TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin

Staying in my classroom while expanding my reach beyond it

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Today's TQB features commentary from Melody Arabo, Michigan's 2015 Teacher of the Year.

Imagine a hybrid role that allows teachers to take on leadership initiatives in a supported environment, and stay connected to students in the classroom. Would teachers and administrators be interested? Would people see the value in it? Michigan's Walled Lake Consolidated School District is looking to find the answers as they implement an innovative teacher hybrid role during this school year.

Being in a classroom every day is exhilarating, but also very limiting. Teachers often feel overwhelmed and disconnected from the outside world. Many would like to collaborate and influence decision-making, but they aren't given the chance. In the rare instances leadership opportunities do arise, they come packaged with extra responsibilities tacked on to an already overflowing teacher workload. This is one of the reasons why, in an effort to make a greater impact or further their careers, effective teachers leave the classroom and move into other positions.

Unfortunately, not long after an educator leaves the classroom to serve in other roles, other teachers are not as receptive to what they have to say. That's understandable—things change so quickly in teaching and it is hard to fully understand the day-to-day dynamic unless you are actually experiencing it. While this may not be the right attitude to have, it is the nature of our profession. On the opposite end, because school structure can be so limiting, administrators and policy makers rarely have the opportunity to get input from teachers, at times resulting in well-intentioned but uninformed decisions that can negatively impact teachers' work. The transition from theory to practice gets lost in this shuffle.

As the 2015 Michigan Teacher of the Year, I stepped out of my classroom for a year to travel around the state and nation and explore all aspects of education. Professionally, my biggest takeaway from that experience was that there is a massive disconnect between those that are in the classroom and those who make decisions for the classroom. I was shocked by the lack of teacher voice in the places it is needed most and am desperate to find a solution. Personally, my biggest takeaway was that I had reached a crossroads in my career and felt pressure to decide the path I would take. I spent 12 years in a classroom working directly with kids and the last year immersed in the world of teacher leadership working with adults, all work which I loved. I became determined to find a way to incorporate the best of both worlds. These factors became the driving force behind an idea that I developed with my great friend and talented colleague, Angela Colasanti.

The idea is simple: a Co-Teacher/Leadership Development Hybrid Role where two teachers share one classroom and all teaching responsibilities. How teachers are paired in this role is key; the two must have a strong level of trust and comfort with one another, along with a similar classroom management and teaching style. Both would work in the classroom together on a regular basis, but having two teachers provides flexibility for either to be elsewhere when needed. Even while in the classroom together, one teacher can focus on instruction and the other can be implementing new initiatives.

It is important to note that this is not a 50/50 shared time position. This differs from a typical half-classroom, half-instructional coach position because it offers a fluid structure, allowing teachers to work together, collaborate and implement ideas while sharing the same space. Their classroom would be up-to-date on all current best practices and can be used as a lab class for professional learning.

This hybrid role aims to serve as a bridge between all levels of the school system in order to strengthen each of them. By providing teacher perspective in places where it has been missing, it will create more balance and impact in policy because teachers should be at the table anytime the conversation is about education. At the same time, teachers will gain a better understanding of the dynamics that occur beyond our classrooms. This position is meant to tap into leadership potential, increase teacher efficacy, strengthen instructional practices, provide opportunities to connect and learn from one another and build capacity for sustainable change. All of these things will result in positive changes that will benefit educators, students and the community as a whole.

The more we move towards hybrid roles, the more we professionalize the profession and see teachers as the valued experts they are. We hope you follow along in Walled Lake's journey as "The Hybrid Teachers" develop new career pathways for educators!