. And I've also seen teachers present to me and, and received PD from other teachers, both in my school and outside of my school. That was some of the most powerful PD that I had ever experienced because it was specific to what I needed because I was often asked to sign up for it or let people know what I was interested in. And then I was connected with a person who could help me with that particular goal of mine. Often, this person was in a similar context, teaching a similar grade level, or just had similar ideas about pedagogy and what that could look like in the classroom.
These were incredibly helpful things for me in my experience. And I'd love to see them really flourish in other school communities. So inviting teachers to lead PD and encouraging teachers to attend PD led by other teachers. Another piece here where teacher-led PD really flourished both in, in my experience of delivering PD and facilitating it as well as my ability to, as I said, connect with teachers that were doing things that I wanted to do were conferences. So these conferences could be kind of those large paid-for conferences that we might think about when conferences first come to mind. But for me, I was luckily teaching at a high school that was part of a network, two different networks, actually that had really unique characteristics. One was focused on project-based learning and less standardized testing. And then another was specific to the population of students that we were teaching in our schools, but both of them led very specific context-based, very relevant, conferences that were inevitably, always led by teachers in the field from these other schools.
So conferences are a great way to highlight teacher successes to build up that kind of formalized sense of teacher leadership in the sense that you're sharing and facilitating and being really a thought partner with other teachers in the field, connecting with teachers and leaders in other spaces across school districts, states, countries, and a great way to, to hear other people's strategies and share your own. Also, engaging in PLCs (Professional Learning Communities). These could be formal in the sense that, you know, grade teams and department teams are often spaces where teachers can connect with one another and really be part of a weekly or monthly kind of regular ongoing conversation that's set up by the school. But it could also be that you find three colleagues at your school, or even, you know, three colleagues that are not part of your school community, but just people that, you know, maybe you went to school with them.
They're now teaching in different schools and you engage in ongoing meetings with them to talk about whatever it is you're interested in talking about. And it could be that you meet up with these folks from different schools to focus on a topic of interest. Maybe you're all interested in a particular tech tool or a particular book that you want to read and have kind of a book club about whatever it is engaging in that work together can be very powerful work. Another option is inviting teachers into your class to visit. Now this can work in a physical setting, but it could also work to pop into someone's Zoom classroom if you're remote or in kind of a hybrid situation, but inviting someone into your class and letting folks know you are interested in being a teacher leader in modeling something that they might be interested in trying, and also demonstrating that component of leadership that is so important of learning as leading and leading is learning.
So being able to go into someone else's space to learn from them and really modeling what that looks like for other teachers is a great form of teacher leadership. I would also add here that teachers are part of the school governance structure, which I talk a lot about, but this idea of shared leadership in a formal sense—Are teachers part of the decision-making process for the school? So we know from the research that organizations that embrace shared leadership structures in this formalized kind of decision-making, they see the better results for the school for organizations more broadly when we have diverse representation in the decision-making table. And also we know that people who feel supported in this sense, so teachers who are supported to be teacher leaders, they're more likely to work towards collective goals. So that idea of teacher buy-in around particular initiatives comes a lot easier when we invite and include teachers as part of how leadership functions at the school.
Now let's look at the flip side of this. So the other piece of this is administrators being aware of and being connected to what is happening in classes. I mentioned this, some of these ideas briefly at the start of the episode, but when we think about the ways that administrators can coach teachers, they can take a formalized coaching role, or it can be something a little bit less regular or less formalized, but this idea of consistently providing feedback. So when you receive feedback from a formal administrator, be it your principal, assistant principal, instructional coach, I'm probably talking more about the first two in this regard, but this idea that you don't get feedback until you get your year-end review or your formal observation, is just not helpful in terms of creating a culture of coaching and thriving and growth in the school.
If an administrator is only in your classroom to do that formal observation. And that's the only time that you're having conversations about what's happening in class, how you teach, what you teach, what your kiddos are learning that really disrupts this sense of constant growth and thought partnership around instruction and pedagogy from an administrator lens. And so this is a—I know administrators are super busy, but I think this is a really powerful shift around where the priorities lie particularly in a year that’s really been disrupted. I'm recording this in 2020, and things are still incredibly uncertain and teachers have been having a tough time adapting. So I want to be very clear that I'm not saying administrators should go in and start giving critical feedback all the time and go in uninvited to classrooms. What I'm suggesting is that we have this ongoing conversation around: How's it going?
What are we trying in your class this week? Well, what didn't go well, last week, let's actually talk about that. Not from a punitive punishment kind of perspective, like you're a bad teacher, but what are we identifying as trends? How can I support you? What can I connect you with? What resource or strategy might we be able to try and then be able to touch base again to say, did it work? And if it didn't, I'm going to help you find something else. I'm gonna help you track that progress over time. And when I see that it has worked, when I see that you've successfully solved this really challenging problem, I want you to share your wisdom and your experience with the other teachers in the school. And I want you to take on that leadership role. So again, being connected to the classroom enables administrators to select key teachers who have really found powerful strategies and solutions to ongoing problems that most likely many teachers are facing. Not just that one teacher who had it.
So that idea of creating that culture of coaching, providing feedback, I think also helping to analyze data that informs teacher practice can be really powerful. A lot of times when we think about—as teachers being asked to make sure we're analyzing the data, make sure we're making data-based decisions, that is sometimes difficult when we're not taught explicitly how to analyze data or what sources of data or what types of, of data are actually supposed to be used on a regular basis. It also can feel sometimes a little disconnecting when teachers are analyzing particular data. But again, if the administrators are disconnected from knowing what's going in everyday classes and recognizing the data that teachers are exploring in their grade team meetings or their PLCs, that sense of support, that's absolutely helpful for teachers, from administrators is maybe missing there if there's that disconnect.
So I think analyzing and looking at data together can be really, really powerful in addition to developing a culture of coaching and learning. I think leaders can also organize the school behind a clear, shared vision while also personalizing support for individual teachers. And so what I mean by this is leaders in research on leadership really need a clear vision if they don't have clear vision of usually one to two kind of key ideas or key goals or overarching goals per year, there's a big chance that that school year or that organization as a whole is not going to be as successful as a leader with a clear vision. So clear vision is critical, but also within that clear overarching vision, we want to personalize the support because teachers are going to need different things. They're going to be interested in different things. They're going to have different students in their classes and teach different grades and content areas.
Again, that balance of personalization with that clear shared vision. For example, the last school that I was a teacher at, our principal would share with us two big ideas or two big kind of school-wide goals for each. For example, one year we got an iPad grant. So, we got devices for each student and that was a really critical shift that we needed to make in order to best serve our students. We needed to be able to use that technology. And so one overarching goal for that year was thoughtful technology integration. And so that was kind of this broad overarching goal for us as an organization, as a school, but each individual teacher is going to support that goal in unique ways. So I was doing documentaries in my classroom, through iMovie, and that was thrilling and exciting for me and for my students.
Another teacher might've said that is absolutely nuts. I'm not touching documentaries, but I am using an iPad app like Explain Everything, for example, as a whiteboard for my math class. And we're going to have students really practice these, solving these equations and demonstrating their learning, with a voiceover. And then we're going to have them submit this to a bank of resources where when we're studying for tests, I can highlight as the teacher, some really amazing key ideas that students shared and be able to share those as resources for students to kind of study with their peers, as opposed to just listen to me or review their notes that I gave them. So there's some really unique ways that we as individual teachers can support a shared goal, but that shared really organizes us and focuses us. So that as an administrator, my principal could say, we're going to make sure that X number of PD days for the rest of the year, we would have weekly PD, are going to be around this topic of tech integration.
But as teachers, I will invite you, or you can invite yourselves to lead these PD workshops based on whatever it is you're actually doing in your class. You can show us the end product. You can help us work backwards, teach us the steps to get there. But we are personalizing while also moving towards this clear shared vision. Another thing I'll add about kind of administrators being connected to the instruction is that connection piece of being able to connect the teachers with the resources that they need when they need them. So that there's this consistent learning and growing process. And of course, as they said, I think administrators model this with their own learning and their own growth and, and be really transparent about what they're working on, but in order to do that, well, principals and instructional coaches, folx who are in positions of formal authority in schools are going to need to have that linkage to a variety of resources in a variety of types, right?
We don't just want blog posts if some teachers are not going to benefit from reading blog posts. We don't just want podcasts if that's only what some of the teachers are interested in in learning like, you know, I think having this broad sense of: Do we have self-paced courses? Do we have something interactive? Do we continue to have those two hour workshops once a week for teachers to kind of show up as like a staff meeting, whether it's in-person or virtual, and just make sure that we have not only a variety of types, but also a variety of resources that span different topical areas, different content, in grade resources and part of being an administrator and an instructional coach. And I use those words kind of interchangeably because I think that's another piece of teachership right, is this idea that principals are still instructional coaches, even though their title doesn't say instructional coach anymore, right.
That connection to the classroom and the instruction that's happening there, makes them inevitably an instructional coach. I will also say that the idea of teachers as leaders also makes teachers instructional coaches to their peers as well, right? Thought partners, people who are modeling as a coach might just this idea of everyone kind of taking on this instructional coaching role in this realm of teachership and making sure that if you don't have a resource, or you're not sure where to go, that you at least have identified a couple of key sources of folks that you can ask now, as they think about our next step. So after we finished this episode, you know, how do we go implement this idea of teachership? How do we live out the value of teachership in our school systems? I invite you to identify one way to systematize professional growth in your school.
And so if you're a teacher, this might look like inviting other teachers to visit your class, to see something you've had success with, or to set up a success share meeting with your grade team or your department or whatever your PLC is. But to say, we're using this particular time, this one hour of time to be able to discuss a problem of practice or whatever phrase you use, or just share, it doesn't even need to be based on a problem of practice, but just share. This is something I've had great success with, my students have responded to incredibly well, especially during a pandemic, perhaps, and we're just going to go around and share. Each teacher has five minutes, you know, share a tech tool or a strategy or an approach or a mindset, whatever it is that has worked really well for you. And I find those meetings to be really exciting and energizing because we're not always focused on the problems.
This conversation might have stemmed from a problem with practice we identified and we wanted to fix. And so we tried some things and some things worked, but it's really celebratory. And it's saying, you know what? A lot of things are tough this year, but here's the good stuff that's happening. I often come out of meetings like this really energized and ready to plan my next lesson or unit because that energy level is really contagious. It's what prevents burnout, right? It's what keeps me going. At least for me as an individual. Now, teachers, again, you might want to invite folks to visit your class, perhaps without that follow-up success share meeting as well. So even extending that opportunity, if someone in passing says, “Oh, I haven't used that tech tool,” or “I haven't used that strategy. I'm curious how you do that.” You know, it could be something as simple as an exchange like that, where you just welcome them in and say, “Oh, well, here's when I'm teaching.”
I don't think you have a class at that time. If that's your prep time, come on over. You know, here's my Zoom link. If you're online, whatever that looks like, and it could be that informal, it doesn't need to be an email to the whole staff to say, you know, I invite you formally into my class to invite teachers in set up a success share meeting with your PLC or some, some fellow teachers, administrators, what you could do to help systematize professional learning might be getting each teacher, a coach that could be you, maybe you offer to meet with each teacher depending on the size of your school, or you identify leaders in the school, assistant principals, you know, other people with leadership roles that are similar to instructional coaching to act as instructional coaches, perhaps that's just once a month, once a quarter, but just making sure that everyone has someone that they can go to, to ask questions with that they can use as a thought partner, or it could even be other teachers, right, who are interested in taking that slightly more formal position of leadership that want to be a peer coach that wants to have those energizing conversations with peers.
But kind of set up, you know, everyone that is a teacher currently in your school with some sort of thought partner or “coach,” even if that's not their formal role. And now another option for administrators could be to use PD time. What might typically happen as a whole staff meeting that lasts an hour or two, and let teachers use that to share their successes. So I talked about this in the teacher example, but if you just have each teacher—and you could do this in a whole staff setting where teachers sit at tables, if you're in person or in a breakout room setting on zoom, that they are in small groups, maybe around themes, maybe around grades, maybe around departments or content that they teach and they just share, you know what it is that they are excited to share. You could also do this on a rotating basis.
So let's say you have a school where there's 30 teachers in the school. If you wanted five teachers to share each week, over the course of the year, you could say every other month, each teacher is going to present just something. And then you have one week, every, you know, eight weeks that is a success your week and teachers sign up and they can just identify ahead of time what their success share is going to be. And people can sign up for that particular topic, or if it's in a Zoom room, or if it's in a physical room in the school, they can attend again, whatever is interesting to them because we want to have that shared vision we're working towards, but we also want to make sure the teachers have options. So they attend the PD that is most helpful for them.
I am going to link to a couple different things at the bottom of this episode in the show notes. One is a newsletter from the 2016 International Literacy Association conference. This is where Steinbacher-Reed and Rotella, share a lot of their information about teachership and professional sandboxes. And I also want to share with you a free resource that I've created to help you get started with this idea of systematizing professional development. And this is my Peer Visitation Starter Kit. So if you're interested in creating a culture of visiting other teachers and signing up for those visits and having a more systematized way of letting other teachers know you're interested in hosting and what topic you're interested in hosting on, this is a great, kind of a two pager, one being a note taker of like what people can kind of jot notes on if you want it to systematize that when they're actually in the visit. And then another page that really just helps structure the signup portion, where it can connect folks who are hosting with folks who are visiting and what topics and what times and all that.
So I will link to those in the show notes. Thank you so much for listening to another solo show from the Time for Teachership podcast. I'm super excited to hear all of the great things that you are doing in your classroom to highlight teachership to foster professional learning. And I'm so excited and grateful to you for continuing to be amazing educators in this trying year. I know you are awesome, and I can't wait to hear all the innovative things that come out of this year.
Thanks for listening, amazing educators. If you loved this episode, you can share it on social media and tag me at Lindsay Beth Lyons, or leave a review of the show. So leaders like you will be more likely to find it. To continue the conversation you can head over to our Time for Teachership Facebook group and join our community of educational visionaries. Until next time leaders, continue to think big, act brave, and be your best.
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Lindsay Lyons (she/her) is an educational justice coach who works with teachers and school leaders to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice, design curricula grounded in student voice, and build capacity for shared leadership. Lindsay taught in NYC public schools, holds a PhD in Leadership and Change, and is the founder of the educational blog and podcast, Time for Teachership.