The New Jersey Teacher Leader Summit was designed around a series of hosting practices with a specific intent – to discover and describe all of the things that NJ teacher-leaders could be. The charge of this summit was not to narrow the definition of teacher leader, that is the work of the panel, but to expand that definition as broadly as possible with the hope that the panelists will define teacher leaders in the most comprehensive and inclusive way.
Over the course of the weekend, we intentionally incorporated specific practices to accomplish our charge. We hoped these practices led to changes in the perception of “leaders” from one centered on hierarchy and authority to one centered on inquiry and empowerment.
Circle practice was used to establish our community. This practice emphasizes that leadership rotates around the circle, responsibility is shared for the quality of the experience, and that reliance is on the wholeness of the group rather than specific personal agendas. There is no hierarchy in the circle, and this was especially important for a group comprised of all levels of the educational hierarchy – Superintendents to pre-service teachers – as well as advocacy organizations outside the system.
World cafe is method to facilitate effective and efficient dialog across a large group. This process allows space for all voices to be heard and all members of the group to contribute. It further reinforces the idea that leadership should be considered from a perspective of inquiry and empowerment. World cafe consists of a series of questions offered to the entire group with simultaneous conversations happening in clusters of 4 people. New clusters are formed with the asking of a new question; allowing the best thinking to spread across the entire group.
The Chaordic Stepping Stones:
The chaordic stepping stones are a method of exploring the unknown that provide the loosest structure possible for conversations to be focused and productive but not so confining as to stifle learning. We used the stepping stones to find the edges of what a teacher leader could be. Find our protocols here and here.
Open space is an opportunity for a group to explore the ideas that are most alive for them at that moment. In the context of the NJ teacher leader event, open space encouraged deeper exploration of concepts that surfaced during the world cafe or that were not expressed at all but were thought to be important. The participants drive Open space, allowing them to make meaning together in a prolonged learning setting. It is another practice that embraces leadership as participatory and inquiry-driven.
The conversations that were had during the summit were rich and enlightening due, in no small part, to the design of the conversational space. The methods employed also contributed to the broadening of ideas around teacher leader. If nothing else, possibilities have been stretched.