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Focus on Teachers: Lori Nazareno, Teachers Leading Schools

June 06, 2014

“Really good teachers—when given opportunities to lead the profession—can do so very well,” says Lori Nazareno, a National Board Certified teacher. “Teachers are an untapped resource and talent pool that we haven’t thought deeply about how to use.”

When pressed to explain what she means by “teacher leadership,” Lori instantly responds: “Teachers who incubate and execute their own ideas about how to solve our most challenging problems in education.  Up until this point, ‘teacher leadership’ meant to carry out somebody else’s idea of change—but that’s the older brand of teacher leadership.”

Lori continues, “When I say ‘lead,’ I mean teachers have the time, opportunity and hopefully compensation to develop their own solutions to problems.  Of course, they need to be aligned with the larger mission and vision of the school, district or system, but teachers should have the space to develop and implement their own ideas.”

Lori’s views have been honed over 25 years as a teacher who has created her own leadership experiences.  As an elementary teacher in Miami, she founded the National Board Certified Teachers of Miami-Dade in 2002 to, in her words, “engage accomplished teachers in influencing the profession.” The group is still active and hosts a "Survive and Thrive" new teachers conference at the beginning of each year to support new teachers in getting off to a good start. It includes a "teacher garage sale" where veteran teachers share books and materials so that new teachers can stock their classrooms.

After a move to Colorado in 2006, Lori co-founded the Math and Science Leadership Academy (MSLA), a teacher-powered Denver public school that serves primarily high-needs, English as a Second Language students.  The school is structured around the motto: “Where everyone is a learner, teacher and leader.”

MSLA school leaders are accomplished teachers who take on hybrid roles of administrators, instructional leaders and classroom teachers, working directly with students who are struggling the most.  The school emphasizes teacher collaboration, adjusting instruction to student learning needs, and peer observation and feedback.  MSLA recently received national recognition from the US Department of Education and was highlighted in an article by Lori in Kappan magazine this past April.  Moreover, the school receives more than 100 applications for teaching positions each year, indicating the great interest many teachers have in leading their own schools.

Lori now helps other teachers start their own schools, working with teachers in Washington state, Brooklyn, NY and Denver, as a Teacher Leader in Residence with the Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ).  She also organizes networks of teacher leaders in Colorado and the greater United States as part of CTQ’s virtual network, the Collaboratory. These networks seek to provide teacher leaders with collegial supports and mobilize them to affect change in district, state and national education policies.

“I’m a huge advocate for flattening the hierarchy in school structure,” Lori concludes. “Teachers want to lead and huge numbers will if given the opportunities and support.”

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