As any teacher would confirm, there is a lot to learn in the first few years of teaching. Usually, the information comes via fire hose.

Beginning teachers receive hours of on-the-job support and professional development from mentors and other experienced teachers, but one subject that doesn’t always get formal attention is known as “teacher agency.” The term may be new – meaning self-advocacy – but the idea is not, and a lack of “agency” is often cited colloquially as a reason for teachers leaving the profession within the first five or ten years of their careers.

A lack of agency can lead to frustration and even job dissatisfaction. Beginning teachers may say that they feel powerless or voiceless when it comes to making recommendations for important issues. They may not know whom to contact or even how to navigate their way to a solution.

The Beginning Teacher Leadership Network (BTLN) was created to fill this gap. This collaboration between WakeEd Partnership and the Public School Forum of North Carolina is a credit-based cohort which meets monthly to teach beginning educators how to self-advocate.

The topics change from session to session, and the programming is steered by a small panel of teacher leaders, made up of BTLN members who are responsible for guiding the session content, ensuring that the program is addressing members’ needs.

So far, the WCPSS beginning teachers in the group have learned how decisions are made at the federal, state, and local level, and how those decisions may affect them as teachers, their classrooms, or their students.

Oftentimes, new policies, programs, and procedures come down through the chain of command to teachers with no additional information about where they originated. Also, in a district as large as Wake County Public Schools, it can be daunting to find information or know who to contact outside of a school building.

Beginning Teachers learning about grant writing from Angie Wright of the WCPSS Grants Department. #BTLNNC #WakeEdTIG

A photo posted by WakeEd Partnership (@wakeedpa) on

One especially daunting area is grant writing, which involves pre-approval by the WCPSS school board. At the December BTLN meeting, a panel of speakers discussed the use of grant writing as a method of teacher agency. Dr. Angie Wright from the WCPSS Office of Grants, Teresa Pierrie from WakeEd Partnership, and WCPSS technology teacher Kim Davis shared information on how to navigate the WCPSS grant approval process, best practices for finding grants, and how to best develop grant proposals.

BTLN continues to fill the information gap for teachers in January. This month, beginning teachers heard from a panel of WCPSS master teachers, who represent multiple areas of the education spectrum.

Reactions from participants have been very positive, and many say that they leave each session with new information to take back to their fellow beginning teachers and school teams.

That’s the type of teacher agency BTLN is trying to build. We support BTLN because we know that the more empowered and knowledgeable teachers feel, the more confident they will be to stay in the profession, making it better for themselves, their colleagues, and their students.

Learn more about BTLN programs in North Carolina.

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