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From Teacher to Teacher Leader

Teacher Voices | March 20, 2019

Every month we feature an opinion piece written by teachers in the MƒA community. Welcome to MƒA Teacher Voices.

By MƒA Master Teacher Seth Guiñals-Kupperman

In our professional lives, we can identify a number of leaders: the charismatic student, perhaps a colleague or administrator with a singular vision or strength of conviction who inspires us. I’d like to use this space to discuss another important leader whose time has come to step up. I’m talking about you.

In all the years that I facilitated and co-facilitated workshops, mentored (and e-mentored) other science instructors and turn-keyed my PD findings, I had thought of myself as a teacher evangelist. I’m someone excited about methodology and happy to bring others along. It wasn’t until I was selected a recipient of the MƒA Muller Award for Professional Influence in Education that I realized what I was doing wasn’t just evangelism; it was leadership. Receiving this award helped me recognize that teacher leaders don’t have to be administrators, Lead Teachers, or coaches. They can be classroom teachers whose passion to grow helps and inspires others.

To be honest, I have nothing in me that any other MƒA teacher doesn’t have. We are all capable of distinctive professional influence; we’re all capable of leadership. We all have a passion for an approach, perspective, or strategy that can catalyze the same change in others that we saw in ourselves. Leadership is nurturing that capacity and summoning the conviction to realize that you do have something meaningful to share and that others will value it greatly.

Being a part of the Math for America fellowship community for the past few years has been a unique professional honor and experience because I get to take part in some of the best professional development currently offered in New York City. I get to rub shoulders with visionary, driven instructors with insight, heart, awareness and humility. At the same time, there exist many valuable leadership opportunities one doesn’t have to be in MƒA to grasp.

Through National Board Certification, one becomes a leader in the practice of reflecting on pedagogy and instruction. By being a mentor of newer teachers, one is pushed to understand and articulate not just what does and doesn’t work in a classroom, but why? And workshop facilitation is an excellent way to strengthen the pedagogy of your fellow instructors while building a community of practice around an approach or tool. Being a leader can simply mean being a risk-taker: being in that vanguard of educators willing to be the first to try a new approach and showcase it for peers.

One thing all of these leadership roles have in common is that they do not involve leaving the classroom. It’s true that many administrators are excellent leaders. But educational leadership can take many forms that permit leaders to be teachers first!

A note to my fellow MƒA teachers: Realize that by dint of your MƒA fellowship, you are qualified to be any one of these. You are a leader of teachers! So how and where would you like to lead others?

One place to start is by submitting a proposal to facilitate a workshop or interest group. In addition to the community that arises from the shared experience of thinking through something over the course of several sessions, it frankly shatters the illusion that facilitation is some magical skill only few possess. Go for it! Lead your first PLT! Or submit a proposal for a workshop at a conference! As intimidating as it might be to have to impress a bunch of smart adults, remember that they’re all there to see you and no one else.

In a word, Lead. If you’re passionate about teaching, that’s qualification enough. You don’t necessarily have to leave the classroom to continue to work with other teachers, both within the MƒA community and without. Through facilitation, presentation, mentorship, classroom modeling, administration, I want to tell you something about myself that it took the Muller Award for me to realize: as an MƒA teacher, I am a leader of teachers, and so are you. It’s time, dear reader, for you to put yourself out there to lead, and elevate the profession. If it helps, I’ll be the first to follow.

Seth Guiñals-Kupperman is a Nationally Board Certified Physics Teacher who has taught in the NYC public school system for 16 years. He became an MƒA Master Teacher in 2013 and has proudly co-facilitated and attended a variety of MƒA courses, presented at events like MT²: Master Teachers on Teaching, national and international conferences, and has served as a mentor to MƒA Early Career Teachers. Seth is a recipient of the 2018 MƒA Muller Award for Professional Influence in Education. He is also on the board of STEM Teachers NYC, is the Director-At-Large of Physics for STANYS and is an AAPT/AIP Master Teacher Policy Fellowship recipient.