We meet our teachers in many ways – some of them gave us knowledge, some understanding of the world around us. Some were great mentors, some the very opposite. Some teachers were incredible administrators and rose to lead schools and school systems. Some of our teachers were quiet observers, showing us how to critically evaluate the world, to curate information, and to separate the useful from the harmful.
Not all of us were lucky enough to have teachers like this. Not all teachers were lucky enough to be able to use their key talents like this too. Because really, that’s not what is expected of you when you become a teacher, is it? You are given a class, a curriculum, a syllabus. And you bring children to the test, and deliver them from that grade unto the next. That’s all a teacher does, right? Stand in front of the class, keep them in line and listening, move them on. Those who are good are rewarded with administration roles too, regardless of whether their key skills were in that or totally different. Teachers, who help students along their different paths to success in life, often find that they are trapped in only one path that is called success in this system.
Teachers too have a range of abilities and skills that would support a richer education system if there were incentives and resources for multiple pathways. These pathways emerge on an ad-hoc basis and reveal to us that there is evidence of both skill and impact. So, for example, some teachers are great event managers. Yet, they tend to be evaluated on skills and impact that is different from event management. Their rewards come from a more secure place within the school, but that is not quite the same thing. Another example: some teachers are wonderful artists, but unless there is access to a pathway for success in their vocation, they will continue to find expression for their talent in the chart boards in their own classroom and not further. Mentors abound in the education space, and tell me I am wrong when I say that most end up in forming cliques within staff-rooms rather than being able to professionally foster better teaching across schools.
Finding Teacher Pathways
There are two ways for teacher pathways to emerge. One is systemically, and the other is organically.
If we were to have a systemic evaluation of teacher destinations, then six (6) clear teacher pathways emerge to leadership – (i) Pedagogy and Curriculum, (ii) Classroom Management and Mentorship, (iii) Administration, (iv) Subject and domain expertise, (v) Education Research, and (vi) Advocacy and Activism. Some of these pathways are already available to teachers – but like much else, suffer from lack of equitable access, lack of resources and training and a need for systemic incentives, rewards and progress milestones.
Say, in administration, there is a clear pathway to becoming a subject head, or a head of the year group, and then on to school leadership positions. This is the only pathway that is well defined. School mentorship was something that was started by an examination board a few years ago, and that petered out within two years – which was expected, since it did not establish a clear pipeline of people, process and rewards – so how could it be sustained?
Take again the teacher researcher pathway. Action Research is one version of it that was supported in India by the NCERT until a few years ago. Very little remains of that program, nor is there a path to thought leadership available to all teachers. Some, on their own, do engage in research and possibly even do a doctorate, but in the typical school system, there is neither time nor incentive for such ‘extras’. The government school system still does have some access to this pathway via it’s DIETs but even so, it is certainly not considered mainstream.
Teacher Pathways are Leadership Pathways
Teacher pathways are ways to different forms of leadership. Each set of leaders across these paths will be able to better both schooling and education systems if they are given the right milestones to progress. If this is not done on a systemic basis, it means that only the very driven, or the rich and privileged teachers will be able to follow their abilities to improve schools systems by following ‘alternate’ pathways. These pathways are not alternate, they are essential components to sustain any school improvements. We are all agreed that teachers are at the forefront and fulcrum of education. Then, they deserve to be skilled and deliver impact in all aspects of education, not just test taking. For that they need a pathway, and one that gives equal opportunity to all teachers.
Building Teacher Pathways using Digital Creativity
While the lack of a systemic pathway is acknowledged, there are other ways for teachers to organically build their own pathways to leadership. In this day and age, technology comes to the rescue. Teachers will need to start by building their own digital literacy skills. This is almost universal now with the pervasive use of instagram, whatsapp, youtube and other social media tools. This provides the first part of the journey. There are teachers who have established leadership in pedagogy via their pinterest boards, and are now acknowledged content creators, there are teachers who have established subject and domain expertise via their you tube channels and recording of teacher workshops. Teachers establish mentorship via platforms like twitter. Most teacher pathways, including advocacy and activism, now do not need access to the ‘right’ people to establish leadership. These have been made accessible by digital technology.
To be successful in this though, one needs more than mere digital literacy – one needs to work to build digital creativity. Digital creativity will help build lessons that can be shared, will help understand classroom behaviours that help new teachers and create mentorship pathways. Teachers arrive at a valued milestone in their chosen path only when they graduate to creating something that is worth sharing within the teaching community.
Indeed, now, the path to leadership within education lies less in the traditional mainstream of handling a class. That becomes the starting point, or just the information and experience that fuels creativity to creating better solutions that will be built in the online digital spaces that we share beyond the limitations of our school, city or networks. Digital Creativity is the path forward to demonstrating leadership in education across all teacher pathways.
As teachers, we are the experts in learning and leading. This then is the way forward for us – to create pathways to leadership for ourselves and other teachers via digital creativity.