38 EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP / SUMMER 2014
teacher judgment about developmental appropri-
ateness, student engagement, and the best tools to
reach content standards?
n Standards for teaching practice were developed
around performance in the classroom, rather than
credentialing or standardized testing outcomes?
n Teacher evaluation included periodic on-site
peer review for all teachers, novice and veteran, with
an eye toward improving practice? What if teachers
developed portfolios filled with evidence of their
impact on student learning to share with colleagues?
n Professional development were selected and
created by practitioners themselves? What if lively
dialogue about education issues affecting their stu-
dents were a regular feature of each day, informed by
teachers’ own scholarship and experience?
n Mentoring and induction programs were estab-
lished with graduated responsibilities for novices?
n Teachers themselves guided the reshaping
of the daily work of schools, including issues of
scheduling, differentiated staffing, nonstandard cal-
endars, hiring, and negotiating the use of available
n Incentives were established to encourage K– 12
teachers to write and speak publicly on crucial
issues in education and do action research, creating
an ethos of discourse and debate? What if every
teacher were expected to contribute to this collective
None of these requires comprehensive legislative
change or significant reallocation of resources. It
would be possible—in a generation, perhaps—to
completely restructure teaching as a genuine profession, one school or district at a time.
So how can teachers become professional change
agents? I would suggest that teachers themselves
are the only ones who can lead a movement toward
articulating and demonstrating the complexity,
importance, and power of creative teaching in
improving the lives of the children we teach.
We can do more than just imagine a culture
of innovation. We can take small steps every day
toward demonstrating those cognitive, collegial, and
moral behaviors of professionalism by
n Consciously making time for the big picture in
education and staying abreast of issues of practice
and policy. It’s just as important for teachers to be
familiar with the impact of national trends—the
Common Core State Standards or the debate over
teacher preparation, for example—as it is for them
to be cognizant of in-school issues.
n Developing personal learning networks. Social
media makes it possible to share ideas and opinions
with teachers around the globe, clarify issues, and
build well-researched plans for change. Facebook,
Twitter, online publications, and disciplinary net-
works are rich resources for lesson ideas as well as
n Working with on-site allies. The process of
identifying others who are equally passionate about
the work of teaching is exhilarating. When edu-
cators do take action, it’s important not to be alone
n Publicly demonstrating our commitment to
students and our passion for their deeper learning
every day. Teachers are first responders when
practice shifts. Their observations about new pro-
grams, assessment models, and curricular require-
ments are valuable and should be solicited and
presented at school board meetings, at parent gath-
erings, and in publications.
n Gathering the courage to speak, and keep
speaking, as experts. Few teachers enter the profession with the goal of becoming a public advocate,
but avoiding public conversations about the work of
teaching and learning doesn’t serve children or the
Trust is a resource, too—one that teachers can
cultivate in their schools and communities and then
use as a springboard for positive change. Relationships built on trust and expertise are at the heart of
what it means to be a professional, and they enable
us to move forward with confidence as change
1McCusker, S. (2014, April 7). Teachers’ most powerful
role? Adding context [blog post]. Retrieved from Mind/
Shift at http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/04/teachers-
Nancy Flanagan is an education writer and consultant
focusing on teacher leadership. She blogs for EdWeek
at Teacher in a Strange Land.