At the Global Teacher Prize ceremony last week, I was asked to give a TEDx-like talk with six slides on redesigning the teaching profession. I think it surprised folks that I argued the most radical redesign will not come from new policies, new efforts to redesign the system or new educational technology tools. These will certainly cause great shifts in the profession over the coming years, but the most dramatic change will only happen when the community steps up to the challenge. I argued that we need to think less with an education reform mindset—we have to get beyond thinking of change as only related to systems, structures and tools. This kind of change often feels like we are doing something to teachers or handing them something to figure out from on high with little support and lots of accountability.
We need to think more with what I call a “group genius” mindset—putting teachers at the center of the redesign and trusting that they will step up if given the proper conditions. I have seen this happen in many of the places where we have made investments. But how do we do this at scale and without the resources of the Foundation? By encouraging three “social forces” —influencers, networks and narratives. Let me explain.
The power of influencers. I shared my favorite simple network analysis by Ken Frank from Michigan State, which shows the flow of information and impact related to the implementation of new technology in a district. Teacher 2 was the teacher who was formally trained. The dotted lines represent influence (connection) and the circles represent the degree of implementation. What might surprise you is that it is Teacher 20 not Teacher 2 who is the influencer.
We made a lot of early investments in what I would call teacher leadership programs/networks—efforts to grow teacher leaders. I still believe they are critical, but we have to think beyond leadership and think more about influence. Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves, winners of the 2015 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Education, refer to this as “professional capital.”
But we live in a digital age where influence looks different, so we have to think about influencers in the building and in a virtual space. I introduced the audience to Amy Mascott, a high school English teacher and blogger with 22,000 followers on Twitter and Meenoo Rami, the founder of #engchat and author of “Five Ways to Reinvigorate Your Teaching.” These are the types of influencers that will change the profession if we encourage them and others.
The power of networks. I wrote a post about Ryan Jones awhile back and told his powerful story of being part of the New Teacher Center and how he took the Literacy Design Collaborative tools district wide. How do we connect all teachers to a network like that and help teachers like Ryan grow their influence beyond their districts? Imagine the power of a highly connected network of teachers who could rely on each other to find what they need and who would encourage risk-taking and collaboration—a community where teachers are the experts and take pride in sharing their experiences and their expertise.
The power of narratives. Narratives are stories told by teachers in their own voices. Teachers want to share their experiences in a safe place. It’s those experiences that unite them as teachers. They should be celebrated. What can we do to change the current negative narratives that are dominated by political debate into more authentic teacher narratives that speak to the future of the profession? Narratives are dynamic. They can change and we can play an active role in supporting teachers to raise their voices and craft their own stories. What if the narratives were dominated by agency, collaboration or impact? Statements like:
- “I am part of a network of educators who are passionate and at the top of their game. We create the space where change can happen.”
- “In teaching, collaboration is key. It’s all about brainstorming and problem solving and not keeping people in isolation.”
At the end of the day, redesigning the profession is not really that complicated. It’s about putting teachers at the center of the change and letting them lead the change. That’s why most teachers went into teaching in the first place. I honestly believe that teachers are our best hope at redesigning the profession. But if we don’t pay attention to their narratives, support connection through networks, leverage the influencers that already exist and develop new ones, we might just miss the most radical idea of all—that the community can redesign itself.
This is the second in a series of blogs about the Global Teaching Prize.