Why all teachers should be hero teachers

In an AITSL symposium in March 2013, I was described as a “hero teacher” by Valerie Hannon and that it was a bad thing. Hannon meant no offence but emphasised that I was a hero teacher because I took the role of change agent in my school, which to her required excessive working hours, sacrificing hours of my life to my job.

This led to a blog post from Bianca Hewes on driving, implementing and sustaining change in the education system. I admire Bianca because she is a hero teacher, a highly effective teacher devoted to her students, and we need more teachers like her. In this blog post I want to throw in my two cents and respond to two issues raised in Bianca’s post: (1) Teacher passion and subsequent workload; and (2) Sustaining change for 21st century learning.

(1)    Teacher passion and subsequent workload

Valerie Hannon is right to say that I have a huge dedication to my school and students. She is also right to say I work long hours. I say “long” hours rather than “excessive” hours on purpose. “Excessive” is relative to a teacher’s life circumstances. I don’t have children yet and I have a very supportive partner so I can do the amount of dedication that some people might see as excessive. I don’t see it as excessive. I am not on the verge of a mental breakdown. I am not on the verge on burnout.

For me, teaching is not “work”.  Like many other teachers I have a great passion for teaching and live and breathe it. I don’t see how this amount of dedication is any different to Justin Bieber working 16 hour days to be a successful musician. I used to play classical piano as a child. I used to practise piano before school and after school, in addition to many other hours spent on composition and musicianship. No one called me a hero pianist for it. Just like no one calls Justin Bieber a hero performer. All musicians just do it. If you want to be a successful musician, you have to live and breathe music. A musician isn’t what you do, it’s who you are. For me teaching is no different. I don’t see myself as a hero because I see what I do as what I should be doing to be a successful teacher. I don’t impose this on other teachers who contribute to the teaching profession in their own way. But I don’t want to slow down either because other people view what I do as “excessive”.

(2)    Sustaining change for 21st century learning

As a teacher, unless you have been living under a rock, you know there has been a push for change for “21st century learning”, and rightly so. However the focus has been on WHY we need to change for way too long. The focus should be on sustaining change. Bianca is right in saying that the lone nut has been dancing way too long and no one is following. Bianca is right to say that is unfair that a small number of teachers keep shouldering the burden of change. The question here is why people are NOT dancing with the lone nut.

IMHO we need the teaching profession to be made up of hero teachers. I don’t mean Justin Bieber teachers who work 24/7 and will burn out in 3 years. I mean teachers who constantly evaluate their practice; teachers who collect data on how effective they are teaching and how effective their students learning; teachers who constantly seek ways to improve their practice; and teachers who reach out to the global profession of teachers to share best practice and support others. Hero teachers are never happy with what they currently have. A particular way of implementing project based learning can always improve. Current teaching and learning programs can always improve. Assessments can always improve. Hero teachers don’t see room for improvement; they make it their priority to improve it.

In the 21st century we need to educate students to become job creators and entrepreneurs. It is not good enough for teachers to ignore the transforming impacts of technology. It is not good enough for teachers not to seek out data that evaluates their teaching practice. It is not good enough for teachers not to be dancing with with the lone nut. 

17 thoughts on “Why all teachers should be hero teachers

  1. I see a problem with the original notion as described by Valerie Hannon as in my opinion a hero teacher is a dismissive term, one that effectively denies the impact that an individual has on their peers, educational facility and their Professional Learning Network. I acknowledge and respect the effort and contribution of those who do indeed see their job as a pleasure….after all how many people spend their working,lives ‘loving’ what they do? To acknowledge any teacher as a ‘hero’ suggests that they are doing something out of the realms of others….and that is not the case – the issue of workload (another issue that supposedly defines the ‘hero’) is often used by some as a justification to not embark on a self-improvement journey.

    School leadership is always, and should always remain, a contextual issue. I prefer to learn with my team, drawing upon the experience of my PLN and apply change that ‘fits my context’. I see leadership as any person, regardless of ‘title’ working towards a cycle of continuous self-improvement in order to improve the educational outcomes of our students.

    I think we should should ditch this notion of ‘hero’ and work towards ensuring those who assume leadership have the necessary professional attributes (which you nailed in your second last paragraph) and the emotional intelligence to lead people on the reform journey. It is in the leadership process that more sustainable change will occur.

    Perhaps we can dismiss this notion of the hero by doing more to prepare our best to assume roles in educational leadership – allowing them to support, influence and build teams of effective teachers….although a romantic notion, then all of the attributes used to describe a ‘hero’ will merely be the ‘standard’.

    I did not meet heroes at #inspiredec13, I met peers – and they were amazing and have already impacted upon my own reform process and strategic planning.

    • Totally agree with your critique of the word ‘hero’. To me I don’t like the term in the sense that it implies that good practice is above and beyond what ‘normal’ should be. I also think that no individual teacher can do what they do without a collegial team.

  2. Although I aim to be one of those ‘quality’ teachers who is prepared to challenge my own teaching practice to ensure I’m engaging my students and leading change, this kind of “we must all be…” does worry me. As our profession is constantly in the media limelight and in political point-scoring sites, we are under huge pressure to all be the best. Apparently, teachers can not just be good at their jobs. We all have to excel, we have to be dedicated to our students, we have to work for passion not for pay, we have to be learners, leaders, pioneers and now we have to be heroes? Is being a good teacher not good enough?

    • What does it mean to be a “good teacher”. To me every single teacher is already a learner and a leader in their own way. I think constantly challenging our own practice in the path of continual improvement is what is already done in a lot of school systems. Even simple things like action learning where you combine teacher observations with student data to evaluate teaching and learning should be common practice.

      • I think that’s a key question – what is a good teacher? Is it an ‘average’ teacher? Is it a competent teacher? Is a quality teacher more than competent? I think it’s a question that should be fought and thought over as we move towards a fully accredited system. Po-Mo SLSO in the post below seems to need competence, forward-looking motivation and passion as a constant, but I’m not sure if we can all do that all the time, especially in careers for some which span 30 or 40 years.

  3. “I mean teachers who constantly evaluate their practice; teachers who collect data on how effective they are teaching and how effective their students learning; teachers who constantly seek ways to improve their practice; and teachers who reach out to the global profession of teachers to share best practice and support others.”

    In the private sector (I know, a whole other world, but hear me out), these kinds of reviews are built into the organisational structure, and if you don’t perform in your role, or you’re unmotivated and ‘dragging the chain’ you’re replaced or moved on. Why is education so different? I know there will be some complaints from any UK teachers reading this, but what about an improved version of the OFSTED body?

    Hey, I’m just an SLSO, so if I’m being green and silly, just say. I can handle it.

    I think it’s a very weird thing that teachers who are successful and passionate are ‘outed’ and labelled. If competence, forward-looking motivation and passion were the norm, teachers like you and Bianca wouldn’t be so visible.

    I am glad there are some beacons out there, but I do wish it were a sea of bright lights. Oh, and on metaphors, the nut dance implies one tune, and following the leaders. People might be dancing to their own tunes (but there is an awful lot of people chilling to the Muzak.)

    • Totally agree with you there. However I think we can’t replicate accountability systems in the private sector to education, but I think there needs to be a different approach to accountability in education.

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  6. This hit home! I sometimes feel bad explaining to my colleagues why I’m always looking for new ways to do things/to improve in the classroom. When I say that I consider teaching a hobby and not just a career, they look at me with disdain. Thanks for making me feel validated for what I do on my Saturday mornings…although I don’t consider myself a nut, nor a hero! Just another teacher reaching for the next rung on the ladder of improvement.

    • I think all teachers have different life circumstances. Those who choose to and can dedicate a relatively larger amount of time should not be discouraged or criticised as long as they are doing so in a healthy way. There are also brilliant and passionate teachers who are still dedicated even though they might not be spending Saturday mornings working because they have children, elderly parents, etc. However, the practice of continually improving yourself needs to be the norm regardless of circumstances and we shouldn’t use time as an excuse not to do it. This might be once a week for some and once a term for others. If all teachers did this then there wouldn’t be lone nuts because everyone would be dancing.

      Thanks for your comment.

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  8. What a fantastic post Alice. Hero teachers? I like to think of us as change agents as you stated – hero implies capes, undies on the outside and super powers. Passionate, dedicated and inspired by the world around us – there are a lot of us out here in the big wide classroom – we innovate, we create, we research, we evaluate and we educate. I like to think that I give the children in my classrooms the passion to explore the world with inquisitive minds, as I was inspired as a child. We have had teachers like that through the eons of time – so a lone nut? No – just doing what has been done forever -passionatley educating!

  9. I agree that teachers should be striving to always improve their practice, but I wouldn’t single out teachers on this. I think everyone should be trying to make themselves the best they can be. As teachers we should be modeling this to our students, I see it as a way to make lasting change in society.

  10. A great post Alice! Everyone has/needs hero’s. They inspire us to do better. Many ‘hero’s don’t even know that they are, they would just consider themselves passionate! I agree we need a different form of accountability for education – not the kind that is put on MySchool – but the kind that lets me, as a parent, easily identify the ‘lone nuts’ because that is who I want teaching my children. There are other ‘lone nuts’ dancing – perhaps it is just early in the process – the more conservative elements in education will just require more take-up time before joining in…

  11. Wonderful and inspirational post. Just the sort of thing Tweachers can be counted on to agree with. I really enjoy reading your blog. I always find that some of the best stuff I read comes from teachers working in different disciplines.

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