Professional Development
May 29, 2013

In Syracuse, AFT President Weingarten calls for teacher leaders to take back the profession

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT Communications
weingarten meets with teacher leaders
Caption: AFT President Randi Weingarten met with about two dozen local union leaders before the conference. She's shown with Gilbert-Mount Upton TA President Aaron Sorensen; Port Byron TA President Angie Hargreaves; Sherburne-Earlville TA President Jennifer Moore; Jordan Elbridge TA 's Paul Farfaglia and NYSUT Vice President Kathleen Donahue.

Some bloggers are calling the pushback "The Education Spring."

AFT President Randi Weingarten calls it much-needed grassroots activism where teacher leaders are taking meaningful roles to build things up – not just shake things up.

“It has to come from the ground up, not from those outside the profession,” Weingarten told nearly 200 central New York educators gathered for Syracuse University’s fourth annual Teacher Leadership Conference on Wednesday. “We can’t just be calling out what’s wrong, we have to be offering solutions on how to do it better.”

This year’s conference focused on teachers’ roles in providing leadership as schools continue to implement new reforms, especially the Common Core Learning Standards, teacher and principal annual performance reviews and new state assessments.

Weingarten noted a recent MetLife survey found half of the teachers surveyed expressed interest in teaching part-time in order to have a teacher leadership role. “Most do not want to become principal,” Weingarten said. “They really like being rooted in teaching, and want to expand their role.”

Teacher leadership can take many forms, she said, from serving on a policy committee to writing curriculum to mentoring a colleague.

“Peer leadership is having a renaissance,” she said, noting informal peer assistance was “survival” for her when she entered teaching. “I wouldn’t be standing here in front of you today, if it hadn’t been for the informal peer support I received from a colleague. It was survival for me.”

Other types of teacher leadership include taking on the role of yearbook adviser or debate coach, where you can help quiet students blossom into confident leaders, or disengaged students become involved. Others teachers can assume leadership roles through union involvement.

She cited numerous examples where the union has sparked meaningful professional development and educational reform, including the AFT-funded lnnovation Initiative project here in New York where several locals have created a model teacher evaluation system that focuses on professional growth. In Cleveland, she said teacher unions are developing Common Core lesson banks that are sequenced and scaffolded.

“Developing teacher leadership is not a wish, not a nice idea, not optional,” Weingarten said. “Teachers taking the lead is nothing less than essential if we want to save public education and create a just society.”

After Weingarten’s keynote address, participants cycled through a series of breakout sessions where teachers, administrators and higher education faculty showcased examples of teacher leadership in action.

Breakouts included "The Role of Teacher Centers in Professional Development," "Teacher Leadership in the APPR Process," "A SUNY Cortland Oneonta Writing Project," "Empowering Teachers Through Lesson Study" and "How to Get Teachers Involved in National Board Certification."