With my term on the Commissioner of Education’s Teacher Advisory Council (TAC) set to end next week (not a humblebrag, I swear), I’ve been spending some time reflecting on the valuable insights and opportunities that teacher leadership has afforded me these past three years. I’ve been privileged to engage in meaningful conversation about Kentucky education issues with four different commissioners, each bringing their own unique energies and experiences to the table. I’ve learned a lot about policy and politics along the way, and most importantly, I’ve been able to connect with a number of other teacher leaders across the state with a heart for helping kids. Such experiences have left an indelible mark on my understanding of the educator as a leader, both in and out of the classroom.
Teachers are not the most important stakeholder in education — that title belongs to the students and families we serve. However, teachers are the most important educational factor in a student’s achievement. Because of the many hats teachers must wear (and the unique skillset it takes to wear them well), great teaching may as well be synonymous with great leadership. Talk to any of the great Kentucky teachers that I’ve been fortunate enough to know, and you’ll realize this quickly. Their work to move the needle for students doesn’t simply stop when the bell rings at 3pm.
Being surrounded by such great teacher leaders also makes recent conversations about the value of teacher voice in Kentucky seem bizarre to me. Teachers should have their voices represented in every organizational structure that impacts them, including at the highest levels. As Kentucky continues to seek gains in student achievement for all kids, it seems apparent that we should be striving for greater representation of all relevant stakeholders: parents, students, and teachers. Without these voices to cut through the noise and politics of self-interest, children suffer.
But I digress.
Despite all the feisty Twitter threads and caffeine-laden Facebook Group rants that I’ve been seeing lately, I’m not discouraged. However these disagreements pan out, there are still plenty of organizations out there doing good work to promote teacher voice in Kentucky. I’m fortunate to have been a part of a few them. Even as one of those doors closes next week, I’m choosing to celebrate the positives I’ve seen throughout these past few years.
I saw stakeholders come together to weigh the good, the bad, and the ugly of Kentucky’s new school accountability system. I listened to leaders discuss their plan to lift Kentucky to the top of the pack in STEM education. And not without controversy, I engaged in conversations with teachers across the state about TNTP’s Opportunity Myth Report and how we can make real improvements in teaching and learning systems for all students.
To steal a line from National Geographic’s Chief Education Officer (and fellow Kentuckian) Vicki Phillips, nobody knows teaching like teachers. As this chapter of my teacher leadership journey ends next week, I’m excited to see new chapters begin for fellow teachers across the Commonwealth. May faith be your guide; may your voices cut through the noise.
Garris Stroud is an award-winning ELA educator, author, and advocate from rural Western Kentucky. He is a former Hope Street Group Kentucky State Teacher Fellow and member of the Kentucky Education Commissioner’s Teacher Advisory Council (TAC).