I recently joined a group of teacher leaders at a national symposium for teacher leadership. The Center for Teacher Leadership held the conference in my home city of Richmond, VA so I was excited to present but, I was even more excited to meet some amazing teacher leaders from around the country. Among those teacher leaders were Kenneth Bernstein, Nancy Flanagan, and Lori Nazareno the keynote speaker. Lori talked about how ten years ago she was “just a teacher”. She encouraged the audience to let go of that notion of “just” and embrace the powerful position of teacher leader, someone who can change lives.
It seemed like what Lori was trying to say is, “If you are ‘just a teacher’ you will never be able to reach beyond those classroom walls with your influence. If you are a ‘capital T Teacher’ your reach is as far as your imagination.” For a long time educators have tried to explain the importance of the situated reality that we swim in as teachers in public schools. We don’t choose our students, our working conditions, our funding streams, or our health care system. We try to influence these things but, addressing the crippling affects of structural poverty are nearly impossible within the context of the daily interactions with students. We would need to change the idea of what schools are if we are going to really put our money where our mouth is and address the achievement gap. Many teachers like Lori are trying to do that but, it would be a lot easier if they had some help on the context side of public schooling.
Recently a shift has begun in that context approach to school reform. Policy makers are finally beginning to acknowledge the context of schools in their programs and policies. Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children’s Zone is one such approach. I think his approach has worked because it is locally grown and structured to address a particular community’s needs. Another such effort is taking place in Boston. Recently Claus von Zastrow interviewed some educators in the schools participating in the Boston College project called City Connects: Optimized Student Support. The collaboration between Boston College, local institutions, community partners and teachers to meet the needs of the “whole child” is making significant changes in how school is done in Boston. Every child is embedded within a family, school, neighborhood, and city context that influences their life prospects. If we really want to transform our schools into something better by 2030 we need to look out the window and out or the box for solutions.
Image from: http://www.learningfirst.org/helping-whole-child-view-two-schools