Wednesday, May 28, 2014

#AskArne: Teach To Lead To Lead The Teaching Leaders

Bad news: Arne and the US DOE are back with another scrumdiliicious video interview with his royal Arneness.

Good news: It's not all completely ridiculous. And as always, I'll watch it so that you don't have to. More times than usual, it turns out. I like to watch with the sound off to get a better non-verbal read, but the only captions available are the auto-captions, which are apparently set to "Names of Slavic sports heroes." So a few passes, with and without sound, were called for.

Let's Get Started

So we open on the usual graphic. looks like this time we'll be chatting abut Teach To Lead and --wowsers! We are picking up some terrific glare/distortion from the lights that we are shooting directly into. In fact, there are several production value issues that caused me to notice that this video comes from DOED Studio, unlike our previous entries in the series which came from I have absolutely no idea what that might mean, but this one does not quite come up to the previous standards.

Emily Davis has returned as our hostess, an I'm happy to report is simply setting her notes on the table in front of her instead of making that unnerving eyeflick to the teleprompter or cue cards or whatever they were last time. Like all good crusading bloggers (or roosters crowing at the rising sun), I'm just going to go ahead and take credit for that.

At any rate, Emily is looking a little testy, like she was pulled out of a meeting at the last minute to shoot this puppy. But our Emily is a game girl, so after the pro forma thanking of Arne for showing up at his own gig, she reminds him that he promised last time to talk about Teach to Lead. I am excited. At last we will hear hat this program is about!

Not Just Yet

The first words out of Arne's mouth are to the effect that we are still looking for good ideas for this (according to the captions "So we're still very much working through in need the best ideas some folks around," but that turns out to be inaccurate). And now-- wait-- this deserves its own heading

Arne Says Something That Isn't Entirely Stupid

Arne lays out the problem. If you want to get ahead in the teaching biz, if you want to get ahead either in terms of responsibility and pay, you have to leave the classroom and become an administrator, which isn't so much getting ahead in teaching as leaving teaching. I remember somebody telling me years ago that teaching is a field where you start in the middle and stay there for the rest of your career.

So Arne is thinking that teachers should get a platform from which to lead without having to leave what they love to do-- teach in a classroom. 

So Arne has said a true thing here. It takes me back to the days when I was young and happy and thinking that I hadn't used my Presidential election vote on somebody who was going to shaft me. Back then, Arne would say good things and I would think, "Hey, great!" Now I just wait for the other shoe to drop. The big, stupid, disappointing shoe.

So, Can We Know How Teach To Lead Works, Now?

Switching back to audio, because Arne just said "I'm Szekely." No, what he actually said was some Government-speak about driving student achievement by empowering teachers and nurturing the next generation and Emily, God bless her, closes her eyes like trying to will away a piercing headache, then does some spirited nodding. I swear, when and if I ever start behaving like a legitimate journalist, I'm going to hunt her down and interview her.

And Arne is now just spitballing ideas, and I'm beginning to suspect that we haven't done anything about this program except name it. So maybe these Teach To Lead Teacher Leaders will work across department lines, or maybe just half time in the classroom, or work as teacher mentors.

And now I'm distracted again because the color balance just shifted from overly yellow to blue-tinted. Emily she loves how he says that some of this is already happening and we're yellow, and bam, now we're blue, and now I'm wondering just how many takes of this thing Emily had to suffer through, and if that has contributed to her facial expression which seems to say, "If I find your socks on the sofa one more damn time I am going to feed them to you through your nose, sumbitch."

She's actually saying that she's excited to take a look at these people and she kind of bobbles the line and then sticks the landing with "Sowhyareyoudoingths?"

Another Chance To Tell Us What's Going On

 Arne is gazing down and to his right and looking kind of like he has pulled an allnighter to learn his lines. Which include "bifurcation"! Nice job, somebody. It makes no sense to him that teaching and leadership are split, and I'm thinking this would be a good thought to have the next time he's convening a gathering of education leaders without calling a single teacher to the infamous table. Cause you know what would give teachers a leadership role?? Being treated like important and experienced experts in their field by the bureaucrats who run education in this country. There you go, Arne-- problem solved.

What (Arne muses) if we had teachers who were so passionate about teaching that they said, "We want to run schools ourselves." Why, Arne wonders, aren't there more of those opportunities. I don't know Arne. Maybe because teachers don't have school-launching piles of cash like your hedge fund buddies.

Emily Amps Up The Pressure

"So how will Teach to Lead work," she asks, with a facial expression that says, "So explain again how the dog ate your homework." Will she get an answer?

This is "very early on" and we want "everyone who's watching to shape this." And he starts talking about a network of board certified teachers and Emily has a steely smile that says, "I am exhausted and tired of doing twelve takes and you have no effing idea, do you." But Arne drones on about extending these opportunities (you know-- the ones he hasn't actually named or described yet) systemically, and we'll be talk to schools and districts and states and what I imagine will be saying is, "So, have you guys got any ideas of how to pull this off?" No-- he's going to say "How will you extend these opportunities? And if you don't have anything to extend, how will you create it?" And I think there is no longer any doubt that there IS no Teach To Lead program-- just a title, and somebody else is supposed to figure it out.

But he's convinced that "this" will keep great teachers in the profession longer and will provide great support, somehow, for somebody. And mentoring, and student achievement. And-- honestly, he speaks pure garble for a second and emerges on "there should be no natural enemies." It'll be a win-win-win. And I am thinking, Good heavens, what do the takes they didn't keep look like?

Emily Is From Earth, Arne Is From Bizarro World

Emily says she likes leading from the classroom, but she can imagine the teacher-leader role being abused by an administrator (her example-- admin hands her a walkie-talkie and says "Go run bus duty.") This strikes me as a legitimate concern.

Arne's answer, however, is one more piece of evidence that he has never spent any time inside a school other than as a Visiting Dignitary. "A teacher's voice has to be heard," he says, and so he advises in that sort of situation "teachers have to say no, that is not acceptable."

Arne is in luck, because we already have a word for that kind of teacher voice, and it is "insubordination," and in most if not all school districts it is rewarded by something we like to call "firing." Arne, let me give you the same talk we give teachers who complain to the union about their job assignment: During the school day, by contract, we are "subject to assignment." If your principal says your job is to pick up gum wrappers in the hall, that's your job. It's a dumb use of you, but that's your job. And if he tells you to do that, you comply first and grieve later. Because refusing direct orders is insubordination and grounds for dismissal.

But Arne says this can't be business as usual, must break the mold, and can you break the mold if you don't even know what the mold is, if you can't even find the mold, and should you break the mold if you don't even know what the mold is for? Some places have an "intuitive sense" of how to do this, which is good because clearly nobody is going to get direction from the USDOE, but they aren't doing it "at scale" and one of our mold-breaking unusual business principles at the USDOE is that it's no good unless everybody can do exactly the same thing.

Arne's Wandering Again

"We just need to create many more different types of career ladders," says Arne, "or lattices, to use a different word" (and he's correct-- that is a different word). And Emily is nodding her head with her eyes closed and lips pulled tight and I imagine she's thinking "Sweet mother of God can I please go back to my classroom now?"

But Arne rolls on to some sweet, sweet reiteration about how talent shouldn't have to become an administrator when it doesn't want to. And then we fade out, because after the audible jump click that we heard earlier (seriously, I wasn't going to mention it, but this thing gets sloppier and sloppier) we're just throwing up our hands and fading cuts together.

Flipping the Script!

When we return, it's Crazy Times, because Arne is going to ask Emily a question! He refers to "you guys," the second reference to some sort of team that Emily belongs to. But Arne asks Emily (who is now leaning back in her chair as if she smells something) to describe what teacher leadership looks like today, and, if we're successful (at doing this thing with the stuff by the guy in the place) blurggle blufgle look like three, five years from now.

Emily feels that unfortunately teacher leadership right now feels like volunteering (and that is directly at Arne, then she looks off wistfully) and she would like it to be synonymous with leadership. Her example-- currently her principal sends her to a conference and she comes back and is told to talk to her peers, and she envisions coming back to talk to the principal about changes that could be made in the school, and BAM, twelve points for Emily, because how many of us have brought back transformative (even in tiny ways) ideas from conferences that die because for them to truly flourish, admins would have to take steps, and they don't.

But Emily would like to bring things back and talk to adminis and teachers and community members and actually change how the school works. She talks about this for a while, and wit animation and intensity that suggests she's been thinking about this and talking to people about it and getting exactly nowhere. Arne sits like a statue, specifically a statue of Homer Simpson thinking "Umm, Donuts."

Arne Is a Boy

Arne loves that (yeah, whatever, girl), although he doesn't say anything else except to dis conferences as outdated ideas and teachers should be getting their PD from other teachers, and Emily looks down at her paper and bites her lip like "Yeah, effing ignored on this yet again."

She hops back on after some spirited nodding to indicate that this is why she's excited because teachers can look at their own context and create action-oriented leadership and build those structures within their own schools.

And We're Out

The ending has the same rushed, harried feeling as the beginning, like we're trying to nail this last take at midnight so that the DOED video guy can stay up till three editing it. Emily is excited about this and that and she thanks Arne for showing up and also, thanks for his leadership (after which Arne unaccountably says "actually hard work" though so many clauses just piled on that it's hard to say what exactly he thinks the hard work is.)

No We Still Don't Know

And six minutes after we started, we still have no idea what, exactly, the Teach To Lead Leader Teachers Teaching Leaders To Teach program is supposed to be. The website ( offers some examples, but mostly more smoke and mirrors and the kind of empty rhetoric that is a Duncan specialty. It's possible that the world may just never know.

But this clip did underline one aspect of teacher leadership-- in most cases, it still rests on the permission of the administration. You can only be a leader if your principal okays it. Arne has talked about more money and more career advancement. What he hasn't talked about is a mechanism for getting teachers more power. Until they solve that mystery, Emily will nod her head in vain.


  1. I sat through the video from your link and fought off boredom as best I could but boredom won and I didn't make it to the end. But then I read your analysis and I woke up and, God forbid, laughed! What a relief to read a dissection of this crap (that masquerades as education leadership) and at least get something out of it: not clarity but at least some fun. Keep up the good work - I look forward to reading your blog at the end of a long school day.

  2. Arne Duncan, can you spell P-E-E-R -R-E-V-I-E-W????????

  3. Oh my goodness you are funny. The commentary about other duties as assigned and insubordination had me laughing out loud, and my seven year old wanted me to read it to her if it was so funny. So I think the reason he doesn't know is he hasn't gotten his marching orders from ALEC or she who will not be named or Broad or Gates or whoever is in charge of this torture. In the school system here, we have this coming down the pike in the form of teacher compensation they are pretending to care what the teachers think for about a year then they will implement the plan. Ultimately it has to do with reducing salaries and hiring underlings who will be managed by real teachers- thus the leader title- while all the little kiddies are plugged into their personalized learning via technology. Standard by standard they will learn, and become bored to pieces, disengaged, and antisocial in the process. But good data will be gathered.