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How a “community-up” model of school relationships can nurture teacher agency | KQED


The cylindrical model builds on circle ideology; it is used to symbolize a flattened hierarchy, where no one person in the community is more important or more capable than another. As the circle of people in the community contribute and learn together, the circle grows upward, transforming into a cylinder, showing equitable growth for all.

With permission from Cinnamon Kills First, I imposed the categorization and labels to the shapes she presented at the Fifteenth Annual Leadership Institute: Evaluating Student Voice Through Teacher Leadership conference. (Courtesy of Kass Minor)

To the right of the cylindrical model, notice the triangle. The triangle is a more typical representation of how power and agency flows through a school. At the top, school leaders are positioned with ultimate decision-making power. Their vision, guidance and leadership (or lack thereof) significantly impacts how all people experience school.

On the right bottom angle of the triangle, you will find teachers. The yellow arrows shown between teachers and school leaders demonstrate how connected they are as well as their relational power dynamic. This is significant: School leaders are almost always positioned above teachers.

Kids are placed on the bottom side of the triangle, representing their lack of power within the school, as well as the people with whom they are connected to: their parents and/or caregivers and their teachers. They also serve as a conduit for how teachers and parents and/or caregivers communicate with one another. That is, what kids say happens during their school day is interpreted by parents/caregivers in ways that shape their perspective on their child’s teacher. This can either hinder or strengthen teacher agency.

Finally, you’ll see the left side of the triangle connecting parents/caregivers to school leaders. This connection varies across school, but this body of voices has the power to heavily influence the ways in which school leaders strategize and make decisions.

The cylindrical, or “community-up” model allows the entire school community to contribute to the needs of school communities, enabling more space and time for teachers to plan, collaborate and be thoughtful when developing curriculum and making instructional decisions based on the needs of their students. Potentiality for community contributions is vast, and, again, looks very different depending on school demographics, resources and perspectives.

Below are a few examples of distributed community contributions:

  • One community I worked in solicited parent volunteers to serve as substitute teachers so their teachers on staff could participate in professional development together with me. Many parents and caregivers volunteered; however, this com- munity was affluent, mostly white and East Asian, and many volunteers had jobs with flexibility that allowed them to con- tribute their time during the school day.
  • Another time, a principal I worked with liaised with a community sports group to spend time with children in the gym so teachers could curate their classroom libraries more thoughtfully together, rather than covering each other’s classrooms and doing the work in isolation. In that case, the community was predominantly immigrant and BIPOC, disadvantaged economically, but advantaged in that they had a long-term commitment to building cross-community relationships.
  • I’ve also seen students contribute to nourishing teachers’ agency. One school I worked in regularly invited students to attend curriculum-making sessions with teachers, acting as thought partners with their teachers to ensure their learning was relevant to their experience. These experiences were built across their advisory program, so when curriculum meetings happened, students were prepared to contribute in meaning- ful ways. This particular school served economically disad- vantaged students and was racially and economically diverse.

Significantly, they were led by a visionary school leader with a strong, diverse school equity team who were equipped to actionize various learning structures they learned through workshops centering students, equity, and racial dynamics as part of their school experience.

Rizwan Ahmed
Rizwan Ahmed
AuditStudent.com, founded by Rizwan Ahmed, is an educational platform dedicated to empowering students and professionals in the all fields of life. Discover comprehensive resources and expert guidance to excel in the dynamic education industry.
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