Leading the Profession

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The leading teachers’ movement is a strong push towards empowering educators to be the prime decision makers of how and what is taught. Cultivating a passion for learning comes from teachers who are supported by their administration, and not stifled by their government’s stranglehold of standardization. While teachers are leaders by their position and nature, the “leading teachers” are those who excel in their field, and have the charisma to ignite a love of learning in their students and collaborate with their fellow teachers. This reform application has huge potential to address the core problems in America’s schools. 

New Agendas

The challenges being presented to national and global culture are accelerating, and in the face of such change America’s educators have asserted that empowering the youth is the best case of action to meet the needs of the times. This position of leadership is also one of collaboration, as the United States is no longer the greatest superpower and leader the nation once was on the world stage. The leaders of the 21st century are now being called upon to evolve their stance into global collaboration while remaining competitive. This is a new challenge all its own, and “It means we face real competition in the world today, and we can no longer coast on our past accomplishments. If the United States wants to regain the prosperity we enjoyed for much of the past century, we must take bold steps” (Van Roekel). Teachers are the vehicle for these steps, and as such are required to have a host of new skills and focus. 

In order to be the leader in the profession educators’ desire they have accepted the policy making system must be reformed so that their input directly reflects new education reform. After all, teachers are those with the most firsthand knowledge of what works in education and what simply gets in the way. As president of the NEA (National Education Association), Dennis Van Roekel emphasizes;

Unfortunately, too many experts and policymakers who have proposed ideas to promote effective teaching have neither taught nor experienced firsthand the complexities, the challenges, and the rewards of teaching. And too often that has led to policies that make no sense for students or teachers. Not only is that a disservice to students, but there is a real danger that proposals that seem promising on the surface inadvertently threaten both the quality of instruction and the profession itself.

Understanding the opportunity and need for educators to lead the profession which will empower the many professions which grow out of education, Van Roekel created a three-point plan for education reform to address the needs of today’s youth:

1. Raising the Bar for Entry: We need more rigorous programs of admission to the profession — not anyone can be a teacher. It’s not enough just to know subject matter — a great teacher has to enjoy and have demonstrated skills in teaching students, with all their unique personalities and styles. Our action plan demands that teaching candidates are well prepared for what it takes to do well in a classroom.

2. Teachers Ensuring Great Teaching: We need smarter, more supportive evaluation and professional development. Teachers should be expected to have full command of content, continuously refine their craft, and stay current of best practices. All teachers deserve the benefit of highly trained peer evaluators to assess their practice, and give timely and constructive feedback. And when teachers stumble, there needs to be an accountability system that is efficient, transparent, and fair to the employee and employer.

3. Union Leadership to Transform the Profession: Teacher unions need to do more to take responsibility for the teaching profession, and we need to think about supporting the profession in radically different ways. That includes working on changes at the local and state levels; partnering in the redesign of teacher preparation; and sharing responsibility for teacher quality. NEA members are hungry for new approaches.

Who Are the Leaders?

While the discussion of teachers leading the profession has been buzzing about for a few year, issues of semantics and the cultural contexts of “leader” have slowed the assimilation of the goals of the focus. Educator Nicole Gillespie shares, “I think part of the reason is that teaching is still largely seen as women’s work, and, as a nation, we are still adjusting to the idea of women as leaders. But I also think it has to do with expectations within and about the professions themselves” (Gillespie). This may change dramatically if/when Hilary Clinton becomes president, and supercharge the reform process of leading teachers.

Leading teachers are those:

They lead by improving their own practice and being both an inspiration and a resource to their colleagues to advance the profession.

They set direction and take on responsibility for the welfare of others in the school.

This position requires working in in multiple contexts, acting as leaders within the school and district, and across diverse functions, including leading professional development and serving as mentors and coaches, developing curriculum and assessments, and adding their voices to local, state, and national policy concerns.

They advance the overall profession to generate knowledge, refine and share practice, and take on a larger voice in the policy world. (Gillespie)

Understanding and empowering this development of leading teachers will only improve the quality of education for students of all ages. Educators and policy makers agree, “Currently, our public education system leaves too many of America’s 50 million elementary and secondary school students unprepared for civic engagement, higher education, careers, and family life” (Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching). Effective teaching is the prevue of the leading,

(Figure 1 omitted for preview. Available via download).

 teacher who knows their skills will not be minimalized by a broken support system. 

The broken system revolves around standardization, which inhibits the freedom and skill of all teachers. Standardization is diametrically opposed to the leading teacher’s movement. The structure inhibits collaborative and innovative growth, as it:

1. The tests are multiple guess (um, choice).

2. The tests are much too invasive.

3. Test results are used to make decisions about the capabilities of students, teachers, administrators and school systems.

(Figure 2 omitted for preview. Available via download).

4. By the time the test results are available, it is much too late for teachers to use them for formative feedback.

5. The tests are just one more way corporate entities are controlling education. (Bennett) 

A key aspect of the leading teacher movement is stimulating empowering creativity, and that cannot happen when the end game of standardization determines the freedom of the teachers. There is a time and place for testing, but standardization has blown tests all out of proportion to their use, and the majority of Americans now understand this. Leading teachers have the ability to raise their classes above the standards through unprecedented means, and must only be given the freedom to experiment. This playful spirit will cultivate a love of learning which will reignite the intellect of the nation.


Leading teachers are already at work within the education system, and advocating to remove the many barriers to their greater effectiveness. Standardization greatly reduces teacher’s ability to shape their student’s learning experience, and is inhibiting the innovation of leading teachers. American students are increasingly unprepared for the challenges of the globalized world, and leading teachers have the hutzpah and skills to change this if only they were given the freedom to do so. The collaborative best-evidence based approach of the leading teachers will strengthen the research base for developing teachers to draw from, and the changes this movement would bring to the system would bring in the right kind of new teachers.


1: Image Retrieved from: http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/Transformingteaching2012.pdf

2. Image Retrieved from: http://neatoday.org/2015/08/23/poll-americans-want-less-standardized-testing-and-more-school-funding/

Works Cited

Bennett, John. “Is it time to put an end to standardized testing?” ISTE.org, 20 Aug. 2014. Retrieved from: https://www.iste.org/explore/articledetail?articleid=137

Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching. “Transforming Teaching.” NEA, Nov. 2011. Retrieved from: http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/Transformingteaching2012.pdf

Gillespie, Nicole M. “What’s In a Name? The Case for ‘Leading Teacher’ vs. ‘Teacher Leader’.” The Huffington Post, 6 Jul. 2014. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nicole-gillespie/post_7476_b_5269072.html

NEA. “Leading the Profession.” National Education Association, 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.nea.org/home/leading-the-profession.html

Van Roekel. “Leading the Profession: NEA’s Three-Point Plan for Reform.” National Education Association, 2011. Retrieved from: http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/NEA_3point_plan_for_reform.pdf