The Intersection

Teachers Leading the Way

November 21, 2014

Preparing our students for life in the 21st century requires a rethinking of teacher roles within schools and districts. And as teachers and advocates have said for some time, the Common Core has the best opportunity to successfully prepare our students when teachers have a meaningful voice in its implementation. Understanding this potential, more than two-thirds of districts are now utilizing teachers to solve the critical problem of finding quality curriculum aligned to the Common Core, according to a recent report by the Center on Education Policy.

While political pundits and politicians continue to give lip service to ‘teacher voice’, many districts and unions are working together to create new systems where teachers can take on leadership roles, be a part of decision making, and take ownership over their practice. By employing the expertise, experience, and unparalleled professional dedication of their staff, districts are tapping into a dynamic resource that traditionally served a singular purpose—to deliver content.

As part of a series of Listening & Learning Sessions to better understand what local districts and unions are doing to create systems for teacher empowerment and how this is impacting teaching and learning, staff from the Center for American Progress (CAP) visited a school district in suburban Illinois. The majority-minority Title I district, Marquardt School District 15, has completely turned over the process of curriculum writing to its teachers. Over the two-year process, expert, novice, and even skeptical teachers—each offering a different yet important perspective—became part of teacher-led committees designed to break down the standards, draft curriculum, and create and gather materials. Through these processes, teachers who were at one time skeptical, frustrated, and perhaps fearful have seen students become more engaged in the curriculum and, in turn, have themselves become more engaged in their profession.

At Marquardt, many decisions that directly impact students are now left up to teachers—those closest to the students.  Kathleen Cirese, a 7th-grade English teacher, is one teacher who has experienced the transformative impacts of teacher led work in her classroom. “The district has put a lot of trust in us. They value my thoughts and my expertise. By being a part of the curriculum writing process from the beginning, I have been able to understand how to support my students better than before. We are the ones on the ground and who know our student populations best. Knowing our kids and our curriculum has had a positive impact on my practice and my student’s growth,” said Cirese.

Districts are not limiting themselves to just curriculum writing either. With the help of organizations like the Teacher Union Reform Network and the Consortium for Educational Change, local administration and unions are also providing space for teachers to lead other aspects of implementation, such as the development and assessment of materials and resources; design and delivery of professional development; internal and external communications; and coaching, mentoring, and creation of communities of practice to support colleagues in a manner akin to the medical and legal professions. All things which, in large part prior to the Common Core, were done solely by the district office.

Over the next two months, CAP will continue to travel across the country to learn how teachers and administrators are working together to lead successful Common Core implementation efforts. This work is not easy. The success of Marquardt was years in the making. It takes a deep commitment by all stakeholders to create an effective culture of collaboration, but as we continue to rethink our expectations for 21st-century learning, teacher input should be front and center.

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