National Writing Project

Teacher Leaders Network Amplifies Teachers' Voices

By: Art Peterson
Date: August 4, 2010

Summary: Drawing on the expertise of some of the nation's most accomplished teachers, including some NWP teacher-consultants, the Teacher Leaders Network has elevated teachers' voices on policy issues and provided a vehicle for the sharing of best practices growing from experience.


At the 2009 NWP Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, Boston Writing Project teacher-consultant Laurie Wasserman met for the first time a good friend she had never seen, Mary Tedrow, co-director of the Northern Virginia Writing Project. Their connection occurred at the evening social, where both were wearing badges that read "TLN."

Those initials translate to Teacher Leaders Network—a virtual community that invites membership by approximately 300 teachers, most of whom have received special recognition such as National Board Certification or Milken awards, or are Teachers of the Year in their states or communities.

TLN provides a custom-tailored platform for daily use as a professional learning environment for Wasserman, Tedrow, and other network members, a number of whom are NWP leaders.

"Our goal is to give teachers ownership of their own profession," says John Norton, an educational journalist who has overseen the virtual network since it began.

That goal is closely connected to the mission of TLN's parent organization, the Center for Teaching Quality. The Center for Teaching Quality was founded in 1999 after longtime educator Barnett Berry decided it was time to put into practice ideas from the 1996 National Commission on Teaching and America's Future chaired by Linda Darling-Hammond—mainly that the most effective way to close the student achievement gap was to close the teacher quality gap.

Berry thought that discussion of issues like teacher evaluation and compensation should not be left entirely to "politicians, union leaders, and policy wonks," but should draw upon the informed knowledge of those who work on the ground, a community of effective and knowledgeable teachers who can offer some "pushback" in the face of these established stakeholders.

I want to be heard. I want Chester Finn to know what we are thinking.

To serve that end, the organization's members appear before state and federal legislative hearings, keynote at important national and international conferences, and share their understandings about effective school reform through numerous media outlets.

TLN member Rick Wormeli sees the voice of TLN as "rising above the cacophony of nay-saying and uninformed pundits out there who are currently getting the public's attention."

TLN member and Mississippi University Writing Project teacher-consultant Renee Moore sees unique qualities in the work of the network. "Although I am a member of several teacher networks, TLN is the only one on which teachers gather specifically to discuss education policy and practice."

A Teachers' Voice for Educational Policy

On the matter of policy, Tedrow says, "Teachers have discreet skills that should be acknowledged in formulating policy. I want to be heard. I want [policy gurus like] Chester Finn to know what we are thinking."

And TLN teachers are being listened to. Recently a group of these teachers, including Tedrow, had a conference call with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to discuss current educational issues (for more, read Teachers Voice Their Ideas in Meeting with Duncan).

Also, a big part of TLN's public face is the partnership it has with Teacher Magazine. The network has published nearly 200 pieces in the magazine , all of which grew out of network essays and discussions.

Members describe TLN as 'the best virtual teacher lounge there is.'

Recently Heather Wolpert-Gawain, a teacher-consultant with the Inland Writing Project, published a piece titled "Does Last Hired First Fired Really Make Sense?" And Tedrow wondered out loud, in the magazine, "NBCT Renewal: Worth the Price?" (Her answer was yes.)

Beyond Teacher Magazine, the TLN website promotes the blogs of its members. Many of the group's participants seem magnetically attracted to the form. That cadre includes several NWP leaders: Renee Moore blogs at "Teach Moore," Mary Tedrow at "Walking to School," and Heather Wolpert-Gawain at "Tweenteacher."

TLN bloggers' entries range from the instructive (Dan Brown of "Get in the Fracas" writes "We need Finland's Education System") to the thought-provoking (Bill Ferrier, "The Tempered Radical," reminds us of what educational reformers can learn from the recent decision of basket ball superstar Lebron James to go with a team that offered less money). Among other things: "Talented people want to work in circumstances where they have a chance to succeed."

A Big Tent for Discussion, a Virtual Teachers' Lounge

These posts often arise out of the more than 30,000 online exchanges among TLN members on matters related to education policy, student success, and the professional work of teachers.

This private side of the TLN site leaves plenty of room for, as John Norton puts it, "writings and sightings."

Wolpert-Gawain, for instance, describes a network debate between herself and another TLN teacher on the subject of using the Stephanie Meyers book Twilight in the classroom. It's fair to say Wolpert-Gawain was no fan of the book but "our debate evolved more into an online public dialogue about how to use the book effectively, the power of student choice, and the importance of teachers participating in their students' lives."

Laurie Wassermann says fellow members describe TLN as "the best virtual teacher lounge there is."

"We share the heartache of losing a student to illness, suicide, a car accident, or violence. We talk big ideas like standardized testing, but also about small but important ones: How do you help a colleague to understand that kids need to be treated with respect? What do you tell a parent when they need to make their child a priority? How do you talk to your principal about implementing more professional learning communities in your school?"

Different Organizations, a Similar Mission

One cannot delve into an examination of TLN without appreciating the goals and strategies this organization shares with NWP. When TLN participant and Oklahoma Writing Project teacher-leader Claudia Swisher describes how she "listens and lurks" when much of the policy discussion is going on the network, but then emerges to promote her Reading for Pleasure class whenever the opportunity arises, she sounds like any one of thousands of teacher-consultants eager to share a successful strategy at an institute or workshop.

Wolpert-Gawain reflects that "for many of us the Writing Project gave us our first taste of a true offline collaborative community of teachers working toward the same goal: that of improving their practice. And that improvement of practice, one person at a time, one summer at a time, improves our profession."

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