Advocacy for teacher leadership in school is rooted in the notion of “sustainability.” By blurring lines between administrators and teachers, staff will be empowered to grow and take on projects that will provide a sense of ownership of the organization. This approach moves a school from “mine” to “ours” and allows for a culture or sense of operating principles to be a guiding force, even during times of staff transition. This view of shared leadership allows educators to build schools that will evolve, grow, and last. As an organization, one aspect of our “sustainability” is found in our ability to succeed for our students as our landscape changes.
The notion of sustainable learning for students is an idea that my friend David Coffey introduced me to and one that needs deeper exploration in our profession.
Sustainability cannot just be about how our school is structured, it must also be evident in our organization’s output. When students leave our school, they must possess the skills and abilities to continue to grow so their learning never ends. Education is a life-long venture for every individual; our role is to equip our students to keep making gains, regardless of their age. If this is not the case, the principles we work so hard to foster through shared leadership in schools completely miss the mark. We must know that when our students move on, they are the owner of a valuable commodity, the education they received.
How do we facilitate students making the realization that their education is something they own? How do we set our students up to keep learning throughout their lifetime? While I am not qualified to provide a complete list, I have some ideas about the structures and behaviors educators can pursue.
Let’s be intentional about ownership.
We cannot hesitate to tell students they are the owners of their learning, and ultimately their education. An individual’s education can be currency in today’s world, as well as something that gives a sense of enjoyment and pride.
Our view of curriculum must be bigger than state/national standards.
We must see curriculum as opportunities and experiences. Some will be traditional, such as math concepts or map skills. However, we must also have curricular and extra-curricular opportunities for students. The arts, athletics, trips to museums, or just the opportunity to sit and talk (without the use of technology) should all be part of what we offer to students.
Engagement must be our goal.
By designing lessons, assessments, and projects that students will find interesting and that are developmentally appropriate and challenging, our students will explore the opportunities and experiences we provide in a deeper way.
We must foster the growth mindset.
Written about by Carol Dweck in her book, Mindset, we must be intentional about promoting the belief that intelligence is not “fixed,” rather, it is nurtured and can grow.
We must teach students how to ask questions.
How often do you hear “I don’t get it” when asking students who are struggling with a concept. Asking a question is a skill, and one we need to provide instruction on. Perhaps there is no better way to continue learning beyond school than by being able to ask questions.
Let’s identify the behaviors of that indicate sustainability and urge students to exhibit them.
Self-Advocacy, thinking, identifying problems and proposing solutions should be praised and rewarded. When we see students collaborate, consider another perspective, or explore a topic that they find interesting, we should commend them.
While my list is not all there is, I think it represents an important starting point for the conversation on the kind of schools we want to build. Let’s develop an organization with principles and outputs that are built to last.