Sarah is a department chair in her high school. In that role, she collaborates closely with administration to implement decisions on school wide initiatives to support her content area. She assists with hiring and designing the master schedule. She mentors and supports other teachers for all curriculum and instructional issues, and most importantly, serves as the expert in her content area to inform administrators, who have never taught in her subject area.
Janet is a special education department chair. In this capacity, she manages a department of 23 teachers and other staff providing services to over 200 students. She serves as the resource for all regulations and laws. This requires coordination with a variety of school and central office administrators and specialists. She is responsible for problem solving all parental and student issues, and being able to negotiate complex situations when conflict occurs.
Both Sarah and Janet, as teacher leaders, must perform duties far beyond what is expected of classroom teaching. These teacher leadership roles require a level of administrative and leadership skills that are more complex than the instructional responsibilities of classroom teaching. The ability to work with a variety of adults, each with their own unique personalities, motivations, egos, and biases, brings about many opportunities and challenges.
Unlike informal teacher leadership roles, Sarah and Janet are held responsible for the consequences of their decisions and performance.
The Teacher Leadership Model Standards begin to address the deep and complex knowledge and skills that teacher leaders must possess to be successful in schools.
For example, Domain 1: Fostering a Collaborative Culture to Support Educator Development and Student Learning addresses the functions of working with colleagues. Domain III: Promoting Professional Learning for Continuous Improvement addresses the professional development required to meet school improvement goals.
The Teacher Leadership Model Standards provide a common language to develop teacher leaders. But more is needed.
It’s time for the profession to formally recognize that these specific teacher leadership roles are different from informal “leadership” roles.
For example, in many districts, Sarah and Janet will be evaluated as teachers, often with the same rubric given to teachers in classroom settings. They will be evaluated on components of classroom instruction such as managing student learning and classroom management—ironically, even if they do not have a classroom of students.
When these roles are not formally acknowledged, the implementation of teacher leadership roles will vary across schools. In some schools, department chair positions are given under a competitive and highly selective process based on skills and experience. At other schools, department chair positions may be filled with other criteria.
Time for Change
As these positions require different levels of expertise, they should be formalized with commensurate pay and specific evaluations.
The profession needs a career ladder that has levels of differentiation, areas of specialty, and recognition. Teaching will need to develop these official career paths to earn the respect already defined by other professions.
Patrick Ledesma is a middle school technology specialist and special education department chair with Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia.
The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.