For years, a sad reality has been hurting our educational system, at least here in North Carolina: If you are good at teaching and you truly enjoy it, the only way for you to expand your impact and advance in your career is to… leave the very same classroom where you currently excel.
This paradox has become a dirty little secret that we all whisper: At one point, I am going to have to leave the classroom. It can be to make a decent living (extremely sad but understandable point) but it can also be to find a way to reach more students through instructional coaching and school leadership. Often, it can be to try combine both goals. Couldn’t there be another way? One that would allow a teacher to continue teaching while also expanding his or her impact on more students and educators?
This binary way to look at the teaching profession (level 0: I teach in my classroom, level 1: I do not teach anymore but I lead and develop others) can create multiple challenges. Here are three that I am sure you have all seen or experienced:
- You are a good teacher but you have no idea yet how to help other teachers improve in their practices. In other words, great teachers do not make great coaches and leaders right away.
- Teachers may resent or at least not respect your guidance because you don’t teach the very same students they are currently teaching. They think you are not in touch with their reality.
- You actually miss teaching and your students miss you but you have come to the sad conclusion that it is the only way for you to feed your family.
What drew me to studying and practicing Multi-Classroom Leadership was that, for once, this model was attempting to combine direct and indirect instructional impact within the same job in the same school. Let me clarify what I mean by these two concepts, both equally important in an instructional leadership position:
- Indirect Instructional Impact: Any action you may use to improve the quality of instruction delivered in a school without directly teaching students. This includes extremely important actions such as: designing processes, planning of resources, leading professional development, observation and feedback and, of course, instructional coaching.
- Direct Instructional Impact: Any action you use to improve the quality of instruction while directly instructing students. This includes: direct teaching, flexible teaching (teaching on assignments and based on needs identified by the team) and co-teaching.
Most current leadership positions lean heavily toward Indirect Instructional Impact. They are also often the only positions that reward individuals with higher pay. And so slowly, our best teachers are migrating away from the classroom…
Again, Instructional Leadership is vital, and knowing that our best teachers become school leaders is not necessarily a sad reality, as long as they are well-trained and supported. But could there be a way to lead a group of teachers that balances both types of impact and yields higher levels of performance and job satisfaction for all parties involved? Could these positions also offer a gradual way to learn how to lead and expand your reach?
The way we are going about building the Multi-Classroom Leadership model in Project LIFT and at Ranson IB is by making sure that these new positions incorporate direct, flex and co-teaching to the schedule of the MCL. (The balance I am currently experiencing with at Ranson resides around: 40% teaching, 40% coaching, 20% planning and leading PD). Here are 5 key reasons why I do it this way and why I believe it should be done this way moving forward:
- If you can teach, it is a crime not to let the students of your school directly benefit from it: Bring your teaching added value to the table!!! Could you imagine a professional basketball player at the peak of his game retiring to coach his teammates before his knees fall apart? Can you think of the impact it could have on your teachers if they see you teach or hear positive feedback from students on your teaching?
- The flexibility in the schedule of your position can allow you to teach groups of students who need it the most at the moment they need it the most: Let’s break the walls of the classroom and imagine other ways to group and support students (aligned, for example, to Blended Learning). More to come on this very soon.
- You are building better relationships with students and teachers through the process, which will ultimately make you a better leader: For the first time in 3 years, it’s October and I already know the names of at least half of our 6th and 7th graders (800 students total). I have had a great deal of parent contact, much of which has led to improved student participation and work in the classroom. Having this kind of direct interaction with students and parents aids in crucial conversations with teachers too. All of this helps to improve the culture of the team. Teachers also appreciate you doing your part to help the team.
- Co-teaching can help teachers grow at a faster pace in a safer environment: Last week’s post on Real Time Coaching was a good example of this phenomenon: If you help a teacher focus “live” on something a bit hard (management, differentiation, group work..), they can see it done and do it at the same time. They feel better supported as long as you have built a solid relationship before doing this and that you do it with subtlety. Avoid the following intro: “Now, watch how it should be done!”;)
- Continuing to practice your art while coaching others will make you a better teacher and coach: You are constantly putting into practice what you are preaching. You are talking the talk and walking the walk. Or if you are not, the team will be quick to point it out. This makes you a better teacher but also a better coach as you truly understand what can be difficult for them as they put into action some of your advice.
What if such a position existed in your school and you knew you could combine two of your passions: Teaching and helping others do it ? What if you could gradually earn more money doing this because you are reaching more students through this process?
Hopefully this post will make you want to learn more about Multi Classroom Leadership models and how they could impact entire school districts soon. Perhaps it will also provide you with a third response to the crucial question: To be or not to be in the classroom. A response that will belong in the Quantum Theory field more than it does in the Boolean world: How about doing both at the same time?
To learn more about our multi-classroom leadership models, read Public Impact case study on Project LIFT Opportunity Culture