Educator Kathleen Melville '04 Shares Experiences from Teacher-Led School

Joe Alberti ’06, Scott Storm ’08, Professor of Educational Studies Lisa Smulyan ’76, Kathleen Melville ’04 and daughter Sonia

From left: Joe Alberti ’06, Scott Storm ’08, Professor of Educational Studies Lisa Smulyan ’76, and Kathleen Melville ’04 and daughter Sonia at last year's Teacher Leadership Summer Institute.

Education Week: My First Year at a Teacher-Led School

I thought my first year at a "teacher-powered" school would be the perfect dream. After 10 years of teaching in fairly traditional settings, I was butting heads with my principal, chafing against school policies that didn’t seem right for my students or me, and itching for a new challenge. After several years of advocating for teacher leadership, I imagined myself gliding right into place at a school collectively led by teachers.

My first year has definitely been transforming, but it has also been a little unsettling. I’ve learned that a school powered by teachers is radically different from most schools. My school, the Workshop School in Philadelphia, was founded by teachers, and their vision for teaching and learning emphasizes relationships instead of content, projects instead of classes, and real-world problems instead of standard curriculum. Putting teachers in control doesn’t just change staff meetings. It changes everything.

I had a lot to learn, and I remember my first year as a messy process of trying to adapt, trying to help my 9th graders adapt, and making lots and lots of mistakes. But looking back, I realize that, in addition to all that I had to learn, I also had a lot to unlearn. During the year, I began to recognize the ways that the historical constraints of the profession have shaped my practice and my identity as a teacher. I realized that I had internalized ancient assumptions about teaching as work that is solitary (one adult per classroom) and hierarchical (with a principal in charge). These are deeply rooted ideas, and I was surprised to find how uncomfortable it made me to let them go.

Read the full article at Education Week.

Kathleen Melville '04 graduated from Swarthmore with a special major in English literature and educational studies and later earned a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania. She participated in the Teacher Leadership Summer Institute held on campus last year.