Extending the Expiration Date

medium_4740025131Spending last weekend at EduCon left me with more questions than answers.  That’s a good thing.  My conversations with colleagues were heated at times, but the pushback is always good for my deep professional thinking.

One conversation in particular–which took place outside of the structured sessions of EduCon–has been echoing around in my head for the past few days.  While making snow angels in the fresh snow falling in Philadelphia, we talked about The Expiration Date Effect.  That’s the oxymoronic idea that the more time a teacher spends in the classroom, the more other teachers find them relevant and credible; while the further a former teacher gets from the trenches, the more respect they get from school and district leaders.  Visually, it looks like this:

credibilitygraph

It’s undeniable and unavoidable: the experience of teaching in a real classroom makes you keenly aware of what works and what doesn’t in public education.  Simultaneously, though, the classroom teacher’s voice and reach are somewhat limited, even as the connected educator movement grows.

That’s because the public education system is necessarily complex.  As my colleague Bill Ferriter said, it needs to be hierarchical for reasons of cost and efficiency.  But this same hierarchy creates isolation for the few at the top, and resentment for those being led.  The much larger number of “in the trenches” classroom teachers begin to expect that their leaders will lack empathy and appreciation for the struggles that they endure and the challenges that they face.  Ironically, the same issues that these leaders need to address.

How do we resolve this seemingly intractable problem?  Some leaders try to remain relevant by communicating with teachers, using surveys and town hall meetings.  Others assume that they’ll remember what it was like and act accordingly.  A few innovative districts are employing hybrid teaching positions to address this issue.

By elevating practicing teachers into leadership roles that keep them teaching part-time, these organizations hope to save money while tapping into the wealth of leadership already in their classrooms.  The idea shows a lot of promise.

Speaking for myself, I thought that I could hold onto my credibility because I spend so much time working with teachers.  But, I do so without experiencing the worst of their frustrations.  I can feel my expiration date approaching.

What can I do about it?  Well, for one, I can try to get into classrooms as often as possible.  Being there isn’t the same as being responsible for what happens there, but it’s better than nothing.  As I look to the future, I hope to be able to pilot hybrid teaching wherever I work.  I want to teach some of the time, so that what I do the rest of the time has more meaning and more relevance.

How do you feel about hybrid teaching and the expiration date?

photo credit: CarbonNYC via photopin cc

11 thoughts on “Extending the Expiration Date

  1. The “expiration date effect” is reality. Honestly, it’s difficult for me to trust the expertise in regards to teaching and learning of someone who hasn’t been a classroom teacher in awhile. I respect those administrators who every few years teach a “real” class involving “real” prep work and “real” assessment of student learning. I understand that time constraints prevent the majority of administrators from doing this, but it’s to the detriment of his relevancy in my book.

    I like the idea of the hybrid role. In fact, I know of one school where all the leadership duties are delegated among the teachers (http://msla.dpsk12.org/). I’d like to visit it and see how well it works because to me it sounds ideal.

    1. Philip,
      Thanks for the response and the link. I also think that out-of-the-classroom-educators (we need a better term for this, right?) can retain some relevance by building powerful personal learning networks that include thoughtful classroom teachers like you. I know that my interactions with you (in-person and virtually) have deepened my understanding of the struggles of classrooms in other places, as well.

      One challenge of the hybrid role is the amount of time and focus required to do managerial/administrative tasks. Can teachers rotate in and out of these roles and still do them effectively?

      1. That’s a good question, Paul. I’m not certain how MSLA divides the time. I met a teacher this summer who is in a similar setting. (He was from Denver, but I’m not sure if he was from MSLA.) In his setting, administrative tasks rotated among the teachers, and they were given “release time” to accomplish those tasks. As I recall, there was also time built-in for committee/community decision-making on some things. Honestly, it sounded very democratic, and I liked the idea of it. I have no idea how well it works practically.

  2. Just out throwing out an idea/question…

    Middle schools are based on teams. As a hybrid-teacher, are you a part time team member? Or do you teach an elective? Or do we re-think teams in middle schools?

    I’m already feeling my own expiration date as well. Also, I find myself wanting to be back in the classroom to show people who they hear that I’m not in the classroom anymore that I still got it. You?

    1. Luke,
      You nailed it. When I think about going back into the classroom (full-time or part-time), it’s not because I want to “make a difference”. It’s either because I want to return to a place where I feel comfortable and confident OR it is because I have some strategy, lesson idea, or tool that I want to use. I want to know whether it will work in the “real world” of the classroom and what it will take to make that happen.

      Your point about middle school teams is a valid one. In my imagination, the leadership role would be in the part-time teacher’s school, affording her the flexibility to still be a part of team meetings and other team bonding opportunities. But that does limit the leadership opportunities, doesn’t it?

  3. I find it exceedingly challenge to operate within what I like to think is an “inter-space”. I no longer spend time in a public school classroom, oversee teacher preparation, spend most of my time on policy, and still teach graduate courses in education….I try to use my PLN and students to remain “unexpired” though maybe that just makes me stale…

    1. But, Michael, the rub is that these “interspaces” are critical to the education ecosystem (in my opinion). Teachers need to be supported by a network of trainers, administrators, custodians, bus drivers, assistants, bookkeepers, etc. How do we keep the educators in this ecosystem who live outside the classroom connected to the needs of those inside?

      Using a PLN is such a great point. When I first stumbled onto Twitter (how is it possible that I was user number ten-million-something in 2007?) I was giddy about the way that I could, as a classroom teacher, speak directly to policy makers, experts, and researchers. We need to reinforce the power of Twitter for this, as well as tools like The Estuary.

      Your role with teachers probably put you in a position to hear their concerns more often than most, but how do we ensure that outsiders spend some time listening to those in the trenches?

  4. This strikes a chord with me. After transitioning to my new role as curriculum coordinator and instructional coach I’ve learned so much about teaching, but I struggle to share what I’m learning. I recently had a teacher suggest that if I taught a class he might be more willing to collaborate with me. My initial reaction was pure emotion; I did teacher for 18 years, and I still teach college classes, but later, upon reflection, I can see how my credibility took a hit in his eyes when I stepped away from the direct action.

    I would welcome teaching a class, but that would necessitate a complete restructure of my current role. I’m placed in two schools, and I also leave regularly for training, meetings, planning, etc. I don’t think it’s going to happen, so Paul, like you, I’m trying to be in more classes, to co-teach lessons, to plan with teachers, to get to know the students. It’s a harder line to walk than I would have anticipated when the year ended in 2012.

    1. Jason,
      Thanks for joining the conversation. Your experience with credibility is something I know is headed my way sooner rather than later. And, I’m sure that most out-of-the-classroom leadership positions are structured like your right now. Maybe we need to be the generation that pushes for these hybrid positions. Your full-time workload combined with a full-time teaching job could be shared by 2 teachers, right?

      1. Yes. I’m already part of a team of four, and we’re an awesome PLC. I can only imagine, if we were in classrooms for part of our day, what that collaboration might accomplish. At the least, we could provide a model for the teachers who are reluctant to work closely with others. At the most – it’d be amazing.

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