What I Ask of SLA Teachers [guest post]

I want to thank Scott for asking me to do this and I want to curse him a little for making me go last. This is not an easy crew to follow.

I couldn’t get my head around what “administrators” in general ask of teachers, so I chose to focus on what I ask of Science Leadership Academy teachers. For the record, I think SLA teachers are, as a group, about the hardest working group of people I could ever imagine, and I think that is more because of the collegial atmosphere than anything I could ever do. So “work hard” isn’t making the list. So without further ado.

Top Ten Things I Ask of SLA Teachers.

10. Take care of yourself. Teaching is a marathon, not a sprint, and SLA teachers do put themselves out there early and often. I want my teachers to take time for themselves every day. I want SLA teachers to take trips, go to conferences, spend time with family and spend time with each other when they don’t talk about school.

9. Understand that your class is but one of five or six or seven classes that kids have. Understand that school is one of many things in a teenager’s life. And while what goes on in your class is important, I ask that teachers remember that, at any given moment in time, there are pressures on their kids’ lives that makes what goes on in our classes seem powerfully inconsequential.

8. Never be afraid to bring an idea or a critique or a thought to me. Never be afraid to tell me what you think.

7. Be as transparent as possible. That means giving students opportunities to publish their work to the world. That means opening your door to colleagues, to parents, to visitors. That means never playing “gotcha” with the kids with your expectations.

6. Remember that benevolent dictatorship may make for an orderly class, but it rarely helps kids become better people. Giving kids opportunities to feel ownership of the classroom is important because, in the end, you can get what you want or you can get much more.

5. Remember that inquiry isn’t just for kids. If we want our kids to always push themselves to question more, dig deeper, figure it out for themselves, we must be willing to do that too.

4. Take ownership of major pieces of the school outside your classroom. SLA works because everyone takes on pieces of it. Run a club, chair a committee, write a grant, do the thing you always wanted to do in a school but never thought the structure of school could support.

3. Be part of a community of teachers and learners and speak the same language. Kids spend too much time in schools figuring out teachers, and that detracts from the powerful work they can do for themselves, not for us. It is why I ask all teachers at SLA to always incorporate the core values into their planning, why we all use Understanding by Design to plan our units, why we all use the same rubric to grade all our projects. When we speak the same language about the way we teach and learn, kids can get down to the work of learning more quickly.

Trapped2. Treat your class as a lens, not a silo. The goal is for our kids to be well-rounded, thoughtful citizens. Remember that if you’re lucky, 10% of the kids in your class will major in your subject. Make sure the other 90% understand how what they are learning with you helps them to be a better person.

1. Remember that we teach students before we teach subjects. I ask that all SLA teachers understand and live the profound difference between the statements, “I teach history,” and “I teach kids history.” Children should never be the implied object of their own education.

And one more – Be kind. Be kind to your students, to your colleagues, even to your principal. Whatever you do, be kind.


Chris Lehmann is the founding principal of the Science Leadership Academy, an inquiry-driven, project-based, 1:1 laptop magnet high school in Philadelphia, PA. Named as one of the Ten Most Amazing Schools in the US by Ladies Home Journal, SLA is a partnership between The Franklin Institute and the School District of Philadelphia. Chris blogs at Practical Theory.

Image credit: I’ll give you the world if you love me!