Every person is unique; no two individuals are identical. This is the foundation of what makes education a living, growing, sometimes messy and often-beautiful organism.
Technically, all other professions come from education. Each unique educator works with a sense of purpose, with a mission to empower and equip each unique student with the needed tools to succeed in life. With this consideration, it is easy to see that teachers need to be creative leaders who are consistently growing with the rapidly developing society. Teacher leadership is more important than ever before.
My journey as a teacher leader started when I was introduced to The Leader in Me, a program that teaches Stephen Covey's seven habits of highly effective people to elementary students. I saw students of poverty here in Hamilton County closing achievement gaps through learned ownership and leadership development. Thus began my efforts to begin personally developing and gathering resources to provide more for students. Another teacher and I secured a partnership with a Leadership Chattanooga team to help create a leadership program for our students. Networking with eight business leaders as we created this opportunity for students allowed our program to become successful quickly while bridging the gap between the education and business world. This opened my eyes to the many leaders who want to contribute to education, but are unsure where to start.
Since then, I have pursued other teacher leader opportunities: the TeacherPreneur grant competition, Leadership Fellows, a year-long cohort provided by a partnership between Hamilton County Department of Education and Public Education Foundation, and the Tennessee Educator Fellowship with the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE). During my time as a Tennessee Educator Fellow, I have had the opportunity to develop my knowledge and voice in Tennessee education. I have been motivated to continue working on the student leadership program, expanding to three elementary schools in Hamilton County while using my voice to advocate and inform educators, parents and legislators about what I believe is best for students.
One would think with the increased accountability put on teachers today that involving them in another commitment would overwhelm or make them less effective. However, the opposite is being seen. Teachers who are taking part in additional development opportunities outside of the classroom like the programs I participated in are proving to be more motivated, passionate and effective inside the classroom.
This inspiration and contentment are contagious, spreading across school communities and improving teacher retention, school culture and student success. That is why programs, cohorts and development opportunities offered in Tennessee school districts like Hamilton County should be supported and teachers should be encouraged to participate.
The most effective way to increase student learning is to improve teaching. Education entities need to show commitment to developing teachers through every stage of their career, empowering them as professionals for the benefit of students. Hamilton County is not the only school district in Tennessee that offers teacher leadership opportunities, however there is not equal access across the state.
I would encourage any teacher who is passionate about putting students first to apply for opportunities outside of the classroom to develop as a leader.
Applications are being accepted for SCORE's Tennessee Educator Fellowship 2016-17 Cohort through April 8. Because of programs like these, teachers are developing their leadership potential, pitching creative ideas to meet student needs and using their voice to advocate for a continually improving education.
Lindsey Hagan is an elementary music teacher in Hamilton County with seven years experience. She received her bachelor's degree in music education from Lee University and her M.Ed in educational leadership from Trevecca.