But I am just a teacher…
I recently tweeted an Education Week article urging school leaders to spend a full day following the schedule of a single student as part of the Shadow a Student Challenge. I am a big proponent of school leaders frequently conducting walkthrough observations and I have personally been a part of thousands of walkthroughs in my role as an instructional coach and coach mentor.
Walkthroughs are a great way to see a snapshot of instruction, but honestly, they are just snapshots. If you want to know what the real student experience is, spend the day in the shoes of a student. Attend every class, do every activity and worksheet, be a part of passing period as a participant and not just an observer. That’s the premise of the Shadow a Student Challenge.
— Howard Pitler (@hpitler) February 17, 2016
When I posted my tweet endorsement of the challenge I received one response that troubled me. A teacher responded by tweeting, “Not a school leader, but I would love to do this to learn what my students' days are like.” My answer to her was, “We are all learners - we are all teachers. We are all leaders.”
Leadership is not just a title. Every person involved in the education of our next generation is a leader, either intentionally or unintentionally. We lead by modeling the behavior we would like to see in the best of others. We lead by looking at a situation we find less than ideal and working to improve it.
Students see their teachers as leaders and role models, but too often teachers express a feeling of disenfranchisement and disempowerment. Yes, there are policies and mandates that marginalize the role of the teacher to one of just a cog in a machine, but sometimes teachers are disenfranchised by being willing to accept things as they are. There are a number of things in schools that need to change. It’s not enough to commiserate with colleagues, “Someone should do something about this.” Realize that you are someone and begin the process of change.
To the teacher who doesn’t see herself as a school leader, try going to the building principal and telling her you would like to take part in the Shadow a Student Challenge. Not only that you want to be a part of it, but also in what concrete ways you honestly believe this will help you to be a better and more effective educator.
Observing for the day would involve the school hiring a substitute, or maybe even having the principal cover your classes for the day. It is possible the principal will tell you that it just isn’t going to happen, but it’s also just possible she will think it’s a great idea and a growth experience for both of you.
Teachers need to see themselves as teacher leaders rather than passive pawns in a game in which they have little control. Leaders don’t create followers — they create more leaders.