brutality seem acceptable? Eventually, the lesson
materials were shared with teachers and schools
around the United States.
The Michael and Jessica case was my first experiment in exploring big issues in the arts. I was soon
reserving Mondays for humanities lessons, delving
into composition, music history, world music,
and links among music and other artistic modes. I
stopped thinking in terms of the next performance
and began teaching and assessing a broader range of
How was I able to make such changes in curriculum, instruction, and assessment—including
tackling tricky subjects? I was a veteran teacher,
well-known and trusted in the community. I was
teaching a subject that was not tested; students
elected to be in my class. I didn’t act alone—I shared
nontraditional ideas and goals with colleagues and
parents. If teachers are going to innovate—to lead
change, set new learning goals, and embed real
context-based reform into their core work—building
trust is an essential cornerstone.
Caught in the Squeeze
There’s more to any story of successful classroom
change, however. Increasingly, teachers’ ability
to manage their own curriculum, instruction,
and assessment is being challenged by a growing
infrastructure of state and federal accountability
measures and fervent policymaking. Teachers who
enter the profession bubbling with good ideas and a
desire to change students’ lives find they’re expected
to follow rigid instructional templates, ticking off
benchmarks and goals set by people who never met
the students in their classrooms.
In short, educators who want to generate custom-
tailored, relevant, pioneering teaching in their class-
rooms are in a bind. School leaders are caught in the
squeeze between following punitive top-down policy
and doing what they know is best for students. New
teachers, although enthusiastic about promoting
change, often lack the experience and guidance to
do so. And veteran teachers who want to stay in
the classroom tread lightly around current waves of
Even prospective teachers are touched by the
fallout. How many bright and creative people will
the work of teaching attract if there’s no opportunity
for professional discretion and autonomy?
More Than a Technician
So how can we engender the kind of focused education leadership that will produce truly inventive
teaching and deeper learning? How can teachers
fulfill their aspirations of making a difference in their
The answer may lie in transforming teaching.
Over the past two decades, there’s been a great deal
of thinking and writing about teacher leadership.
Administrators have been encouraged to nurture
teacher leadership as a means of delegating responsibility for reaching schoolwide achievement goals.
National alternate-entry programs are built around
the concept of developing lifelong education leaders
rather than superb classroom practitioners.
To be sure, teacher leaders share their good ideas,
mentor novices, and build learning communities.
Sometimes they’re selected for special hybrid roles.
But what they don’t always have is control over their
own work—and that’s the mark of a profession.
In his Pulitzer Prize–winning book, The Social
Transformation of American Medicine (Basic Books,
One analogy for the role of the teacher in an abundant
economy of information is that of the conductor. . . .
The conductor may never play a single note, but his
understanding of each small part of the larger work
““We’re moving away from teacher professionalism toward a teacher-as- technician model.