Sunday, July 27, 2014

#70Days MTBoS, #TMC14, and Teacher Leadership


Teacher Leadership has been on my mind lately - especially as I have watched the workings of #TMC14 from a distance.

One researcher defines "Teacher Leadership" as "the process by which teachers, individually or collectively, influence their colleagues, principals, and other members of school communities to improve teaching and learning practices with the aim of increased student learning and achievement.” (York-Barr, J. & Duke, K.)

In June, two years ago I moved to a new state.  I left a district for whom I had worked 16 years - 12 of those in administration.  I had already determined in my heart that in this move, I would return to the classroom.  I was excited about the prospects but concerned that I might not find a job.  I had lived in Texas many years ago, so I still held a teaching certificate for secondary Math, secondary English, and secondary Gifted.  Most of my years in the classroom had been teaching math so I began applying to all the districts around my new home.  In a matter of a few weeks I was contacted - and had two interviews scheduled for the same day.  I accepted a position in a nearby high school, glad for the opportunity, and scared to death since I had not taught for so many years.

I knew I would be teaching Algebra so I started to scour the Internet for teaching tips, ideas, lesson plans, advice.  In my journey, I discovered a world of teacher bloggers.  Specifically I discovered a band of middle and high school math teachers who loosely formed an alliance they call the Math Twitter Blog O Sphere (MTBoS)!  I added those teachers to my blogging feed and began following their work. 

In the fall of 2012, they sent out an "all-call" for math teachers to join in the tweeting and blogging.  They published topics, offered to comment, and highlighted our blogging attempts on their own blogs.  I participated and enjoyed the challenge. I continued to lurk, to follow their work behind the scenes - amazed by their dedication, commitment, energy, and excitement about teaching. To stay connected even better, I broke down and created a Twitter account.  I couldn't imagine what I would do with it, and now, a year later, I can't imagine what I would do without it!

But I digress - why teacher leadership today, in this post?  For the past week, 150+ teachers from across the country (and some from nearby countries) met together in Jenks, Oklahoma for Twitter Math Camp (#TMC14).  It was the third annual event, and my first to witness - albeit from quite a distance.  No, I didn't attend, but how I wish I had!  Just reading their tweets, blogs, copies of their presentations - again I am amazed by these math teachers!

These are teacher leaders.  What do teacher leaders do?  They develop curriculum, contribute to the profession, and provide professional development with/for colleagues.  I don't know what roles they fulfill in their respective schools other than classroom teaching, but if their principals are wise, these MTBoS teacher leaders participate in school improvement planning, data analysis, host student teachers, work with parents, and much more!

At the same time, these teacher leaders struggle with their own efficacy.  Two particular posts caught my attention and wrenched my heart!  Lisa writes, "I am not the best math teacher. I am not an amazing math teacher. I have a LOT of work to do to improve." Mr. Kent writes, "To be surrounded by this many people that are this far above me in every area of teaching, learning, growing, intellect, honesty, humor, and kindness, hit me like a stake through my heart. ... I am a fraud." This gut wrenching honesty is characteristic of teacher leaders.  I sometimes think of it as a "holy discontent."  The need to reach students more relationally, to teach math more effectively, to illustrate big concepts more clearly ... this need drives teacher leaders to life-long learning ... the search for the holy grail!

So what?  What's that to me?  Well, here it is ... your opportunity to dig in, sign up, and participate! As teacher leaders, we need to lead from the middle.  Every teacher needs a PLN - personal learning network.  Blogging and Twitter are the go-to platforms for just in time training!  Not only that but they also provide a safe place to write about the realities of the classroom, to ask for feedback, to share teaching ideas, and to learn new strategies.

If you are a math teacher, and not already involved in the Math Twitter Blog-o-Sphere (MTBoS), I encourage you to visit this site, set up a Twitter account, and start a blog for the new school year. As you "meet" new teachers online, follow them on Twitter, read their blogs, even make comments.  Join a math chat!  Reach out ... ask for feedback.  You are not alone in your math teaching journey!

If you are not a math teacher, find your online cohort!  And if there isn't one, start one!

Teachers who are committed to their profession are not just thinking about themselves, but how their efforts will produce successes for all of those who are a part of their profession. Be the leader you are meant to be!  

York-Barr, J. & Duke, K. (2004, Fall). What do we know about teacher leadership? Findings from two decades of scholarship. Review of Educational Research, 74(3), 255–316.

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