I like to think I’m good at what I do. That my skills as an educator have been refined and honed to a point where each of the split-second, intuitive decisions I make appear to the casual observer as being “unplanned”. Because I am reacting to the constant “data” students are giving me, I’m constantly adapting my instruction to meet their needs. This is not to say that I don’t struggle, that there are not a multitude of areas that need immediate improvement. But, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve reached the “professional cliff”.
The professional cliff is the decision each educator must make at some point during his/her career. The decision has two paths: 1. An effective teacher that wants to advance through the ranks needs to become a principal and leave the classroom behind. 2. Stay with the passion of teaching and forgo advancement that includes both monetary and professional gain. I’m not implying that one decision is better than the other. I’m just saying that there are only 2 decisions, for most educators. There are exceptions.
So, what’s a teacher to do? Neither of the traditional choices completely fills a longing, but instead creates a perpetual grass is always greener situation. The skill set that makes an amazing principal or administrator, and this country has thousands of them, are not always the same skill set that makes one an effective teacher. So what are the options for the teacher in the middle of his/her career that has reached “the cliff”? Thanks to some exciting research conducted by The Aspen Institute (@aspeninstitute) and the MetLife Foundation (@MetLife), to name a few, there is an emerging movement in education, the Hybrid Role.
The hybrid role fills the niche of allowing great teachers to stay plugged into the classroom while also allowing them to expand their scope of influence by interacting with teachers and students outside of their assigned classes. What The Aspen Institute and the MetLife Foundation discovered from talking to thousands of teachers is that there is a need for this type of role and that in almost all cases all stakeholders benefit. Great teachers get a sense of doing something “bigger”. Principals create capacity for future leadership and a shared responsibility for the success of the school. Students benefit by the development of teachers around content or instructional practice. It’s a win, win.
So, why isn’t the hybrid role model sweeping the nation? Why haven’t we been doing it in education on a large scale? Well, there are some barriers created by the “traditional” education model. Pay is one. Lacking a culture of shared responsibility of the success of all students by all educators is another. These can and will be addressed. It just takes the vision and forethought to execute a fair and “best for kids” plan.
But I think there are additional barriers that the research alludes to and these may be even more difficult to fix. Teacher leaders do not appear from thin air. They do not emerge from the ground overnight. Educators who take on these hybrid roles must possess a skill set that is identified and valued just like the skill set for principals and effective teachers. They need cultivating, feeding, nurturing, and guiding, just like every student and teacher needs. Teacher leaders can’t be identified and then locked away into a room and asked to solve all the problems. In order for hybrid roles to work, and The Aspen Institute’s case study suggests this, there has to be a systematic process to define, identify, develop, and create a public platform for them to flourish, not die on the vine.
With our nation’s education focus on 21st Century Skills and Common Core State Standards, the innovative minds we hope to create in our students need to be reflected in the institutions that they attend. How can we expect our students to embrace critical thinking and creativity when their school hasn’t changed in over a century? I hope that as schools redefine the role they serve in creating experiences for students, that they embrace the hybrid role as a reflection of the innovative culture that we hope all our students must possess. I hope that as my students progress through their lives and careers, that when they get to the “professional cliff” that they will have the skills and ability to remake the world. I hope that as my career progresses that my best will be tapped into so that my most can be cultivated for the collective good.
I look forward to engaging in the larger conversation. Feel free to follow us on Twitter @the_explicator and @kastidham . Check out our #kywowMath #kywowELA #kywowReflect
Feel free to read the research published online:
The Aspen Institute
Thanks for reading!