The Cage-Busting Teacher

The Cage-Busting Teacher

Frederick M. Hess
Pub. Date: April 2015
ISBN-13: 978-1-61250-508-4
paper, 320 Pages
Pub. Date: April 2015
ISBN-13: 978-1-61250-776-7
Price: $34.00

Add to Cart

The Cage-Busting Teacher adopts the logic of Cage-Busting Leadership and applies it to the unique challenges and opportunities of classroom teachers. Detailed, accessible, and thoroughly engaging, it uncovers the many ways in which teachers can break out of familiar constraints in order to influence school and classroom practice, education policy, and school reform. “Cage-busting is concrete, precise, and practical,” writes Frederick M. Hess. This invaluable book helps teachers understand why and how to revisit their assumptions and enables them to have greater impacts upon their schools and beyond.
Based on interviews with hundreds of teachers, teacher advocates, union leaders, and others, Hess identifies the challenges teachers face, seeks concrete and workable solutions, and offers recommendations to put those solutions in place. A uniquely practical and inspiring book, The Cage-Busting Teacher is for educators who want to shape the schools and systems in which they work.


In The Cage-Busting Teacher, Rick Hess has found a way to say what has, up to this point, existed only in the minds of teacher leaders. This book is a must-read for anyone looking to strengthen our schools in ways that are practical and real. — Alex Kajitani, California Teacher of the Year

Finally someone (besides me) is talking about the power and authority of teachers! As educators, we have to reject the suggestion that ‘You can’t do that.’ Push back, come up with your own ideas, and 96.4 percent of the time, you’ll find that you can do important things to improve schools. Such are the cage-busters. — Lily Eskelsen García, president, National Education Association

Hess’s work will empower teachers to collaborate successfully with their principals, parents, colleagues, and policy makers and continue to have an impact on their students and communities year after year. — Elisa Villaneuva Beard, co-CEO, Teach For America

The Cage-Busting Teacher is an indispensable playbook for every teacher who wants to figure out how to influence decisions that get made beyond their classroom walls. With an engaging mix of stories of successfully subversive teachers and facts about how policy works, Rick shows teachers that they have more power than they realize. — Celine Coggins, CEO, Teach Plus

The message of this important book by Rick Hess is clear: There’s a lot of talent among the teachers in our schools, and it needs to be unlocked and set free. — Randi Weingarten, president, American Federation of Teachers

The Cage-Busting Teacher is filled with practical ideas on how teachers can lead outside of the classroom to create school environments where they are free to do their best work. This book is a must-read for all teachers and school leaders. — Rebecca Mieliwocki, 2012 National Teacher of the Year

It can be difficult to navigate the world of teacher leadership without knowing exactly what that looks like or how to get your ideas implemented. In The Cage- Busting Teacher, Rick Hess offers real-world advice for helping teachers go from idea to action to impact. This book is a manual for all teachers, like myself, who see changes that need to be made but aren’t sure how to go about getting the job done. Not for the faint of heart—be prepared to see leadership in a whole new light. — Caroline Corcoran, fifth grade teacher and Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellow

The Cage-Busting Teacher is a giant step forward for teacher leadership. Rick Hess has penned an important book that is bracing, practical, and enormously useful. In allowing teachers to tell their stories of triumph and struggle, Hess offers a no-nonsense guide for teachers ready to transform their schools. — Katherine Bassett, president, National Network of State Teachers of the Year

I don’t always agree with Rick Hess, but I always learn something valuable when he speaks. And when that speaking takes the shape of a book that is the result of many conversations with teachers and that seeks to imagine what life could and should be like for teachers, I’m especially interested in what he has to say. There is so much buzz around teacher leadership today that we run the risk that the concept will lose its meaning. The Cage-Busting Teacher keeps us on track, and Rick Hess has provided a worthy compass for this difficult work. — Ronald Thorpe, president and CEO, National Board

I appreciate Rick Hess talking straight about teacher leadership and calling out the lip service and fuzzy language with which teachers are seemingly appreciated, infantilized, and muted. I cringe when I hear, 'You must be so wonderful—you are a teacher!' not because I am ungrateful but because teaching is a complex, emotionally grueling, and uplifting profession. Rick helps empower teachers to see the cages that limit the deployment of our full talent, and he calls on us to recognize the power we have to bust out and take over the field. — Maryann Woods-Murphy, New Jersey State Teacher of the Year 2010

Teacher leadership is one of the most powerful and yet undervalued forces improving our schools. Rick Hess provides clear examples of what great teacher leaders can do and the impact they can have when they practice key management and advocacy skills. I highly recommend the book to any educators who want to lead their colleagues while remaining in the classroom. — Jonas Chartock, CEO, Leading Educators

No teacher is an island. They are all part of schools and systems that can amplify or muffle their effectiveness. In The Cage-Busting Teacher, Rick Hess provides an invaluable resource for teachers who are looking to break free from the isolation of their classrooms and to use their influence, efforts, and expertise to create powerful learning environments for students. — James E. Ryan, Charles William Eliot Professor of Education, dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education

Imagine an education system in which we finally do what we all say is necessary but too often fail to do: rely on teachers as the experts in our field. With support from The Cage-Busting Teacher, we could have such a system, because it provides practical steps for how teachers can speak out, lead, and make change. The Cage-Busting Teacher is for veteran teachers, beginning teachers, and union leaders. It is also for the principals, district leaders, and state officials who want to support teachers in busting through cage bars—including those bars we may have inadvertently put in their way. — Deborah A. Gist, commissioner, Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

The Cage-Busting Teacher exposes an important dynamic happening within the teaching profession. All across the country, talented teachers are creating greater opportunities for their students, schools, and colleagues. Their stories deserve this spotlight and the chance to influence systematic change within public education. We hope these stories will inspire policy leaders to engage the voice of educators as a driving force in policy making. — Sydney Morris, co-CEO, Educators 4 Excellence

Rick Hess provides a practical resource for teachers not only to recognize the cages they are trapped in but to also earn the freedom and satisfaction of breaking free from those cages. Hess’s real-life examples and practical tips help teachers move beyond the paralysis of the cage and become change agents in their schools. — Sherri McPherson, high school English teacher and Hope Street Group Fellow

In The Cage-Busting Teacher, Hess combines his usual straight-talking, irreverent voice with dozens of practical examples to show what is possible when teachers become active, relentless, purposeful problem solvers. This is a book for teachers who have ideas but don’t think anyone will listen to them and for teachers who are excelling in spite of, rather than because of, the conditions in which they practice. — Elizabeth A. City, lecturer and director of the Doctor of Education Leadership (EdLD) Program, Harvard Graduate School of Education

The Cage-Busting Teacher should give every teacher in America who feels powerless the power to do what they know is right for kids. With real-life examples, Hess proves the possible. — Duncan Klussmann, superintendent, Spring Branch Independent School District, Texas

The Cage Busting Teacher starts with the refreshing premise that teachers should not have to be martyrs fighting the system ‘on their own time and on their own dime.’ Instead, author Rick Hess offers guidance on how teachers can best use their finite supply of time and energy to impact their workplaces and profession. The book offers practical advice from a variety of perspectives, giving special attention to areas that can be weak points for teachers, such as communicating with lawmakers, speaking through the media, and working with difficult bosses. — Roxanna Elden, National Board Certified Teacher and author of See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers

Rick’s book on teacher leadership adds to a growing knowledge base on how and why teachers must lead without leaving the classroom. In his must-read narrative, Rick makes it clear that teachers are ‘hungry to be heard.’ Now is the time to build demand among policy makers and reformers to hear what teachers have to say and to work with them as legions of  classroom experts lead bold policy and pedagogical reforms. — Barnett Berry, CEO, Center for Teaching Quality

I can’t wait for my teachers to read this book. ‘Cage-busting’ is something that my most dynamic teachers do instinctively. Plenty of teachers have fantasticideas but just aren’t sure how to push them forward. This is a book that helps them do just that. Hess shows how teachers can reach beyond classrooms to create schools where they can do their best work. — Kaya Henderson, chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools

Rick Hess is not quite urging civil disobedience, but he comes close. He shows teachers how they can expand their role in schools and can even step outside the boss/worker cage and create schools where teachers are in charge . . . the way professionals often are in other white-collar vocations. — Ted Kolderie, senior associate, Education Evolving

This book needed to be written. We can see internationally how a desire to improve education has led to fruits and weeds in equal measure. The key voice that has been forgotten in all this has been the notso-humble educator. I can’t agree with Hess enough: we need to stop waiting for Superman to come and fix everything, and start thinking about how we can fix things from the bottom up and inside out. Maybe then we can call ourselves a profession again. — Tom Bennett, Times Education Supplement

In light of the increasing number of policy directives handed down to teachers, Hess’ message is a welcome one—teachers can and should find the initiative, resources, strategies, and power to enact educational change on their own terms and in their own ways.The book, written as somewhat of a journalistic account with anecdotal evidence, stories, and with some references to educational research, is an accessible read that will interest teachers, administrators, parents, teacher educators, and policymakers. — Daniel Meier, Teachers College Record

The Cage-Busting Teacher provides practical advice for teachers wishing to find the space to make creative improvements from within their profession. — Eric Wearne, Education Review

More Less

About the Author

Frederick M. Hess is resident scholar and director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. An educator, political scientist, and author, Hess studies a range of K–12 and higher education issues. His books include Cage-Busting Leadership, Breakthrough Leadership in the Digital Age, The Same Thing Over and Over, Education Unbound, Common Sense School Reform, Revolution at the Margins, and Spinning Wheels. He is also the author of the popular Education Week blog Rick Hess Straight Up. Hess’s work has appeared in scholarly and popular outlets such as Teachers College Record, Harvard Educational Review, Social Science Quarterly, Urban Affairs Review, American Politics Quarterly, Chronicle of Higher Education, Phi Delta Kappan, Educational Leadership, U.S. News & World Report, National Affairs, The Atlantic, National Review, USA Today, Washington Post, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal. He has edited widely cited volumes on the Common Core, education philanthropy, urban school reform, how to stretch the school dollar, education entrepreneurship, the federal role in education, and No Child Left Behind. Hess serves as executive editor of Education Next, as lead faculty member for the Rice Education Entrepreneurship Program, as senior fellow for the Leadership Institute of Nevada, and on the review boards for the Broad Prize in Urban Education and the Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools. He also serves on the boards of directors of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and 4.0 Schools. A former high school social studies teacher, he teaches or has taught at Georgetown University, Rice University, the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University, and the University of Virginia.