While many support the “idea” of teacher leadership, we are just beginning to see schools and districts rethink governance structures as part of the reform process. At Reiche School, teachers are in charge-completely! There is no principal or assistant principal. They have three lead teachers that oversee the building, but the reality is that by shifting to this model EVERYONE has a voice in the progress of the school and ALL share leadership within this structure. While this is not the only model for teacher leadership, it is important to shine a light on this unique community. This school is the only public school in the country that has transitioned from a traditional leadership structure to a teacher-led model.
Through my work in our local association, I knew that Reiche was transitioning to a teacher-led model. I had heard snippets along the way about their change process. But I had never formally met the teachers serving in these leadership roles and really didn’t understand specifics regarding the shift from a traditional public school with a principal/assistant principal structure to the new model of lead teachers. Chris Keegan, Kevin Brewster and Lorraine Bobinsky, Reiche’s current lead teachers, graciously met me this past Thursday morning to reflect on the model of teacher-leadership followed at Reiche in the hopes that I can “spread the word” about this exciting transformation.
During my visit, one theme that emerged was the power of the process they used to make this major change. They truly involved all of the stakeholders in a meaningful way. From the start, Reiche sent different teams of teachers to visit other schools in the country that were using some form of a teacher-led structure. The professionals came back to Reiche and shared the research gathered with the entire staff. Meetings about the change included teachers, ed techs, secretaries, parents, and custodians. Votes were held at critical points in the process, including early on, when they voted to continue pursuing this organizational model. As a community, the staff worked with facilitators to capture their values and beliefs and ensure the governance structure they were developing matched these beliefs. They reached out for resources from the NEA and the MEA when they found the work challenging. The district, the union, the staff, and the parents all worked through this process TOGETHER.
What has a well-researched, inclusive process brought to Reiche Elementary School? A school full of leaders. The three lead teachers are officially “in charge” , but the truth is that ALL share responsibility. Every staff member serves on one major committee. The committees focus on the following: enrichment, climate, instruction, and professional development. The chairs of these committees serve on the leadership team with the lead teachers, the building union representatives, a district representative and the PTO chairs. All of the committees are responsible for providing professional development when appropriate. Staff members feel valued and have a voice. When new teachers are hired, they understand that part of their work is to serve on one of the four committees. As teachers bring issues to meetings, it is more often than not followed by a solution. This is a community that “owns” the work of this school and the learning for each student-every day.
So what are the downsides? What are the challenges? What other lessons can we learn from Reiche’s journey thus far? Like any other change, this has been HARD WORK-for EVERYONE!! The transition year from principal to a lead teacher structure was rugged. Parents were uneasy. As with any change, there were times of discomfort and new challenges. But by stepping forward as one, this school community has instituted a major reform. And they are now led by professionals who have their feet firmly planted in two worlds-classroom instruction and leadership. They “walk the walk” each day. This June, Reiche will finish its third year with this governance model. As with any school, they monitor data about their school including test scores, staff attrition and absenteeism, student attendance, parent involvement and parent feedback collected through a bi-yearly survey. Their next step is to begin rotating the lead teacher roles with an eye on keeping a balance of experienced and novice leaders in these lead teacher positions and committee chairs, so that others can bring their skills and knowledge to the forefront. When talking about teacher leadership and school reform, those of us in Portland, Maine, need only look in our own backyard for a successful example of a major paradigm shift. Providing teacher leadership in a school keeps strong teachers delivering direct instruction to students and can fill a desire for additional challenges in their professional lives. Let’s hope others from across the state and country take a close look at this school and learn from the entire staff of Reiche, a school where teacher leadership matters. Yes, teachers can run the school! Spread the word.
Contact the teacher leaders at Reiche by going to : http://reiche.portlandschools.org