The traditional format of school does little to foster leadership culture. It divides and categorizes people to such a degree that most teachers spend the majority of their work separated from colleagues. This degree of organization begs for rigorous management but greatly resists anything that shakes the status quo. Since teachers rarely have an opportunity to interact with this system wholistically, management falls upon the shoulders of administrators to orchestrate and choreograph much of the endeavor that is school.
The introduction of teacher leadership demands a rethinking of this structure. Taking a chaordic approach to teacher leadership, it is necessary to create space for curiosity and expertise to find and realize new ways of working and being together. Where the chaordic path provides a framework for thinking differently about schools, a second framework called Four-Fold Practice, gives an opportunity to think of ourselves differently as professionals. The Four-Fold Practice is structured thusly:
Fold 1 – Presencing
Presencing is the combination of being present and sensing that which could emerge into the world. It is the act of self-examination, of being aware of one’s internal dialog. This dialog is natural but, if those biases, prejudices, self-criticisms, doubts, fears become reality for a person, then they become alive in the world by influencing the actions one takes. This limits one’s ability to do the work that needs to be done and instead the work becomes that of the inner dialog. This is a paramount skill for the teacher leader – to see the situation as broadly as possible without the limiting filters of the inner dialog.
Fold 2 – Be in Conversation
When two or more people who are present engage in conversation, new knowledge is created. A deeper understanding of the organization is gained and new possibilities are opened. With regard to teacher leaders, it is of great importance that space is provided for these conversations to happen. The teacher leader needs to be sure that the voice of self sufficiency does not interfere with the opportunity to be in conversation.
Fold 3 – Host Conversations
This fold takes the serendipity of being in conversation and adds a layer of intentionality to it. When this fold is embraced, individuals will call and explore questions around their interests and observations. It is here where a community of learners emerge. The voice of fear will prevent individuals from hosting their own conversations. It is the role of the teacher leader to not only call but also provide and organize space for these hosted conversations to occur.
Fold 4 – Community of Practice
The fourth fold shifts the focus from individuals to an organizationally holistic perspective. Members of the organization will continue to be present, be in conversation, and host conversations about what they are sensing but will also ask of themselves “What is my role in this situation within the context of my community?” The teacher leader is critical in helping people ask and answer this question for themselves within the intent of building a strong community that learns together. The voice of doubt – that this endeavor is will not enact change – impedes a community of learners from becoming a community that learns. Conversely, the voice of complacency threatens to bring down a community of practice after it has been performing for a time.
Being mindful of and affirming the four fold practice helps to lay bare the challenges that schools face. It serves as a guide for teacher leaders who are striving to build true communities of practice that are continually striving to meet the needs of all learners – students and adults alike.