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Owning Our Role

I had a conversation recently with an elementary teacher who challenged my thinking. A lot. We were talking about our different roles in education and the impacts we were hoping to make. She talked about her personal goals for each of her students and their families and I talked about my goals of building teacher expertise through my work as a teacher educator. While drastically different, we each made decisions over the course of our careers to meet those goals in personally meaningful ways. As we talked, we grappled with some big questions: Why might some choose to leave the classroom? What does that say to those ‘left behind’? What trade-offs are evident in each of those decisions? Who influences the trajectory of change in education? Which positions are more influential than others? How does it all fit together? I know, big conversations with unanswered questions that lingered in my mind.

A few days later, I was listening to a Heinemann podcast on my commute home: Affective Learning with Heinemann Fellow Minjung Pai and Shakil Choudhury. This podcast gave me much to ponder about personal identity work in education and the role that each of play in the larger context of social justice and education. But given my recent conversation with this teacher, I fixated on one particular part of the podcast:

Everyone's not a teacher and that's not everybody's role. Some people are researchers, and some academics create new knowledge and they go out there and they speak truth to power, and they hold the edge on things. There's people out there that are doing direct action, and then there's people that are like tending the home fires, and there's people who are just trying to make something a little bit better in their organization. There's like a million and a half, billion and a half, zillion and a half jobs that have to be done to make this system shift.

In that moment, all of the pieces of my earlier conversation I was grappling with came together perfectly. We all have a role that we have chosen for ourselves to make a difference in students’ lives: classroom teacher, literacy specialist, special education teachers, instructional coach, administrator, teacher educator, author, researcher, consultant, community liaison, etc. And each one of those roles has incredible value that is equal to each of the others. While published authors and consultants may be more visible in the education world, classroom teachers are the ones doing the daily work with children. While researchers are creating new knowledge to benefit students, coaches and specialists are the ones implementing it in schools. We all play a role and we need to choose our role based on our own ideas and philosophies, as well as our strengths and skill sets. One role is not more important than the others. The importance comes in connecting and collaborating together so our specialities can work together for the sake of students.

As a teacher educator, I often find myself longing for stronger and more sustained connections to classrooms, wondering if my work makes a difference where I know it matters most: to students. But listening to the podcast reminded me that all positions in education play an important role for students, just in different ways. We must own our individual work, but truly understand our effectiveness lies in our ability to connect and collaborate together. Each and every role must be valued, must hold equal weight in the conversation and must be celebrated for the unique strengths and skills each person brings to it.

So now, I’m pondering how to do this better in my work as a teacher educator and coach. How can I help my graduate students and future teachers understand the power of their chosen roles? How might I encourage them to share their unique skills, perspectives and voices with the larger field? How can we build our abilities to work together across all stakeholders to better impact students? I know I’ll be spending some time this summer thinking about these questions, reading research and professional literature to hone my own skills and hopefully, collaborating with others interested in thinking through this together. I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions to support this journey……..


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