Sunday, November 6, 2016

Jumping In: Teacher Leadership Involves Taking Risks

Jumping in:  Teacher Leadership involves taking risks for our schools and students
Michael Kline, Guest Blogger

Teacher leadership is quintessentially important in our schools today. With the advent of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), teacher leadership is not only expected, but required. Teachers can no longer claim to have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) from the failed policies of No Child Left Behind. Nor can they blame the top-down policies of our Departments of Education for being  “overwhelmed” and “underappreciated” as reasons for not taking on leadership roles in our schools, districts and States. As teachers, we need to take risks and overcome our fears. We need to “jump into” different leadership roles according to our unique abilities and opportunities. And, we need to jump in and lead, even if we make mistakes.

Call me crazy, but at the age of 53, I precipitously bought a skateboard for $130 one afternoon. I had never ridden in my life, but was captivated by the many students at the school where I teach on the island of Kaua’i, who skateboard effortlessly to school and around town. They are fearless doing “risky” flip tricks along the way, off of curbs, over different obstacles. Skateboarding is about freedom and creativity, danger and risk to them. I wanted the same feeling. Even though I was afraid of falling and had a bad sense of balance, I headed out the door and awkwardly started pushing my new skateboard down the street. I jumped on in an attempt to ride a bit. “I’m going to fall”, “I can’t do this”, I thought to myself. I pushed it down the street some more, but I was getting tired fast and I still had about a half mile to go. Then, suddenly, I hit a rock. The skateboard stopped in its tracks and I was catapulted forward nearly falling to the ground. Embarrassed and scared, I picked up the board and went back to my house, defeated. In spite of this setback, however, during the next few weeks, even after falling numerous times, getting many scrapes and bruises, and almost breaking my arm, I always got back up and jumped back on ever more determined to learn. After a month of persistent practice, I was riding to and from school everyday on my skateboard!

At about the same time, even though I was a novice, I impulsively jumped in again and volunteered to start a skateboard club at my school in order to mentor students. After 2 years, the Kilauea School skateboard club became an overwhelming success and is the only one in the public school system in the State of Hawai’i. Because I was able to overcome my fears and take risks, my students now have a better “sense of belonging” and “sense of pride” in our school, and I am skateboarding to and from school today with them. I found “freedom” and “creativity” in spite of the challenges I faced and the fears I had, by just “jumping” in and “jumping on” my skateboard.

A couple of years ago, as a result of the wave of school reform mandates, I had become a pessimistic and tired teacher.  I just wanted to do my job, no more, no less. Teaching became very scripted and rigid. I had lost the spark of freedom, of creativity. However, I think I approached these challenges like I did with skateboarding by taking different risks, by overcoming my fears, by “getting back up again and “jumping into” the challenge, and by jumping on the ride of “teacher leadership”. I overcame the fear of approaching my school’s principal in order to improve our school’s faculty meetings, professional development for teachers, and overall school climate. Even though I am an introvert and sometimes not very confident in my own strengths, I took the risk and became a facilitator for, and helped to create the Hawai’i Teacher Leader Network (HTLN)- a group that is creating teacher leader pathways within the State. Even though I was tired from all of the top down mandates teachers were asked to undertake, I challenged myself, applied and was accepted to be a fellow in Hope Street Group, an organization that provides states with the organization, resources and tools needed to ensure teachers voices are heard when shaping better education policy. I jumped right into meeting with and forming relationships with different stakeholders, legislators, and even my superintendent who all shape policy. I met with and learned from other incredible teachers across the State who inspire me by their own risk-taking and  “jumping into” teacher leadership roles in the state.  

If a 53 year old teacher can “jump into” skateboarding again and again in spite of the danger, fears, and challenges he faced, teachers, likewise, can overcome their fears, take risks, and jump into and then onto the fantastic “ride” which is teacher leadership. In this way, teachers can experience the freedom, the creativity, when we lead in our schools, our districts, state and country.  No more excuses. No more fears. Now is the time to lead!

Michael Kline is a Special Education preschool teacher at Kilauea Elementary School on Kaua’i. He is passionate about teacher leadership and play-based education. Mr. Kline is currently a second year Hope Street Group Fellow, a National Board Certified Teacher since 2003, facilitator for the Hawai’i Teacher Leader Network, and serves as Vice-President and Secretary for the Kaua’i Chapter of the Hawai’i State Teacher Association (HSTA). He holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville and a Master of Curriculum Studies from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa.