As the designated Teacher Scholar at Narragansett School in Gorham, Maine, Debbie Loveitt recently enjoyed an experience more familiar to university professors than to K-12 teachers.
She was freed from her classroom responsibilities for a full year to pursue professional interests that she would not otherwise have time for. Debbie used the year to learn more about student assessment and educational technology and to share her knowledge with other teachers through workshops, presentations, and one-on-one sessions. "I'd always seen myself as a leader in my own classroom," she says, "but this experience gave me the opportunity to use those leadership skills to help others."
For more than a decade, the Gorham School Department, a suburban school district of 2,400 students in southern Maine, has encouraged teachers to become leaders with the idea that they'll then pioneer new practices for their peers. Each year, teachers and staff at each of the district's six schools create special leadership positions for experienced educators and allocate funds to support them. Up to a third of the district's 170 classroom teachers assume these roles in any given year, usually in addition to their regular teaching duties.
The teacher-leader positions allow educators to take on new challenges and advance in their profession without leaving the classroom to become administrators. They learn new teaching skills and are better able to manage student learning.
Gorham's schools use block scheduling and common planning times to give all teachers opportunities to work together and provide phones and networked computers in classrooms to encourage communication. "We are fortunate to have a district that says, 'We want things to be better for kids, so we are going back to teachers to make that happen,'" says Michael Carter, a teacher-leader in social studies.