School & District Management

Teacher-Leadership Degrees Aim to Fill Career Gaps

By Anthony Rebora — October 30, 2012 6 min read

Four years ago, Donald Chouinard, a veteran English teacher at Fort Kent Community High School in Maine, was promoted to his district’s curriculum-coordinator position. He appreciated the rise in status the administrative job conferred, but he soon felt that something was lacking. “I really, really missed the classroom,” he recalled.

The following year, Mr. Chouinard returned to teaching. But, to continue working toward broader professional goals, he also decided to enroll in a master’s degree program in teacher leadership offered by the University of Southern Maine, in Portland. The program, offering a professional educator degree, featured courses in advanced teaching practice and included both online and face-to-face components. In addition, his 997-student district provided tuition assistance for teachers to pursue advanced degrees.

Mr. Chouinard presents a near-perfect example of the type of educator for whom teacher-leadership degree programs are designed. Such programs, observers say, have emerged in recent years in response to an increasing number of teachers who are looking to advance in their careers and expand their instructional knowledge but who also want to stay in the classroom.

“There are more and more educators who come into M.A. programs but don’t want to be administrators,” said Lynne Miller, a professor of educational leadership at the University of Southern Maine and a co-author of the 2004 book Teacher Leadership. What they want instead, she noted, is “to deepen their practice and extend their influence on other teachers.”

Exactly how many teacher-leadership degree programs exist is difficult to determine since no organization tracks them separately from other master’s offerings in educational leadership. But a review of U.S. education schools by Education Week identified more than 60 such programs. Many of them have gained prominence and visibility as the result both of the introduction of online course offerings and the growing interest in career development for teachers. The primarily distance-education-oriented University of Phoenix currently has more than 1,000 students in its teacher-leadership master’s program, which was launched in 2008.

Broader Perspective

Teacher-leadership programs generally differ from traditional education administration or leadership master’s programs in focusing more on instructional practice and less on organizational supervision and the business and management of schools.

The course offerings in teacher-leadership programs vary from school to school, but tend to emphasize inquiry-based instruction, coaching and mentoring, cultural responsiveness, professional-development design, curriculum development, and technological understanding. Most programs also require degree candidates to complete an internship or capstone project involving collaborative work with school leaders or a practice-based research project.

School of education professors and administrators involved in teacher-leadership degree programs say such offerings fill an important need in K-12 education today by giving teachers the capacity to expand their roles and exert greater influence in schools.

“We want to help teachers lead from where they stand,” said Barbara Klocko, an associate professor of education at Central Michigan University, in Mount Pleasant, which launched a teacher-leadership master’s program this past summer. “The goal is to enrich their understanding of teaching and learning.”

Bernard Badiali, an associate professor of education at Pennsylvania State University, in University Park, said that the teacher-leadership master’s program offered through his institution’s World Campus virtual school gives teachers a “broader perspective on schools.” It aims to foster a sense of educational “stewardship,” he added, instilling “the idea that [teachers] are responsible for [their] own classrooms and beyond.”

In turn, advocates say, giving teachers structured ways to develop leadership skills can only benefit schools as they deal with an ever-growing list of improvement initiatives and mandates.

“There are so many complex things happening in schools right now, from common core to [teacher] evaluation changes,” said Meredith Curley, the dean of the University of Phoenix’s college of education. “For schools to have teacher leaders who can step up to the next level and help with integration and implementation is invaluable.”

By having acquired skills in collaboration, presentation, and research, Mr. Badiali said, teachers with leadership credentials can help “raise the collective IQ of a school.”

Applicability Questions

Even so, questions persist about the real-world practicality and applicability of teacher-leadership degrees in today’s schools. Many teachers who graduate from teacher-leadership programs become department chairs or grade-level team leaders, or move into hybrid positions in which they both teach and take on instructional-leadership responsibilities. But in lots of school systems, experts caution, teacher-leadership positions are still ill-defined, temporary, or nonexistent.

For some educators, enrolling in a teacher-leadership program “can be a waste of time,” said Marguerite Roza, a senior scholar at the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, in Seattle. “If there’s a known teacher-leadership position in your school,” she said, “the degree might work, but many systems are not set up for it. You have to ask yourself: ‘Does the [district] hiring manager even care that you have that degree?’ ”

Ms. Roza, whose research has been critical of master’s degree incentive initiatives, added that little is known about whether teacher-leadership degree programs “provide skills that are boosting school performance,” though she allowed that there may be some well-structured schools or districts where that may be the case.

In many cases, she suggested, teachers hoping to increase their impact might be better off pursuing advanced degrees in specific content or concentration areas.

Ms. Miller of the University of Southern Maine noted that teacher-leadership programs have optimum impact when they work in partnership with local districts, or when participants at least have the explicit support of their districts. Otherwise, teachers may “experience frustration as they try to play out teacher-leadership skills or roles,” she said.

In particular, Ms. Miller said she has concerns about online programs without local connections that enroll teachers with “disparate needs and interests” from all around the country.

At the same time, she predicted that teacher-leadership degree programs will continue to attract educators even as states and districts experiment with their own systems for differentiating teachers’ positions and career paths. “If they want to continue learning and deepening their practice, teachers will continue to pursue quality degree programs,” she said.

For his part, Mr. Chouinard, who obtained his master’s from the University of Southern Maine last year, has no regrets about his decision. In addition to receiving a $4,000 bonus from his district, he has also become a district curriculum leader, a decisionmaking position that allows him to continue teaching.

But more important, he said, are the knowledge and expertise he gained from his graduate studies. “I have a much deeper knowledge of students and curriculum now,” he said. “I have a bigger toolbox of strategies to reach all our students.”

Education Week Library Intern Amy Wickner contributed to this report.

Coverage of leadership, expanded learning time, and arts learning is supported in part by a grant from The Wallace Foundation, at www.wallacefoundation.org.
A version of this article appeared in the October 31, 2012 edition of Education Week as Teacher-Leader Degree Designed as a Vehicle for Career Fulfillment

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Safe Return to Schools is Possible with Testing
We are edging closer to a nationwide return to in-person learning in the fall. However, vaccinations alone will not get us through this. Young children not being able to vaccinate, the spread of new and
Content provided by BD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
Meeting the Moment: Accelerating Equitable Recovery and Transformative Change
Educators are deciding how best to re-establish routines such as everyday attendance, rebuild the relationships for resilient school communities, and center teaching and learning to consciously prioritize protecting the health and overall well-being of students
Content provided by Campaign for Grade-Level Reading
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Addressing Learning Loss: What Schools Need to Accelerate Reading Instruction in K-3
When K-3 students return to classrooms this fall, there will be huge gaps in foundational reading skills. Does your school or district need a plan to address learning loss and accelerate student growth? In this
Content provided by PDX Reading

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Opinion A Crisis Sows Confusion. How District Leaders Can Be Clear in Their Messaging
Choosing a go-to source of information is a good starting point, but it doesn’t end there.
Daniel R. Moirao
2 min read
A man with his head in a cloud.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and Getty Images
School & District Management Opinion COVID-19 Ripped Through Our Emotional Safety Net. Here’s How My District Responded
Three years after overhauling its approach to student mental health, one California district found itself facing a new crisis.
Jonathan Cooper
2 min read
A young man stands under a street light on a lonely road.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and Getty Images
School & District Management Opinion Students Need Better Connections. To Wi-Fi, Yes, But Also to Teachers
We have to fix our digital divide, but let’s not lose sight of the relationship divide, writes one superintendent.
Susan Enfield
2 min read
A teacher checks in on a remote student.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and Getty Images
School & District Management Opinion Superintendents Have Weathered a Lot of Vitriol This Year. What Have We Learned?
The pandemic turned district leaders into pioneers, writes one superintendent. We had to band together to make it through.
Matthew Montgomery
2 min read
A person walks from a vast empty space towards a team of people.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and Getty Images