Minnesota school highlights power of teacher autonomy
- When a group of teachers at Orchard Lake Elementary in Lakeville, MN, had a vision for a school with more focus on personalized learning and teacher collaboration with less top-down decision-making, they saw opening a charter separate from the district as the only option — but Education Week reports Superintendent Lisa Snyder instead worked with them to realize that vision.
- Following school board approval in 2013, they launched Impact Academy at Orchard Lake as a pilot program which now includes the entire school, with all 34 teachers across its three "vertical, K-5 communities" having autonomy to make decisions around things like knocking down walls for open class environments allowing students to work across grade levels in "right fit" groups, Ed Week reports.
- Numbers from the Teacher-Powered Schools Initiative indicate some 115 similar schools exist across 18 states, with 24 in Minnesota alone that have been bolstered by a $500,000 grant program from the state's legislature.
As pressure increases for more innovative learning models, it's worth consideration by policymakers that top-down mandates and stringent accountability measures don't necessarily inspire the amount of creativity and enthusiasm needed to do so. Conversely, those very measures — like, say, teacher evaluations tied to standardized tests — can discourage efforts to innovate for fear of loss of employment or school closure in the event that they don't work out.
As two administrators and a classroom teacher on a SXSWedu panel pointed out in March, the people in the classroom every day are perhaps K-12's greatest untapped engines of innovation. They likely have a better idea of what will work and what won't than a bureaucrat who wasn't trained to do the job, and if they have ways to engage students and create a more collaborative, productive learning environment, it's probably worth it to let them make the effort without fear of reprisal under top-down mandates.
In addition to giving teachers more autonomy in school decisions, a smaller step administrators can take is to give them a seat at the table in professional development planning. A prevailing argument as personalized learning grows in popularity for students is that teachers, as well, should be given a say in what opportunities they have to gain desired skill sets and improve their pedagogy in the areas where they have the highest need. Just as there's no one-size-fits-all method of teaching every child, each educator also has their own strengths and weaknesses that can be honed and improved upon with more say on their part.
- Education Week In Minnesota and U.S., Teacher-Powered Schools Take Root
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