I recently wrote a post on the excellent group blog, The Co-operative Catalyst, called “Who’s the Boss?” in which I explored the idea of teachers being in charge of a school. More and more I’m feeling that not only is this a trend, but it is an important movement.

This past Thursday I attended TEDx Philly, a gathering of inspiring and motivating movers and shakers in Philadelphia. I was struck by the talks by Chris Lehmann and Simon Hauger who both signaled a need for big changes in education.

Lehmann, as many people know, started his own school here in Philadelphia within the School District itself but partnered with The Franklin Institute. His talk about how High School sucks and why it doesn’t have to be that way, highlighted the authentic, real-world experiences The Science Leadership Academy offers its students. As a perfect example, his students were documenting the entire event on film with still photography and video.

Simon Hauger, the renowned West Philadelphia High School teacher whose students beat out the likes of MIT and Cornell in the Progressive Automotive X Prize for their hybrid vehicle, spoke as well about how school should be. In fact, he is in the process of organizing his own school, The Workshop for Democracy and Social Entrepreneurship. 

photo courtesy of Budzlife on Flickr

Educators in the classroom know that the current state of affairs in education is not working. As members of the front line, they know what works and what doesn’t. They also know that the models that work do not always neatly fit into quantifiable charts and graphs that can be analyzed by computers and politicians.

I can’t begin to count the number of times that I have had a conversation about starting ‘our own school.’ What’s amazing is that most of these conversations as well as the concrete, real-world examples, have a different kind of leadership.

Leadership in schools started and run by teachers are democratic in nature. They have flat leadership and the entire staff works as a team. Some of these kinds of schools do have administrators, but these leaders are just that: leaders.  They are not The Boss and they do not manage their staff like a CEO of a business.  Hauger’s school describes its leadership and organizational structure as one of democratic cooperation:

The school employs a shared leadership model in which roles, responsibilities, and accountability are clearly defined, but decisions are made collaboratively.  (http://www.workshopschool.org/drupaled/?q=node/26)

Teachers are ready to step up and take the reins of reform. We are ready to take responsibility for educating our students and we WANT to be held accountable.

What we don’t want: to be held accountable according to an outsider’s standards. We can and will hold each other accountable as part of a team. If the quarterback isn’t throwing winning passes, then the whole team fails. We know that NCLB is not going away any time soon. Politicians will still want their line graphs and percentages. Let’s show them that students can be successful in other ways that are still quantifiable and that test prep, bi-weekly benchmark testing and other methods that ‘teach to the test’ are not as effective as learning experiences that teach the whole child and force real-world problem solving.

This kind of learning is messy. Which is why we need a strong, supportive team for feedback, inspiration and accountability.

So let’s stop looking for band-aid reforms and quick fixes. Let’s start to rethink the leadership and organization of school itself. Let’s start our own schools that are within districts, not experimental charter schools. Let’s change the system from the inside and truly affect change. Let’s take charge of our own buildings and do what’s right for kids and their families.

If you have an example of a teacher-run school, please post a link or name in the comment area.


  1. ktenkely


    Here here! Working on one such school in Colorado, will let you know when I have info to share!

  2. Reply

    I took the liberty of cutting and pasting our class discussion on school reform. I deleted most of the personally identifying information because I haven't asked the rest of the class.
    It is 50 some odd pages of our thoughts and opinions but mostly it comes down to reform only works when it is appropriate to the specific school and has the support of the majority of the people who are implementing the reform.

  3. Ron Whitehorne


    We need schools the empower teachers along with parents, students and disenfranchised communities. But we are swimming against the current as power is centralized at the top, often in the hands of non-educators, and instruction is being micromanaged to serve a corporate inspired model of schooling We need to organize and lay the groundwork for a movement from below that can turn the tide.

  4. TMarie


    I can't wait to check out your "Who's the Boss?" blog. I've been talking to a few teacher friends about doing this. My understanding is that the SDP does not currently allow teachers to run schools (Probably because we'd show up the Promise Academies!) How do we tackle this issue? Do we contact Jerry Jordan and try to make it part of the next contract?

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