Last week I was fortunate in being able to participate in a conference on the island of Krk on the Croatian coast. The best part was linking up with colleagues from NGOs in places such as Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Macedonia and Palestine – all quite challenging contexts. It was great to hear about how they had been able to sustain and grow the practice of teacher leadership over the last ten years.
I was at the Krk conference with teachers from the HertsCam Network in the UK and in our panel session we were looking back to 2008 when we had launched the International Teacher Leadership initiative with partners in 14 countries. In the intervening time the idea had fizzled out in some of these countries but in some of them, it took hold and flourished. In HertsCam, it continues to grow strongly as shown in our most recent book: ‘Empowering Teachers as Agents of Change: a non-positional approach to teacher leadership’ (Frost, 2017). When we presented our stories from around the world at the Krk conference, questions from the audience included: ‘What does the ministry of education think about your programme?’. The answers from panel members varied slightly: “They don’t really know about it.” And: “They know about it, but they don’t really understand it.” And “They know about it but it’s not a threat to them, so they don’t care.”
I think there was a dubious assumption behind the question about the ministry which is that when we do something innovative, we should tell the minister of education and then wait for him or her to take action – maybe to implement the new practice right across the system. This is never going to happen of course and, even if the ministry saw the importance of teacher leadership, they would probably ruin it by trying to insist that everybody adopts the practice. The point is that the ministry is not the key player. The idea of teacher leadership is central to the idea of ‘flipping the system’, which was set out in a recent book sponsored by Education International and edited by two teachers in the Netherlands (Evers & Kneyber, 2016. In the conclusion of the book, the editors argue for a ‘hybrid role’ such as ‘teacher / policy maker’ or ‘teacher/ scholar’ or ‘teacher/advisor’. I am looking forward to an opportunity to explore these and other proposals at the EI conference in Johannesburg. I will argue that, while the hybrid principle is right, we cannot sit around waiting for the governments of the world to allocate the necessary resources to free up teachers and prepare them to play such hybrid roles. Instead we have to find ways to enable and empower teachers to become activists who will change the system from the ground up. In my talk I will focus on the story of a network led and managed by school principals and teachers which aspires to do just that.
Frost, D. (2017) Empowering teachers as agents of change: a non-positional approach to teacher leadership. Cambridge: LfL, University of Cambridge Faculty of Education.
Evers, J. and Kneyber, R. (2015) Flip the System: Changing Education from the Ground Up. London: Routledge.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.