Slice of Life 2: On Teacher Leadership and Educational Reform. Or, on the importance of Happy Hour.

March 2, 2017

by Kate Flowers, Heinemann Fellow

An algebra teacher, a Spanish  teacher, and an English teacher walk into a bar.

For real this time. Not a dive bar, either. A classy place full of leather and comfy booths and lots of lovely drinks on the menu.

This is the fringe benefit of professional development, not that it includes the alcohol–that comes out of our own pockets. But time, and fellowship, good food, and yes, alcohol–these luxuries are actually wise investments.

I’m a PD junkie. I always have been. I love going to conferences and workshops, and in the last three years, I’ve started to be one who occasionally leads them as well.


I’ve spent the day with my principal and my colleagues Jen and Ji at the CalTurn conference at the Westin in Sacramento. We’re here with twenty-five people from our district, ranging from a school board member, district administrators, our teacher and classified union presidents, teachers, classified staff, and principals.

You might think that the real work happens during the conference meeting times. And sure, work happens. Information is shared. Conversations are had. Progress is made. Important stuff, no doubt.

But the REAL work happens after hours, during happy hour snacking on hor d’oeuvres, over leisurely dinners in restaurants–completely bell and duty free, too–and in bars during after dinner drinks. This is when ideas flow, when cross-pollination happens, when insight strikes.

Tonight, a teacher at our sister high school came to dinner with us. He and his team had been part of Cohort 1 of the labor management partnership work our district is undertaking, putting them a year ahead of us, and we desperately wanted to pick his brain. He’s not only a teacher leader at his site, but also the vice president of our union.

We Ubered into Old Town to eat at one of our principal’s favorite restaurants, a fabulous swanky place with a mile-long bar, a two story wine cellar, and waiters who probably have Masters degrees. After we had all ordered drinks and selected our menu items, I pounced.

“So, George,” I asked, “tell us the story of Wilcox and your labor management work.” And over the next hour, we heard how teacher leaders and admin had worked together to build collaborative structures to empower teachers and strengthen teaching and learning.

The truth is, this is a story that is happening all over the country every day, and it needs to be told more often.

Each school has to make its own path, but I can’t tell you how helpful it was to hear how our sister school approached the work. In my classroom, we study mentor texts to help us learn to write well. In the work of educational reform, our mentor texts are the schools a little further along in the journey than we are.

I respect that, just as I resist handing my students fake formulas for writing, CalTurn and the Consortium for Educational Change resist handing us a template for how we should structure our work. It’s frustrating at times, but it’s honest: as Katherine Bomer says, the journey is everything.

As a public school teacher, it’s easy to get discouraged by this new alternative universe we live in, the one where Betsy DeVos is Education Secretary. But days like today, surrounded by dedicated public educators who simply do the work that must be done, constantly striving to improve teaching and empower student learning, I can’t help but feel like we’ll be okay.

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