Guest Post: Teacher-leader describes having autonomy to make management and finance decisions

August 20, 2010 •

In this video Linda Peters, a lead teacher at the Advanced Language and Academic Studies (ALAS) bilingual high school in Milwaukee, describes how the school makes management and finance decisions by including teachers.

ALAS has been able to function as a school run collectively by teachers, because the Milwaukee school district and the local union agreed to grant the teachers autonomy and authority. The teachers saw the opportunity, and took it.

“We saw the waste, and the very ineffective ways of doing things at the large high school, and we thought we could do it better ourselves.”

The founding teachers looked at different models, and came up with a cooperative management model. While acknowledging it can be cumbersome at times, Linda testifies that better decisions are made, and resources are spent more efficiently.

In a school with an administrator the administrator tells teachers what to do and then the teacher chooses to follow through or not, she reported. “If you’re not given autonomy…(and) authority to make decisions on what you know to be best for your students, it doesn’t work.”

The staff meets weekly, and makes decisions over the budget, policy, and staffing. During this time they set goals, and allocate resources appropriately. They coordinate curriculum together, across disciplines. This is in direct contrast to traditional schools where decisions are made for teachers, on behalf of teachers.

The model also increases accountability. The teachers in the school feel greater responsibility for the entire school, since they are accountable for it. At the large high school, teachers could always blame somebody else—other teachers, or the administration. At ALAS, Linda says, if the teachers can’t make the students read on grade level there is nowhere to look but back at themselves.

Teachers describe it as freeing and motivating, yet humbling too.