Securing And Susutaining Autonomy

The traditional model of school provides little autonomy for teachers. When teachers do have some measure of autonomy, it is usually limited to their work within the classroom with students. Rarely are teachers provided the authority to make decisions about issues that concern the entire staff or school. And, truth be told, some teachers may not be willing to take on the additional work required to make such decisions in traditional governance arrangements. They fear their decisions will be overturned with a change in leadership or because school, district, and/or union leaders have a difficult time adapting their structures and policies to support change. Louise Sundin, 22-year president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) and long time AFT vice president, chronicled story after story in which Minneapolis teachers advanced innovations only to see them “sucked back into the district, their uniqueness eliminated, turned back into plain vanilla by a bureaucracy that couldn’t tolerate… differences in delivery or design.”

In these conditions, who can blame the teachers who don’t feel school-level decision making is worth their time and energy? Teacher-powered schools offer new conditions. And some teachers are seizing the opportunity and are willing to take on the additional responsibilities required to design and run a school because they secure autonomy to collaboratively make decisions that impact whole school success. Autonomy, they assert, opens the opportunity for them to create a successful school with more certainty that they will be able to sustain their impact.

The source of autonomy is, at its very core, the teachers who pursue it. Their sentiments have been previously expressed by Kim Farris-Berg in a June 2013 Education Week blog titled, “Teachers—Stop Waiting, and Start Calling the Shots”: The vast majority of these teachers didn’t wait for anyone ‘higher up’ to say, first, ‘Teachers, we now grant you the opportunity to call the shots.’ No! Instead, they took advantage of an existing opening to seize authority (even if it wasn’t explicitly meant for them and even if it wasn’t their preferred path). Or, they asked for and negotiated authority (even though it wasn’t being offered outright). These teachers are explorers and pioneers in their field. Despite the risks, and they are willing to accept accountability for the results of their decisions. Like all pioneers, they are doing the arduous work to prepare the path and infrastructure for those who have thus far been reluctant to see the possibilities.   Read the paper >


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