There’s no better time of year to talk about declarations than on July 4th, the day the second Constitutional Convention meeting in 1776 approved the Declaration of Independence. Here’s a new one by Jennifer Barnett, a classroom teacher for more than 20 years who decided it was time for teachers to have a declaration of their own and wrote one. Barnett currently serves as Teacher Leader in Residence for the Center for Teaching Quality. A member of the Collaboratory and co-author of Teaching 2030: What We Must Do for Our Students and Our Public Schools … Now and in the Future, Jennifer blogs, manages a tech help wiki, and spends far too much time on Twitter.
By Jennifer Barnett
No historical document speaks to me more deeply than the Declaration of Independence. It’s a fascinating study of history, philosophy, and law embedded with deep nuggets of truth about the human spirit.
But as a teacher leader, what I love the most about the Declaration of Independence is the opportunity for personal reflection it provides. Every time I digest it, I nourish my soul and reinvigorate my purpose as a teacher and a leader.
So I’ve adapted this historical document to fit one of my passions in life: elevating teachers as leaders. Just as our forefathers sought to declare independence from oppressive rule, current circumstances necessitate a bold change in education.
In order for teachers to transform their profession, teacher leadership must permeate every corner of education. I hope teachers everywhere across this great nation will find themselves in these words.
A Declaration of Teacher Leadership
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all teachers are valuable, and that they are endowed by their skill and expertise with a certain inalienable right to lead. That within this right to leadership lies possibility, progress, and the pursuit of a profession which students deserve.
Educational systems must be designed to serve students, deriving their power from the consent of teachers. Whenever any school or system forgets its way, it is the right of the teachers to alter or abolish it. Thus, teachers must institute a new learning environment for students.
How? They must lay its foundation on student needs and goals and organize the environment accordingly. After all, teachers understand the elements that are most likely to impact student learning and success.
Our educational history, indeed, has shown us that systems and policies should not change for light and transient causes. History has shown that acceptance of poorly designed or poorly implemented policies occur more than rejection of this abuse or its abolishment. But when patterns emerge which sideline the leadership of the teacher, it is the teacher’s right—it is his or her duty— to throw off such patterns and provide protection for future generations of teachers and students.
Such has been the experience of teachers, and such is now the necessity that constrains them to alter their former systems. No longer will teachers allow what seems to be in direct object to their service dictate what is best for students or their profession.
To explain why teacher leadership must drive our educational system, let these facts be submitted to a candid world that teachers are:
Advancing teaching and learning through teacher-powered schools. Pioneering teachers across the United States are leading more than 60 teacher-powered schools in at least 15 states. These teams are pushing forward fresh ideas that change how teachers teach and how students learn.
- Influencing decision makers. Teachers across the United States are advocating for their students and profession by drawing on their classroom expertise. From Colorado to North Carolina, teachers are using their voices to inform sound policy decisions.
- Leading and innovating without leaving the classroom. Teachers in hybrid roles are able to spread best practices and innovative ideas beyond their schools, districts, and states while continuing to teach students for part of each day or week. Learn more about teacherpreneurs and see how expert teachers benefit students and the profession.
- Speaking out about conditions affecting their practice. Teachers are using virtual networks like the Collaboratory to share and compare policies impacting their teaching—whether they live in the same state or on the other side of the globe. Take this report by seven teachers from Shanghai, Singapore, Toronto, and the U.S. on their respective professional learning systems and recommendations for improving them.
- Advocating for their students. Teachers understand what their students need, and they are willing to speak up. Take Wendi Pillars’ heartbreaking apology to her third-grade students about over-testing, or Nancy Gardner and Rod Powell’s testimony defending the Common Core standards.
- Building bridges with legislators. Teachers understand the importance of developing lasting relationships with decision makers. Read Arkansas teacher leader Justin Minkel’s take on the need for regular ongoing dialogue between teachers and legislators.
- Changing the public narrative on teaching. Teaching isn’t all hugs and apples. Teachers are eager to convey the complexities of their profession and their passion for it. Take the recent #TeachingIs social media movement on Twitter that reached over three million people.
Therefore, we, the teachers of this nation, appealing to the good judgment of all who care for posterity and the future of our children, solemnly publish and declare that teacher leadership ought to be the foundation upon which education lies.
And for support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the needs and interests of students, we mutually pledge to one another that we will honor our commitment in thought and deed.