Teachers fully in charge of what matters for student and school success is now a movement, growing steadily in nearly half the states of the U.S. According to a national survey, most teachers in America are unaware that this is a professional option. And, because most thinking is about “real school,” it is apparently not “safe” for even scholars to talk about teachers being in charge. Nearly every book diagnoses the problem then defaults to a conventional remedy – like chasing good principals. This book is aimed at raising the teacher-powered movement’s visibility, making it safe to talk about teachers in charge of schools, showing how this arrangement erases the talent drain now plaguing the schools, and offering evidence that students do better in these schools than they do in the conventional system. The book outlines how the movement could get bigger, faster. And the massive institutional resistance to change that slows its progress. And unlike most books, the author sees teachers unions as part of the solution.
Curtis Johnson has been a teacher and later president of three colleges. He has co-authored four other books, the latest being the award-winning 2008 Disrupting Class, with Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn.
Chapter 1: IMAGINE A DIFFERENT SCHOOL -- Teaching As a Real Profession
Chapter 2: LET GO -- Autonomy is the Key
Chapter 3: TRUST THE TEACHERS – Finally – The Movement Itself
Chapter 4: HIT THE ACCELERATOR -- How the Movement Might Grow
Chapter 5: ROCKS IN THE ROAD -- Getting Past Some Obstacles
Chapter 6: FIRST BIRD OFF THE WIRE -- Bargaining for What Future?
Chapter 7: CONCLUSION
No Child Left Behind failed because it held teachers accountable without giving them new levels of autonomy. What if teachers ran schools, like partners run a law firm, so that administrators reported to teachers rather the other way around? Employing an engaging, breezy style, Curtis Johnson makes a cogent case that “teacher powered” schools are better for teachers, better for students, and better for our democracy.
Motivation is the key to learning. And it turns out the quickest way to create a school full of motivated learners is to put the teachers in charge. They understand that motivation is the key, so they empower students to help guide their own learning. In this short book, Curtis Johnson describes these “teacher-powered schools,” which number at least 150 around the country. Let us hope it is widely read, because few innovations show more promise in the world of public education.
Small schools connected to community led by teachers—I’ve been an advocate of this concept since my first compelling visit to Minnesota New Country in 1999. I now call them microschools, these gatherings of 15 to 150 learners around an intellectual mission and/or a community asset, and believe they are the most important innovation opportunity in education. Small teacher led schools have the opportunity to provoke authentic community-connected learning in big bureaucratic systems. And as Curtis Johnson notes, they offer a New Deal for Teachers, an opportunity to create a productive workplace and learning space.
Like doctors, lawyers, accountants, real estate agents, and designers, teachers should have the option of creating their own practice. It may not be for everyone but with new tools it is becoming much more viable for teams of teachers to operate very small schools that provide extraordinary options for learners.
The teacher-powered microschool concept is an attractive and viable way to open thousands of rural schools in communities that have lost the gift of education to the movement of bureaucratic consolidation of the last 40 years. Teacher-powered micro schools can unlock urban innovation as well by creating walking schools for multifamily housing units; they can leverage the beauty and learning opportunities of local parks and museums; they can partner with businesses on career pathways.
In this book, Curtis Johnson lays out an option for teacher-powered schools, it’s an opportunity for every state and community in America.
Teacher-led schools could be a powerful part of the arsenal to create more engaging schools for students. They leverage what is known about motivation to create paths that truly stimulate teachers, which could in turn spark students. Creating engagement is the only thing that will ultimately lead to achievement.
Perhaps you can remember that one teacher, or perhaps two or three, who changed your life forever for the better. Do you remember the administrators of your school or school district? Can you remember the state or national education standards? Probably not. Curtis Johnson offers a powerful argument to shifting the power of education to the true educators, and to ask even more of them in return. If Curt’s manifesto reaches its deserved arguments, that one or two remembered teachers will become ten or fifteen or more — and education will have recaptured its deep sense of purpose and possibility.
Giving teachers more “voice” in the decision making and running of schools has been an aspiration of educators and reformers since the creation of the public school system over a century ago.
But, as so tellingly described in this book, over the past decade this idea has come to perhaps its fullest expression in the new teacher-powered schools movement, based on the seemingly radical idea that teachers, like professionals, should actually be in charge of, and accountable for, what matters in schools.
To my thinking this teacher-led school model is the most out-of-the-box, innovative, gutsy and potentially game changing school reform I’ve seen. The objective of this book – to explain the rationale for, practice of, and obstacles to, this reform – is both timely and important.
The question of teacher authority has also been of great interest to me as a social scientist and the subject of a nearly career-long effort to empirically measure how much say teachers have in schools, how this varies across issues and across schools, and what difference this makes, if any, for how well schools function.
And there is a growing body of academic research that supports the central idea behind this reform – that students do better in schools where teachers have more input into the decision making.
The idea of teachers running schools seems preposterous. Proper organizations have a leader, and a hierarchy of leaders creates efficient organizations whose operating procedures can be replicated creating excellence for all, or so we’re told.
But students of sophisticated organizations know better. Much of the academic literature in the field of organizational behavior addresses the failure of bureaucracies to perform as we think they should, and there has long been a fascination with network forms of organization and worker’s cooperatives, both in the United States and other countries.
For decades, scholars have written case studies of excellent teachers. Most of them are iconoclasts. They break rules, teach differently than the norm, and motivate students by getting them to think and act beyond the standard curriculum. Instead of leading their colleagues, they are often punished by their organizations and work as social isolates in their schools. In what are called “teacher powered” schools, these faculty band together.
Teacher powered schools are not so much about what they don’t have—an administrative hierarchy—as they are about teachers learning how to divide up authority and accountability. Teachers in these schools are not just good in their classrooms; they are good at getting organizational fundamentals right. They learn to make decisions without treating faculty meetings as street theater. They are good at distributing a school’s precious resources of time and budget. They are good at evaluating one another’s work in ways that are fair but tough minded.
But mostly, they are good at engaging students. The secret of teacher powered schools is not that teachers get power, but that they are able to empower students to take charge of their own learning. School is different in these schools, more hands-on, more engaging.
Not every teacher is ready for this. Not every school or district or teacher union is ready. But a growing number are, and that is the story that Curtis Johnson tells, and it’s one worth our attention.
It is time to take the discussion of teachers leading their own profession very seriously. That is what this book does and has come about at just the right moment. Top down control of education at all levels is not working. As someone with a long record of in-depth work
as a teacher, professional developer, and union leader, I have experienced what happens when teachers lead - it works! There is no better time than now to collectively embrace teachers taking charge -with students at their side - to determine what matters most and what
The idea of teachers being in charge of schools offers an opportunity to disrupt the current system and structure of education and give teams of teachers real autonomy and authority to design learning that is best for the students and communities they serve. Teacher teams already doing this proves that it can be done effectively and efficiently, that they are willing to take responsibility for their decisions, and most importantly that they create student-centered learning environments where students thrive. Curt Johnson’s new book explores this idea and imagines what will happen as this concept grows from its grassroots beginnings.
I've been a Labor person my whole life; it’s in my DNA. While I was president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Vice President of the American Federation of Teachers, I dedicated my career to creating a true profession for teachers. It was a vision of professional empowerment that was originally articulated by Al Shanker, President of the AFT. The power of professionalism means teachers take control and lead, modeling the other professions like medicine, law, architecture, etc. I was a founding member of TURN, Teacher Union Reform Network, a national group of local union leaders who were modeling how unions could be agents of change putting teachers in charge. They now need to change more than ever. And this is the idea we showed unions should organize around --- teachers in charge of what matters in schools. After trying out some ‘schools of the future’ within the District portfolio of schools with short term success, some leaders of our local union started a non-profit that authorizes public charter schools, most of which are run by teachers -- imagine that -- for lifelong union officers. Turning the schools back over to teachers would honor Al Shanker’s vision of schools designed and lead by teachers and parents to implement new ideas and models of teaching and learning. That's what we need -- teachers with true professional respect and status assuming new rules, roles and responsibilities as leaders and practitioners with more influence and students learning more.