Last Thursday, I attended the inaugural SCEL conference on Developing Teacher Leadership. It was a pretty amazing day. Fearghal Kelly got things going by introducing the Developing Teacher Leadership Report (already better known as the Kelly Report, after Fearghal’s joking suggestion it be renamed gained instant traction and has now well and truly stuck). The Kelly Report presents the findings of Fearghal’s engagement across Scotland with more than a thousand stakeholders on the subject of teacher leadership.
It’s an extremely interesting read. Take a look at this:
Developing Teacher Leadership Report, page 6
This summary of the eight key themes identified as a result of the engagement are all worthy of further exploration, discussion and debate.
The one that resonates most strongly with me is sharing. I have talked in the past about why sharing matters and it makes sense to me that increasing the opportunities for teachers to talk, share and learn from each other will lead to teachers who are better informed, happier and better at what they do. TeachMeet Borders is about carving out spaces for teachers to do just that and I really enjoyed talking during my workshop to teachers from across Scotland who are committed to doing the same.
My notes from the TMBorders workshop
One of the key messages from the day was that teacher leadership isn’t a bolt on. It’s not an added extra. It is not some new, shiny initiative that teachers will be expected to heave on top of their already brimming workloads. It is quite simply, a change in mindset. Or as Fearghal himself put it ‘thinking differently, not doing more’.
To me, teacher leadership is about reflecting on what I do, sharing my practice (not just my stuff) with others and helping to ignite a rich and on going discussion about how we get better at what we do.
That doesn’t happen overnight. Developing a shared understanding in Scotland of what teacher leadership is will take time and patience and lots and lots of talking. It will sometimes seem like we are getting nowhere and the naysayers will tell us it’s a waste of time, energy and effort. At these moments, we will need to take a deep breath and remember the cheesy-yet-wise words whispered mysteriously to Kevin Costner in 80’s classic ‘Field of Dreams’:
If you build it, they will come.
Build opportunities for teachers to share and learn from each other and they will come. Maybe not at all at once, but they will come.
If you’ve never seen this film, by the way, you need to. Like, right now.
One of the unsettling things revealed in the report is that one of the main barriers cited by teachers to increasing leadership was confidence. Ewan McIntosh said in his keynote ‘Having the confidence to act is what makes you a leader. Lacking confidence makes you a follower.’
As a profession, we lack confidence. We are followers. Collectively, (and I realise I am generalising hugely here) we are the pupil in the class who never volunteers an answer. We think we are not good enough. We think that what we have to say might not be important, or smart enough or insightful enough. We don’t think anyone wants to hear what we have to say. I know from working on TeachMeet Borders how hard it can be to get teachers to believe what they do is good enough to share, even with just a few colleagues. No one wants to stick his or her head above the parapets.
So maybe it’s time we demolish the castle.
My eight year old daughter went to Brownie camp this weekend. She had a ball. Lots of tree climbing, marshmallow roasting, the full nine yards. On the last afternoon, she went canoeing. At the end of the session, the instructor said, ‘See that island in the middle of the lake? Brownies always want to wade out to it, but no one ever has.’ ‘Why?’ my daughter asked. ‘Well, look at it!’ the instructor answered, pointing to the distant clump of mud and reeds in the murky water. ‘You’d fall over. The water’s freezing. You’d lose your wellies before you got halfway!’ Needless to say, the challenge was set and my daughter and her friends began wading out. Fifteen minutes later, she stood alone on the island, soaking wet, shivering and welly-less. Three baths and a shower later, I asked her if it was worth it. She answered, ‘I knew I’d have to give up my wellies, Mum, but I got somewhere no-one else has ever been.’
As a teaching profession, we need to give up our wellies. We need to let go of the aye bins and get a bit uncomfortable. We need to recognise that to develop teacher leadership, we will need to change our culture. It will be tough and people will tell us it can’t be done, that no one’s ever done it before, that we shouldn’t attempt it. But we need to keep going anyway.
Because we might just end up somewhere no-one else has ever been.
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