Moving Beyond the Classroom: The Growing Role of Teacher Leaders
- Anthony Cody was one of the first national-board-certified teachers in Oakland, California, where he taught middle school science and math for eighteen years. He is helping to lead Oakland Team Science, which will create a team of mentors to work with novice science teachers in his district. He is active in the Teacher Leaders Network.
- Marilyn Katzenmeyer is the President of Professional Development Center, Inc. and a Faculty Administrator at the University of South Florida, Institute for Instructional Research and Practice and the Institute for At Risk Infants, Children and Youth and their Families. Her career has included secondary school teaching and leadership research and training.
- Gayle Moller was a teacher and school and staff development administrator in the Broward County Public Schools, Florida for nineteen years before becoming Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Foundations at Western Carolina University. She served on the Board of Trustees for the National Staff Development Council.
Elizabeth Rich, teachermagazine.org:
Welcome to our live chat on teacher leaders—a topic of growing interest for teachers, administrators, and district leaders alike. Our guests today are Anthony Cody, classroom teacher/coach/mentor who is active in the Teacher Leaders Network; and educators Gayle Moller and Marilyn Katzenmeyer, who co-authored Awakening the Sleeping Giant: Helping Teachers Develop as Leaders. Judging by the number of questions we have already received, this will be a lively discussion. So let’s get started!
How can I awaken the sleeping giant that appears to reside within me? I know that I am so much more than what I appear. I have been teaching for nine years. Is there any hope for me at this pointin my career?
Yes, there is lots of hope. Teacher Leadership involves bringing together the thoughts and ideas of teachers and staff so that a consensus about, for example, how to make the school a better place for students to learn and teachers to teach cam emerge. Teacher leadership is a peer to peer relationship rather than a top down relationship.. A first step for teachers who want to awaken their sleeping giant might well be to open conversations with as many other teachers as possible to discover their ideas about this goals. The information you gain from your peers will put you in a position to bring the ideas of your peers together and work toward shaping a consensus about how achieve important goals. Awakening your sleeping giant begins with information search and information sharing. Second steps will include practice analyzing information and initiating consensus building conversations. So start with the information search, it will open the eyes of your sleeping giant.
What training and support do principals and central office personnel need to support teacher leadership?
This is an excellent question because unless principals and leader at the central office do not promote, develop and support teacher leadership, then it will be difficult for teachers to take on legitimate leadership roles. So the first step is to help principals/potential principals and other administrators to recognize their own experiences with teacher leadership and with teacher colleagues they identify as leaders. Then both principals and central office administrators can be successful in building teacher leadership if they are intentional in their efforts. Thinking that teacher leadership can succeed without being purposeful is naïve and irresponsible. There are three important areas in which principals and central office personnel can focus their learning . The first area is to understand how to build positive relationships among the adults in the school. These relationships are among teachers, between the principal and the teachers, and with the principal and teacher leaders. Second, as risky as it may seem, these school leaders must make the decision to distribute power and authority. This takes courage and skills to know how to share power in authentic ways so that initiatives can be sustained after the principal leaves the school. Finally, principals and central office leaders must the knowledge and skills to provide quality professional learning that is based on the school’s vision for students learning. Teacher leadership is about teacher learning for the teacher leaders and other teachers.
How do you address the issue of teachers' discomfort with "telling other teachers what to do?" Or concomitantly, teachers' feelings that "if direction comes from other than my principal, my cooperation is optional?"
I think we run into trouble whenever we try to tell someone else what to do, especially when it is a fellow professional. That does not mean isolation and complete autonomy is healthy, though. We need to find a balance, a place where cooperation is seen as a positive thing, where we understand the benefits we get when we all pull together as a team. I think this is actually the golden essence of effective teacher leadership, and the reason why it is so important for real school change. Alfie Kohn once said "People don't resist change. They resist *being* changed." If we can create a collaborative community, where every voice is valued, and we all commit to a higher goal of helping our students succeed, then it is not about telling one another what to do. It is about learning from one another and collectively figuring out the direction we are all going to take together. And I would say that even if direction comes from the principal, the level of cooperation is highly variable. I think the most powerful cooperation comes from real bonding between the individuals in a community, and an awareness that we are working together, and we do not want to let each other down. If something is hard, we do not mind making that sacrifice when we see our colleagues with their shoulders to that same wheel.
In the interplay between teacher and administration, in both Awakening and Lead with Me, Gayle Moller and her other authors address many of the necessary ingredients which make teacher leadership successful. How significant to you (plural!) is the element of trust in a school culture which strives for successful teacher leadership? Please comment on ways in which this trust can be established and nurtured. What are ways in which this trust is violated?
Hi, George. TRUST...does that make my statement strong enough. It's all about relationships, just like in any other organization--personal or professional. I don't know how you can legitimately build teacher leadership without building trust. Like in other relationships, it seems to me that trust is built on being authentic. What I am today, I will be tomorrow and you can count on that! We see trust violated all the time. Sometimes it is unintentional and at other times it is dishonesty. I agree with you that trust is key to a healthy school culture. The best work I've seen on this is: Trust in Schools: A Core Resource for Improvement (by Anthony S. Bryk & Barbara L. Schneider
What do you envision as the most effective way of helping teachers see themselves in a new light...and they begin to be able to strategically view their careers as within their control? How can we help them see options? Thanks
Great question! I think we can do this best by organizing to provide avenues for them to make the next step for themselves in terms of leadership. One thing I learned in 18 years in the classroom is that there are lots of different ways students come to shine. Some are great speakers, others great artists, and others great writers. Teacher leadership is similar, in that there are lots of different ways teacher expertise can emerge and be of value, and it is going to look different for each teacher. So I think we need to build as many different avenues to leadership as possible, and see who gravitates to each one. Teacher research can be a powerful way to improve one's instruction and also inform the school community about effective ways to teach. Community/parent outreach is another role, incredibly powerful. Professional learning communities that look at assessment results and plan instruction can be great if they are truly led by teachers and rooted in authentic assessment. A healthy school environment has all these things going on, and so there are lots of ways for a teacher to begin on the path of taking control of their career. But the best transformational work is done by modeling and gentle encouragement. So you, as a teacher leader, can nurture the leadership of others by speaking passionately about your own vision for the role teachers should be playing. We are in this profession together, and we share a deep concern for the welfare of our students. When we advocate for greater roles for teachers, it is not because we want to feather our nests, but because we feel strongly that our students are much better served when teachers have a real voice, in the classroom, the site, the district, the state and the nation. And a pitch here for mentorship. I think leadership emerges when we call it out. When I think back to my best mentors, they saw something within me that I was not yet aware of. They called on me to step forward and lead, and helped me find a way to do so. When they step on that path, they may not yet see their careers as within their control, but they are beginning the journey.
Thanks for addressing this vital topic. I was drawn to post by this question in the EdWeek blurb about the chat: "What can you, as a teacher, do to move from the classroom to a leadership position?" The question reveals a common perception about teacher leaders--that their goals involve leaving a typical classroom position in order to lead, that leadership is somehow conferred by roles, titles or a different kind of work than plain, ordinary teaching. In my experience, the most powerful and influential forms of teacher leadership are often not formally recognized--and these teachers may be leading their colleagues in unproductive directions. Can you comment?
Howdy, Nancy! I agree with you about the perception of classroom teacher vs leadership role. The power of informal leadership is well-known by experienced teachers. Yes, it can be positive, but, as you say, it can also be negative. That is why I believe that school leaders must be intentional about promoting teacher leadership. It's risky business to leave it to chance. Just ask a new principal who walks into an unhealthy school culture to find cliques who have conflicting needs that result in a lack of focus on any student learning. Human behavior is unpredictable and leaders, whether a principal or a teacher, should not underestimate the complexity.
How can a teacher who is not viewed as a leader in her current position obtain support?
Support comes in different forms. It would be ideal if our leadership potential were recognized and encouraged from within our schools and districts. But our schools are often not structured that way, and our principals may not recognize the value of teacher leadership. In that case, I would suggest you look for other avenues through other organizations. That could be your union, it could be a subject area organization, it could be an initiative you come up with yourself and get funded through a local grant. Keep your eyes open for grant opportunities, and see if you can apply as a team to do things you are interested in. When there was very little support for science in my district eleven years ago, a few colleagues and I started holding monthly sessions where we would share hands-on activities. We did this for about six years, and the only expense was the refreshments we brought. We built a supportive community, and were able to do a much more ambitious project later drawing on the community we had built. Sometimes you can do great things without any official support at all.
Since so many teachers-in-training rely on the mentorship from veteran teachers, what advice do you have on ways to cultivate and strengthen productive relationships between teachers-in-training and their mentor teachers?
I am working on a new project in my district that I believe will take mentoring here to a new level. Approximately half of the science teachers in my district are in their first few years, and turnover is very high. We have many small schools, and so in many cases the teachers are isolated, with few experienced colleagues onsite to get help from. I am working to organize a team of secondary science teachers who will collaborate to create a supportive community for the many new science teachers in our district. This team of mentors will build a community of science teachers across the district, and provide concrete support to our new teachers, in terms of class management and science curriculum. We will use technology to create a collaborative online community as well. We hope this community will allow our new science teachers to access support from their peers as well as the mentors, and give them a feeling of belonging that will support them when times are tough.
I am currently a TOSA, running an intervention/peer tutoring program out of the library. I was given a lot of leadership, but now I'm interested in transitioning to an administrative level. I am earning my administrative credential and Master's degree. What is the best way to turn my teacher leader experience into administrative clout?
Good question, Hillary. To be an effective administrator, or teacher leader, a person must be competent, credible and approachable. Your teacher leadership experience helps build your competence as a leader. In contrast to teachers who remain isolated in their classrooms, I would imagine in your leadership roles you have learned about working with adults, even if some of those experiences were challenging. Bringing your teacher leadership experience into an administrative role helps others to see you as credible. Finally, your approachability is key to working as a leader with others. How does one be approachable? You probably know the answer to this, but I would suggest that you listen, listen, and listen some more. Teachers relate best to principals, and teacher leaders, who have knowledge/skill about teaching and learning, are willing to put in the effort to ensure that every student is provided a quality education, and are willing to acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers.
Are you familiar with Critical Friends Groups? Could you discuss your thoughts on their role in nurturing teacher leaders? Also, since time is such an important commodity, how do you recommend giving teachers time to collaborate, coach, professionally grow, etc. during the school day? Thank you!
I have heard of critical friends and it sounds like a great collaborative practice, but I have not actually participated, although i have belonged to a teacher research group that has been meeting for about twenty years! I think we have to create time in teacher's schedules if we expect them to do this. That means extending the school year, creating blocks of time for teachers to meet, funding substitutes, etc. That said, I think it is so valuable that I will find time on my own even if none is provided for me.
I've seen Ph.D's in teacher leadership offered recently. How do you envision these degrees being used in a practical sense?
Thanks Mary for a good question. I believe that teachers have been leading for decades without specific preparation for leadership and I believe degrees in teacher leadership hold promise for providing developmental opportunities that will prepare them more fully to realize their potential in influencing within their schools, districts, states and even on national issues of public policy. As you may be aware also some states (i.e. Delaware, Ohio, etc.)are working on certification,or licensure for teacher leadership. I think it speaks to the fact that teacher leadership is being elevated to its rightful place in public education.
Part of our work in the PLCI is to develop the knowledge, skills, and dispositions of teachers to be effective leaders in their school professional learning community (PLC). How do we measure the relationship between teacher leadership and participation in PLCs? What type of professional development prepares teachers to be effective decision-making school leaders?
In reading your questions about the relationship between teacher leadership and participation in a PLC, I will assume that you are looking for the connection. I believe there is a symbiotic relationship, because it is difficult to find a healthy PLC without strong evidence of informal and/or formal teacher leadership. This relationship is supported by two dimensions of a PLC--shared leadership and collective learning. Unfortunately, we often ask teachers to take on decision-making roles without helping them to learn skills to do this effectively. Most teacher leaders are excellent decision makers, but they may not have had much experience of reaching decisions with other adults in the school workplace. The first important step is for the principal, faculty and staff to determine the parameters for decision making. Here are the levels: the principal is the sole decision maker, the teacher leaders advise the principal, and teacher leaders responsible and accountable for the decisions. Too often we rush into decision making without clarifying these levels and this usually result in frustration. The professional development for all adults involved in decision making might minimally include: how to reach consensus; planning an effective meeting; and dealing with conflict. Although it is valuable for teachers to learn these skills, the challenge is to put into practice with ongoing feedback. Learning the language of decision making helps adults to communicate what needs to be happening to be effective. This could be as simple as allowing a few minutes at the end of a meeting to debrief the process.
What is the role of the building principal in developing the capacity for leadership among teachers? Since research tells us that it takes 3 years for a new, highly qualified teacher to become effective in the classroom, How soon is a teacher ready to assume a leadership role in the building?
I'm so glad to receive questions from university teachers, especially regarding principal involvement with teacher leadership. The principal is key to the success of teacher leaders. I bet you were a person who promoted teacher leadership as a principal. Regardless of all the other support that might be present, unless the principal is on board it is difficult for the teacher leader to be effective. Regarding the "how soon," that depends on the person. I've taught undergraduate students in a foundations class that I believe could walk into a school and lead. Then there are the teachers who enter our profession as a second career and have extensive experiences in leadership outside of education. Yes, I agree, it takes time to move through the survival stage of teaching, but we should wait too long to involve teachers. The level of involvement can vary depending on the teacher.
Teachers as leaders and learners focus on the academic achievement of all student with whom they work. What does the research report about the relationship between teachers' self-perceptions of their leadership and its impact on student learning and achievement?
Good question, Joan. You might want to look at a paper by York-Barr and Duke called What Do We Know About Teacher Leadership? Findings from Two Decades of Scholarship published in 2004 in the Review of Educational Research for indepth coverage on this question. The bottom line is there is little experimental research to make the link between teacher leadership and student learning and achievement. That being said however we have much evidence of the benefits of teacher leadership, assertions and infererences as to its impact on student learning. First, students benefit from the observation of democratic methods being implemented in their schools and classrooms. Participation and ownership by teachers leads to greater commitment to school goals and outcomes. Teachers who are leaders are generally continuing learners and mentors of other teachers so teacher leadership does impact classroom practice. We know from many studies that when teacher collaborate together and form professional relationships in schools, outcomes for students improve. (See the work of McLaughlin and Talbert, the work of Mark Smylie or the work of Neuman and Simmons for details) I hope this is helpful
While increasing numbers of teachers are coaching others, there is still a number of teachers who see teaching as his/her private world in which he/she is the expert and as such resist any help or offer any. How can we move to change this mind set?
I think building communities at a school site is the most important thing. When people feel the energy that is catching fire in these supportive communities, they often begin to understand there is a lot to be gained. We also need to look at concrete ways working together lightens our loads. Can we do joint planning? Grade papers collaboratively? Set common assessment goals? Share resources? That way people see they are gaining a lot by joining the team effort.
Hugh Sockett (Transforming Teacher Education)asserts that a bureaucratic system of rules and procedures has supplanted a 'moral frame of professionalism' in education. What role should teachers play in encouraging an ongoing examination of the ethical and moral issues inherent in their profession?
Thanks Peter. I somewhat agree with Sockett's assessment. I believe teacher leaders have a strong role to play in examining and influencing the ethical and moral issues inherent in their profession. Teaching can not be done by recipe; teaching requires professionals who make day-to-day decisions in their classrooms in the best interests of children and their learning outcomes. Teacher leaders can act as "moral stewards" in our culture, purposefully ensuring the right of every child to reach his or her potential. I think the potential of teacher leadership lies in the collective power of committed professionals to influence within and beyond the schools.
Too often a teacher must choose between teaching or leading. What sort of structural changes do you envision as necessary to allow teachers to balance meaningful leadership roles without leaving the classroom or worrying about sacrificing tiime on task and quality of work with students.
This is a tough challenge. The expectations teachers face have been increasing, so that we have greater demands on us every year. I think the first change is that the essential value of authentic teacher voice needs to be recognized. There is a mindset prevalent in many district offices that teachers are there to implement the plans and practices the brilliant District tacticians select. Teachers have a spark of genius based on their intimate connection with today's students that is absolutely essential for good site leadership. So before we have a structural change, there needs to be a shift in this awareness, because the structural shift will require resources and a shift in priorities. Assuming that we have made that shift, then some structural changes that would be helpful would be to create hybrid roles, where teachers could teach half the day and provide leadership the other half. We could also look at the whole school year, and create full-year contracts for teachers with time built in for collaboration and leadership.
As teacher leaders work together more collaboratively in their school learning community they face barriers such as the lack of time, adequate resources, support, on-going professional development, etc. How do we, as teacher leaders, overcome these organizational barriers?
Structures and resources are critical to successful teacher leader collaboration; you are so right! Over the past decade we have seen some saavy policy makers, principals and teacher leaders recognize and do something about these barriers. Some districts recognizing the barriers have arranged for early release days for students or used other creative means to "buy" time for teachers. See Chapter 7 in our Awakening the Sleeping Giant, 2nd edition, as it is all about TIME, the biggest barrier we heard about from our work with teacher leaders. Many simple things can be done like planning interactive faculty meetings, arranging common planning time, arranging for teachers to observe or do demonstration lessons in one another's classrooms. Many schools in my area are organizing around professional learning communities: that is, small teams of teachers working with a subset of the total school population allowing for more opportunities for flexibility in use of time and resources. It takes the ingenuity and collective thinking of teacher leaders and their administrators and communities to promote the changes that are needed.
We are in the process of developing a Science Leadership Team for the middle schools in Orange, Florida. Unfortunately, I have a conflict with the timing of this online chat session, but would love to correspond with Andy Cody about the science mentor team he is helping to create in Oakland. Thank you!
Bonnie, my email address is [email protected] I would be happy to correspond.
I see the growing role of Teacher Leaders in my district as an essential component in the development of competence and professional skills of new teachers. What is the process for screening applicants for this position? Do you feel that these leaders should have a clear understanding of the nature or characteristics of the adult learner?
To screen an applicant for a teacher leader postion depends on the system's/school's needs. I hope that the people who will be working with this individual(s) have seriously looked at the desired outcomes and then developed a description of what this person should know and be able to do. This serves as the basis for a competency-based interview. In our book, Marilyn and I use 3 adjectives to describe a teacher leader: competent, credible and approachable. These are crucial characteristics. Edna, as a Literacy Coach I would imagine that you have discovered surprises while you are working with adults. Teacher leaders are adult educators. In order to provided quality professional development, the first step is to understand how adults learn. I recommend the National Staff Development Council as a mentor. It was mine!
As a teacher educator for business education I have found there are few teachers that want to become involved in professional associations. Many times you hear the school administration does not support their involvement in professional associations. But I do have students preparing to be teachers and I can determine which ones will be the leaders in the school district as well as associations based on their passion and dedication to the teaching profession. How can we get more future teachers and existing teacher to gain the passion and dedication for the profession?
Interesting question, Wayne. We advocate for assisting teachers in thinking of themselves as leaders by including content and activities in the undergraduate curriculum to prepare them for those roles in schools. This is a place to start I believe. I think your modeling of professional passion and decication is helpful to your students and your advocating for professionalism and continuing learning can influence their thinking. My granddaughter has been enrolled in a teacher education program at Ohio U. that is affiliated with the Coalition for Essential Schools. She has seen reflection and on-going learning modeled in her university program, in her school where she is student teaching and she is "on fire" with passion for the profession. You might take a look at what they are doing in your neighboring state of Ohio. Teachers begin to change behaviors in their classrooms when they see the impact that their professionalism passion and dedication has on outcomes with their students. When they change their behavior and get better results with their students, they may then change their attitudes and beliefs. Thanks for a good question!
I would like to become a Classroom Management Coach. Do you have some recommended reading or training that would be appropriate?
There are very many management training systems around. I would review the literature and see whose philosophy matches yours first. Look at the Assertive Discipline, Noah Salzman, Frederick Jones -- these are all "behaviorists. Rick Smith has something called Conscious Classroom Management, read some of Alfie Kohn's work for a different perspective. When you have an idea where your own philosophy and practice meshes, then you may be able to find a coaching program that will match your own ideals, and sign up to be a trainer with them.
A common but, I believe, unrealistic view is that an expert teacher will make an expert teacher leader. I'm sure that there are many great teachers - potential ghreat leaders - who lack the skills of leadership. For example, they may not be skilled in mentoring or facilitating workshops for adults, making public presentations, have little experience in negotiating with principals and teachers to gain access to classrooms, or limited patience for working with adults. In short, preparing highly skilled classroom teachers to be effective teacher leaders takes training. Do you agree, and if so, how can the need for such training be promoted, and how can the training itself be best provided?
Hal, wonderful point! Marilyn and I have for at least 15 years promoted leadership development for teachers. Most states require principals to complete a graduate degree (about 45 semester hours) in order to lead a school. Yet, we ask teacher to take on leadership roles without any preparation. We assume that they are "competent, credible and approachable," so they should know what to do. WRONG! Leaders are not born, but they can learn. Schools and school systems must invest in professional learning for teachers; and principals can learn how to coach on-the-job. Fortunately, many states and school systems are beginning to see the value of this investment. Too many excellent teacher leaders leave their roles due to burnout.
It seems that school governance policies play a significant role in the expansion of teacher leadership. Most of today’s schools operate within a traditional top-down school governance system, where control of virtually every aspect of school life resides with individuals with no direct (and little indirect) responsibility for the work done in classrooms. This kind of governance will continue to suppress opportunities for teacher leadership. However, a different style of governance (more collegial, more school-centered, where the lion’s share of per-pupil funding flows directly to the school, where the school’s administrators and teachers can make significant decisions about their own work) would allow teacher leadership to flower. What’s your view of the role of school governance vis-a-vis teacher leadership? What are the future prospects of governance changes toward school autonomy? Barry McGhan Center for Public School Renewal www.publicschoolrenewal.org
Barry, I could not agree more with your thinking about the need to provide a context that is conducive to teacher leadership if we expect it to flourish. As you know the literature is full of evidence that the school culture has a very important influence on school improvement and change initiatives. I think in the era of accountability we have perhaps lost ground in terms of shared responsibility for school level decisions and in school site autonomy. As more pressure is placed on schools from the national and state levels, district leaders feel more pressure as do school based administrators. Under pressure the tendency of some leaders is to "maintain" control. The saavy leaders recognize the importance of site-based, participatory governance structures to the successful outcomes at schools. I think the future is positive as we look to a change in leadership of education at the national level, and potentially to modifications to our view on measuring outcomes. I am always optimistic about the potential of teacher leadership to foster change in schools. Two decades ago, people asked what is teacher leadership and now we are looking ahead to certification and degrees for teacher leaders. The future has to be brighter!
Should teachers be involved in curriculum planning and if so how?
Certainly. Teachers should be involved in: * determining through practitioner research the most effective strategies and appproaches for instruction *Helping author curricula aligned with student interests and cultures *Selecting curriculum that best meets the needs of students *Setting the standards and criteria upon which curricula are judged at the state level *determining the timelines for content coverage And any other way you can think of!
Gayle, I know you've supported and encouraged teacher leaders in finding ways to engage colleagues in collaboration as a way of becoming more accomplished teachers. Can you share an example of some successes they've had? What about an example or two of barriers these teacher leaders have encountered? Thanks for your inspiring work!
Anne!!! A top teacher leader in Alabama!!! You are the expert in collaboration and it is a pleasure to learn together about this. I'm assuming that you are referring to: :I learn what I teach." As teacher leaders collaborate and share their practice, they are refining and reinforcing their own skills. Right? Barriers...thanks for asking me only to mention 1-2. 1) TIME: The structure of the school day is archiac and must be changed. 2) Professional learning about collaboration: Even if we have time, if we don't know the skills for collaboration, we'll find any excuse not to do it.
How does a teacher know when they can do more good by 'teaching teachers' than being in the classroom?
Whew! That is a tough one. I think the decision to leave the classroom is a very personal one. You can justify leaving the classroom by saying that if you can improve the effectiveness of ten teachers, you have just affected ten times as many students as you would have in your own classroom. But I think the decision is actually a lot more complicated than that. I think you have to look at yourself, and feel inside where you feel your passion is. If that passion is strong when you are working with teachers, and you are doing creative, wonderful things with them, I personally think you will be having a huge impact. If your position as a "teacher of teachers" is constrained such that you feel that there is not room for you to grow, not room to actually inspire those teachers, then perhaps you might be happier back in the classroom. I guess i am saying I could imagine situations where a position outside of the classroom might be very powerful, and other situations where it might feel like a straitjacket, so I would want to make the decision based on that, as well as how drawn I was to stay in the classroom.
Given the new NC state standards for teachers, which include leadership, my teacher education program is struggling for ideas: How can student teachers best provide EVIDENCE that they are leaders? The challenge is to go beyond aspirations and into actions. (Hello Gayle! you continue to be my hero!)
Laura, a teacher leader's friend! This is a good question and relates back to another question about "how soon" should a teacher take on leadership roles. Evidence is tricky, right? I'm going to brainstorm some ideas, see what you think: An action research project in the student teacher's classroom that is shared with other teachers Collaborating with an experienced teacher leader on a project. Joining AND participating in a professional organization Working with students to initate a student activity Do these work?
What recommendations can you make for how to define the responsiblities of a teacher on special assignment so that it clearly impacts student learning?
Great question. I think it would be really valuable to have the whole school community, including the parents, determine the things that count as "student learning." Because I feel that too often student learning becomes a code word to mean higher test scores. I have nothing against improving test scores, but I have a great deal against a system that makes that the only outcome that counts. That said, I think it is really important to know what we are looking for in terms of student outcomes. Then the TSA can coach with those objectives in mind. There needs to be a process once those outcomes are defined to figure out how we are going to move there. What are the particular things we need to focus on? I am a big believer in formative assessment, so I think one very valuable thing a TSA could do is help teachers develop their expertise in measuring student learning as it unfolds, rather than waiting until May to test them. Then engaging the teachers in looking at the assessment results and improving instruction accordingly. But beware of the final objective. If it is only higher test scores, then we are going to miss many other things I believe we should be valuing.
What are some tools that teachers can use to self-reflect on their skills, abilities and experiences as teacher-leaders?
Wendy, Great question. We encourage reflection through journaling. We also have developed a self-report instrument the Teacher Leader Self-Assessment. In our teacher leadership work we assist leaders in gaining the skills to give behavioral feedback to one another which can also be growth producing. Many teacher leaders have found that on line networking and chat allows for interactions that allow them to reflect on their practice. Marilyn
Given the important leadership role that teachers can provide when they have the required skills and development in roles such as mentors and instructional specialists, would it not make sense to provide a masters degree with career ladder status, certification, and incentive pay for this teacher leadership category?
Absolutely! When we truly value teacher leadership, there will be a whole new set of recognized roles for teachers as leaders, and a masters degree could help prepare people for these roles. My only reservation is this. I think many teachers are playing these roles now, without a masters degree (and in many cases without the formal recognition we would like to see). I am not sure I would want to make a masters degree in teacher leadership a prerequisite for recognizing and rewarding these roles on the pay scale. But a masters degree in this area would be helpful in creating awareness of the significant role teacher leaders have to play. In other words, I see there being different ways to recognize the qualifications of someone as a teacher leader. Those might include National Board certification, accomplishments at the school site, experience mentoring or providing professional development, and so on. Adding a masters degree to this as a form of qualification would be a good thing.
We have been asking our School District for Lead Teachers where newer or less expereinced teachers can go to ask questions or learn strategies to enahance teaching. Do you see a benefit to Lead Teachers, and if so can you elaborate? Also can you describe their roles? Thank You!
We do not have "lead teachers" as such in my district. But I am working to create such a program which will start next fall. We see a lot of turnover among our new teachers. Many small schools, many new teachers, very limited expertise available to them. The Lead Teachers are made available to the new teachers across the district, using technology and common monthly meetings. The lead teachers are a TEAM, so the take some collecftive responsibility for meeting the needs of the new teachers.
Hi, Mentoring or coaching inexperienced teachers can have a huge impact on a teacher's desire to continue teaching. How do teacher leaders instill confidence and promote good teaching skills without taking on the role of "good teacher vs bad teacher?"
Madeline, I believe that many teacher leaders recognize that a positive relationship with the inexperienced teacher is key to assisting them with growth and development. If the inexperienced teacher feels judged, criticized, or inferior, chances are that person will be unable to grow and develop through the mentoring relationship. I think that it is very important to develop skills as a mentor that will enable you to build positive and trustful relationships with the inexperienced teachers. We work with teacher leaders on listening skills, influencing skills, and communicating with others who have diverse perspectives in our work with teacher leaders.
Do supervisors see teacher leadership as a challenge to their role? How do you create platforms on which principals, teachers, teacher unions can productively exchange ideas tht impact classroom instruction?
Peter, supervisors can see teacher leadership as a threat. You've probably seen this in action. As we examine the person who is threatened, I would ask: Why is the person threatened? Are they insecure in their roles? What is the maturity level of this person? People who are reluctant to encourage teachers to be leaders usually have a good reason--one that they can justify. Perhaps when working with these individuals if we can help them to see how teacher leadership can benefit them, personally, then they may be open to the idea. Regarding platforms to exchange ideas: This is a tough question. We've tried dissemination for year with little success. Keeping the exchange local seems to work best. Professional learning communities are venues for this sharing. Wish I had a better answer for you. This is one we could discuss for a long time over a cup of coffee.
Can teachers flourish as leaders with and without administrative support?
Brian, Teachers can be leaders in a variety of ways from supporting a new teacher on your team or grade level, to leading student organizations, to serving on governance bodies in the school, to taking a formal leadership role such as math or literacy coach in the school. Certainly the lack of administrative support could be a hindrance to your work as a leader. Administrators are all growing and developing just as we are as leaders; some may recognize the potential of teacher leadership and others may not be "on board" with the power of involving teachers and providing them with opportunities to lead. It is much more difficult to be a leader in a context where teacher leadership is hot valued. If that is the case, I suggest you open the conversation with peers and administrators to explore the benefits of teacher leadership to your setting. Teachers also can be leaders beyond the school site by working in professional organizations, community efforts or other venues.
How can teacher leaders maintain collaboration and teacher "buy-in"?
I think there are several important elements. We need to set a vision. That means we set a goal that is achievable and important. We need to set that goal in the context of the political and social environment we are in. Sometimes that means we need to be in a tough position, because the political situations can get rough -- and people need to understand what is going on at all levels. Transparency is very important. We need to make sure everyone has a voice. That means we need to be open and allow others to step forward with a different direction. Do not assume you have the answers. That is the value of a collaborative community. We really want shared leadership, and the more is shared, the better!
What is one critical success factor for teachers to come out of their shell (rather comfortable zone) and transform them into shaping the leaders of tomorrow
I think they need to be encouraged by the creation of roles for them to play, and by people who place faith in them that they are capable of doing more than they have done. Believe in them, and they will rise to the challenge.
What are some of the qualities that potential teacher leaders have?
Rosemary, think about yourself as a teacher leader. If you are aspiring to be a principal, I'm assuming that you were a teacher leader. What about you encouraged others to follow? If it is too difficult to be personal about this, think of a teacher leader you know that you would like to nominate for an award. Write down the reasons you are nominating that person. Then you will have the qualities.
What advice do you have for progressive, reform-minded teacher leaders confronting traditional union leaders.
That is a tough one. Presumably your local leaders are elected, so if you are determined enough, you could gather together like-minded colleagues and unseat them. There are some organizations out there you might investigate -- Teachers Union Reform Network comes to mind. They have regional meetings, and that might be informative. You also may want to start networking with others in ways not connected to the union. Check out the Teacher Leaders Network as well.
Some key teacher union leaders feel if teacher leadership beyond the classroom is important and worthwhile, then it should be given a name and be a paid activity. How do the panelists advise these teacher union leaders?
Brian, I agree with them. There is a movement across the country to promote a multi-tiered career for teachers. The baby-boomers are retiring and the new generation of teachers won't be satisfied with working long hours for no extra pay. One of the best examples of a multi-tiered model is described in Who's Teaching Your Children? by Vivian Troen and Kitty Boles. In their Millenium School, teacher leadership is acknowledged and rewarded. In addition, TeachersSolutions, a project of the Center for Teaching Quality, wrote a report on pay-for-performance in which they recommend levels of career opportunities.
To best utilize our teacher leaders and at the same time elevate PLCs to a higher level we are looking hard at our scheduling for next year. We would be interested in any innovative ideas that schools have found to make time available for teaming during the day. We are trying to think 'out of the box' and could benefit from others' ideas.
This is a great question. I would look into the strategies being used in the Lesson Study movement, because the basic goal is the same. I am afraid I do not have any silver bullets at my fingertips.
How can I awaken the giant that appears to reside within me or I am too late? I have been a teacher for approximately 10 years. I guess that I am just not too sure what that next step would be. Can you help me?
Dear Kristie, Yes there is lots of hope for you. As a teacher with a decade of experience you are in a wonderful position to become a teacher leader. Reach out to other teachers and staff to think about how to make the school a better place to teach and for students to learn. A first step might be to open conversations to discover other teachers' ideas. The information you gain from your peers can be an asset as you begin. You might begin with your team or grade level or collegues that you respect. I also like to encourage teachers to think about their passion or niche. Are you great at cooperative learning strategies? Do you have a yearning to develop others to use them in their classrooms? Are you a good writer? Could you lead a team in securing grant funds for your school? Have you always thought about a way to improve something at your school but waited for someone else to get it started? Think about where you would like to have an impact and step out. Marilyn
Are there any national standards for teacher leaders?
Not that I am aware of -- yet! But I have heard that the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards is looking at creating a new certification category for teacher leadership, so there will be standards associated with that.
With the increase in violence against teachers becoming more emphasized in the public eye, what specific guildlines or policies should be in place to be proactive before the violence occurs? How can teacher leaders help teachers be protected not only from the violence, but from lawsuits and parental citizisms as well?
Teacher leaders could form a study group to investigate what is working in other schools, districts and states in terms of violence prevention in schools. A review of the research to find what is working and what is not would be helpful to your understanding and advocacy on the issue. This is a contemporary issue that deserves attention. Teacher leaders can learn about the issue and recommend strategies or policies in their own schools and districts.
How do you create at the district and school level a culture that supports and values teachers in leadership roles?
You are a Labor Relations Administrator in an urban school district. I'm sure that you understand the complexity of this process. The first step is to determine if the key leaders in the organization really believe in teacher leadership. If they don't, save your energy. If they do, then these individuals learn, promote, and sustain teachers as leaders. Teacher leadership exists if you want it to or not. The decision is: Do we want teacher leaders to help our system achieve its desired outcomes for students? If the answer is yes, then there's plenty of talent in the field to help you do it. Trust the process and the people. I know that is challenging, but you have to start somewhere.
How can school administrators help teachers develop leadership skills and find leadership roles that are a good fit?
I think administrators should look at creating a variety of different avenues for teachers to provide leadership, and seek support for those roles. Many principals act as if they are doing teachers a favor by handing out committee assignments. That is not really promoting teacher leadership. Teacher leadership takes extra resources to really work. It means you find funding, you encourage teachers to come up with innovative ideas, and then you help them write the grants to get them supported. Allow the teachers to define where they want to go, to dream big -- and then help them get there.
How can we motivate teachers to take part in meaningful professional developement? They seem to have no desire to grow.
Dotty, do you blame them? How many PD experiences have you suffered through and then left with irrelevant information or lack of skills? Now, for the good news. There are excellent models of ongoing, high-quality professional learning where teachers are not only motivated, they are leaders. For example, the National Writing Project. Human beings want to learn, it is part of their nature. Unfortunately, though, we've punished teachers so often with poorly designed inservice. The best resource to help you understand how to design quality professional development that is attractive to other adults is the National Staff Development Council (nsdc.org).
What are some of the structures and protocols used to deepen your work and lead to increased student achievement through improved teacher practice?
I believe in practitioner research as a transformative practice, so I have engaged teachers in small groups looking at our practice, assessing student learning and seeing what we can learn to share with others.
How do you see teaching over the internet evolving as a standard practice in the future?
Jim, I only have to look at the growth of Florida's Virtual School over the past decade here in my home state to see that there is great potential. I believe that the next generation will be technology saavy, used to learning on the internet and will be eager for those opportunities. I am not ready to agree to it being standard practice as I think it is very difficult to replace face-to-face human interactions and relationships; however, I think it has great promise for the future of schooling. Marilynss
There seems to be a dicotomy between teacher leadership and NCLB, whereas NCLB seems to treat teachers as employees whose every step must be monitored. What kind of changes in the NCLB legislation are needed so that teacher leadership is promoted?
Oh, Christine! Yes, teacher leadership and NCLB are dicotomous. With the reauthorization currently in process, the strongest recommendation I have is for teacher leaders to advocate for what they believe should happen in order for teachers to lead more effectively. The teacher's voice is missing in too many of the important discussions about education. I suggest that you visit the Center for Teaching Quality website. They are committed to helping teachers learn how to advocate with policymakers and others.
What are some strategies that successful teacher leaders do to empower parents and kids to be more involved in education?
I think the best involvement is driven by the creativity of our students and families. I have seen very successful efforts that challenged students to creatively address the problems at their school. For example, we had a peer-education program for a number of years that was very effective, where 8th grade students went into 6th grade classrooms to educate the younger peers about HIV prevention. There was also a successful anti-bulltying program led by students. The best thing is to give the kids some ownership of the probolem and get them to figure out how to solve it.
Often I am asked to provide professional development and training aligned with mandated initiatives. How do you create a spirit of learning when the word "mandate" is involved?
Laura, It is not easy! Teachers prefer, as do most human adults, to have a voice in decisions that impact them. That being said, here's a thought. We may not always be able to decide the "what", but often we have a voice in the "how". Look for ways that teachers can have a voice in when the training is offered, how it will be delivered, what the support and follow up will be to assure effective implementation of the mandate. Assure that in your sessions teacher are not "directed" but rather encourage to share practice and ideas. Try as best you can to create a collegial environment in which teachers can engage in learning about the mandate.
I work with teachers in my district who are induction leaders in their individual buildings. They run programs to welcome new teachers to their building. One concern I have working with them is how to help them manage their time--they are teaching full time and running this program on top of that. It really is a lot to ask of them, but it's so important to have someone in the building to do that particular work. How can I help them with this work and their time management? How can I best honor the time they do give to this work?
Anna, you have a challenge. My only recommendation is to change the structure of the school day. I know you can't do that, but you could advocate for it. If there are so many hours in a day, then how can a teacher do this work without time allocation to do it? I predict the teachers who care for their students & personal life will soon burnout and decline the invitation to participate. You are not alone in the problem. It is a major obstacle for teacher leaders everywhere.
How do you think future leaders will need to change thier ideas of current education in order to create and support 21st century learning in schools?
First, let's be sure we include teachers, parents and students in our conception of who future leaders are. In that sense we may not need to change the views of the leaders, we may need to empower DIFFERENT leaders. Because for the past decade most education policy has been made without even consulting many of the people most knowledgable about it. Second, clearly we need to move away from the current paradigm that elevates standardized test scores in reading and math above all else. We need to recognize the breadth of learning that our students need, and actually, this is not new to the 21st century. Critical thinking and deep understanding of subject matter has been the gold standard for the past century.
As an administrator, what tools are available to evaluate the effectiveness of the suppport given to the Teacher Leaders to help me see the growth process better?
Angela, I'm not aware of any instruments for this use. Anita Pankake and I wrote a book that might be helpful: Lead with Me: A Principal's Guide to Teacher Leadership. The model is clear and you could use it as a guide. I hope this is helpful.
What role are teacher leaders to have other than mentoring?
Gayle and I have always believed that there are a wide variety of teacher leader roles. Teachers can lead student organizations i.e. the Chess Club or student activities i.e. Field Day or Community Event. Teacher leaders can find something that has always needed improvement in the school and take it on as a project, i.e. a parent resource room or a math tutoring initiative. Use your creative mind to ask yourself where your strengths lie and what are you willing to invest your time and energy in. Think about your own experience, your confidence level, your skills, and knowledge. You can lead students; you can lead colleagues; you can be a facilitator of meetings; you can serve on the school improvement team or the school advisory council; you can be a grant writer or a technology expert. You will never work yourself out of a leadership role as there are so many possibilities and so much to be done in our schools.
How can we distribute teacher leadership throughout a faculty, so that it's the norm for a building, not just something for one or two 'eager beaver' teachers? One obstacle to true teacher leadership is the top-down, autocratic culture of many schools. Teachers are often actively discouraged from asking questions, challenging authority, and making independent judgments based on their expertise. How can this culture be changed?
I would start with the "eager beavers," and see if they could be interested in creating more collaborative communities. Send them to some conferences on the subject, al;ong with some fellow teachers, and some administrators as well. Allow them to develop a plan to increase the level of discussion and leadership at the site. If teachers are actively discouraged from even asking questions, however, that is something that has to change or else nothing else will move forward.
Are there any standards for teacher leaders?
Good question, Don. I'm assuming you mean standards like NBPTS. Teacher leadership is a relatively new field of research---only 20+ years. There are groups who are working to bring the research together to build a teacher leader model, but I don't know of any standards that are available at the present time.
We are a fortunate district in that we have an abundance of very good teachers. In attempting to share their skills laterally within our district, however, we have found some have no interest in teaching other teachers. There seems little sense of faculty collegiality and a great sense of competitiveness with each other. What can you suggest to address this problem?
I think if the district is "together" it makes it harder to call upon everyone to share. I would suggest that you create teams addressing particular curricular areas. Give them a reason to collaborate -- to create common curricular objectives, common formative assessments, curricular support for new teachers. Then make sure they are being compensated for the extra work you are asking them to do.
Which institutions have strong preparation programs for today's teacher leaders? And, what standards for preparing teacher leaders do you look to as strong exemplars? We are revising a master's program to focus specifically on teacher leadership. Your thoughts will be very helpful. Thank you.
The institutions that have strong preparation programs for teacher leaders depend on the passion of the person(s) involved in the design/delivery. This isn't new news, is it? I wish I could recommend several, but many of my colleagues in teacher leadership are retiring and if they aren't there I couldn't judge the current program. To search for one, though, I would look at the current literature and look at the authors' programs. I wish you success in your work.
How can online resources support the face-to-face work of coaches and mentors?
This is a growth area. I am working on new platforms with two different groups; the Teacher Leaders Network, and the New Teacher Center in Santa Cruz. There are discussion boards and other tools available.
How does one become a lead teacher?
I think that depends on the process within your district. We do not really have that role defined in my district, so I do not really know.
I have seen schools where teacher leaders are asked to also take on roles of teacher evaluation by their principals. Do you think this is a wise combination? Should mentoring and evaluation be kept as separate roles?
Peggy, I do agree there can be a healthy relationship between mentoring and evaluation. I believe that you did that as a principal. Often the teaching culture does not support this, but if teacher leaders do not have authority they will then have to rely on volunteerism. We have a long ways to go to make this happen.
My question addresses the ambiguity of the teacher leader's role. How can we have a master teacher, then remove that teacher from the classroom to coach and mentor other less capable educators? It seems as though we are perpetuating the mediocrity within the profession by taking those that do the best, and removing them from directly affecting student learning. How can we reconcile this?
Caro, This is a tough one and one Gayle and I have thought about. Here are some thoughts: If only a few teachers in the school are great then for children it is like the lottery each year. If I get a "good one" I am lucky and learn. If not, I have a bad year and I don't learn. We have to do everything possible to develop the capacity of all teachers to be as good as the very best teachers. Using a master teacher to coach and mentor is one way to increase capacity in the building. Some other thoughts are to remove teachers from their classrooms only part time so that still have direct impact on their own students. Another alternative is the New Teacher Center's model in which master teachers are out of their classrooms for a specified number of years and then they return to teaching their students. I hope this provides you with some ways to think about this dilemma. Many teacher leaders share your concern. Marilyn
We are working with a school that is just beginning to establish a culture around instructional improvement. A few (younger) teachers on staff are better trained at the protocols and language of describing instruction and planning based on these observations. How can we help them take leadership positions without offending older teachers with more tenure?
I think my first attempt would be to instigate a process which used the tools, and included everyone. Then allow the newer folks to emerge as natural leaders, and step forward. Allow the old timers to emerge as well if they are interested in the challenge. If they have a chance to take the lead but relinquish it willingly, then the resentment will be less.
I direct a masters degree program for teacher leaders at Harvard. My students love the program. They learn theory that helps them understand the challenges and opportunities for them as leaders; they learn substantive leadership skills. But they are concerned that there is no form of certification for them at the end of the program. It makes them worry about the value of the degree. I know that many states are talking about teacher leadership certification. I wonder what states mean by teacher leadership and how they defise their certification. My question is: what is that current status of teacher leadership certification around the country? Thanks.
I know the National Board is looking at this, but I do not know of any other initiatives in this area.
Please tell us the one or two key ideas to keep in mind when transitioning to a new role as Teacher Leader. Thank you
Good question! I spent a day recently with some literacy coaches in Sarasota, Florida and I will share some thoughts from that conversation. First it is important to build relationships with your peers and gain their trust. Recognize that this takes time and effort on your part. The egalitarian norms in our schools sometimes work against the acceptance of teachers who become formal leaders. The Sarasota gang suggested that they found ways to "help" teachers, provide resources, offer assistance, and they just had to be tenacious until something worked. Another key idea that struck me as important was recognizing the generational differences that may be evident in these relationships. One coach was working in a school where the average age of teachers was 24, and he was recognizing that he had to adjust his style to work with the needs and concerns of persons from a different generation.
You observe a veteran teacher on several occasions and you see only worksheets and more worksheets. You notice that students are not being engaged in the experience of learning. The teacher explains that she has been teaching for 31 years and no one has had any complaints and since you never taught her subject, how would you know if she was successful or not. How would you handle this situation?
I would try to involve her visiting other classrooms or schools, or perhaps attending a professional conference in her subject area. I would offer some readings or articles for her consideration. Try to spark some interest in making change. I would find something she does well to complement. I would perhaps try to guage the results she is getting with her students and use these data to engage her in a conversation about what she is asking students to do, what results she is getting, and what alternatives she might consider. How are her students performing on standardized tests? Can you sort through these data with her and help her use the data for instructional planning? Good luck; this is a tough one and one faced by many leaders.
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