Emma Andrew has been a teacher for twelve years. For the last ten months she has taken on the role of Tutor on the SCEL Teacher Leadership Programme, designed to support classroom teachers to develop their leadership of learning and teaching.
In the summer of 2015, Emma finished research for her Masters and knew she wanted a fresh opportunity as invigorating and challenging as her study has been. The way forward wasn’t clear to her, but she knew it wasn’t necessarily a promoted post or further study:
“I put myself forward for a number of diverse roles, and one of them was an application to be a participant on the prototype SCEL Teacher Leadership Programme. During and after my Masters, one of my big frustrations had been the lack of opportunity to talk to colleagues about my practitioner enquiry, to be informed by their classroom practice and to decide how to take ideas forward. I thought that by joining an online programme and community, this would help bridge the gap between university study and day-to-day practice.”
Emma was originally invited onto the programme as a Critical Friend, but as the depth of her prior experience of supporting professional learning of colleagues through practitioner enquiry emerged, the role of Tutor became more fitting. In this role, Emma was responsible for leading and supporting the professional learning of a regional group of participants and critical friends.
The Teacher Leadership Programme focuses on practitioner enquiry as the means to develop both teaching and learning, and collaboration. It encourages teachers to ask questions, read research and relate it to practice. Teachers record their thoughts and actions as a blog, or journal. As a Tutor reading these journals, Emma had the chance to look through the windows of many classrooms, to see pupils’ responses to teaching and learning, and to hear the thoughts in teachers’ heads:
“I have found it all fascinating. The privilege of watching and talking to many teachers across Scotland normally belongs to those in promoted positions in the education system. How valuable for teachers to be able to do it, without the inconvenience – or impossibility – of seeking time out of class. The teachers were so honest about what was working and what wasn’t, and reading about their struggles and breakthroughs was a joy, as I recognised their experiences. This view through a window on the professional lives of others, made me question my own practice often. It also made me completely reconsider how professional learning could be more interesting, more long-lasting and how it could be incorporated more effectively into the working week. In the all-too-familiar crowded week of planning and teaching and meetings and policies, it helped me to see what was being drowned out and what mattered.”
After initially feeling uncomfortable with the term teacher leadership, Emma is now a convert. Before embarking on the programme, she felt that the term suggested promotion – that somehow being a teacher wasn’t enough:
“Teacher leadership isn’t about promotion or about a scattergun volley of pet projects. It is about teachers putting the focus back on teaching and learning. It is about teachers taking their context into account, choosing as aspect of teaching and learning that interests them, paying close attention to what happens with pupils as a result, and sharing with others. Repeat. It is what I was struggling to find in 2015. It is simple, yet complex as it depends on the understanding and support of people at all levels in the system. Teachers cannot do it alone.”
As the Teacher Leadership Programme enters its second year, Emma will again support the programme in her role as Tutor:
“I have spoken to an online community of teachers and we have talked about what matters. Many more people have come on board, either as a participant or Critical Friend or Tutor. Taking a role in this programme is part of being a teacher, not a separate niche hobby. It’s time to start talking about teacher leadership to more people outside the online community as well.”