This is the third of a six-part conversation on how teachers can grow in their leadership capacities.
True teacher leadership happens when other teachers look to a peer for professional support, coaching, and evaluative help. They are connected to that leader without feeling judgement, and they experience professional growth as a result of the leadership provided. Having teacher leaders should result in having better teachers overall and providing a community of support within a school building.
I am one of five secondary instructional specialists in my district that is out of the classroom full time. As a result of being out of the classroom, we often struggle to find teachers that desire our professional support in their classroom on a regular basis. As we observe classrooms, we see the needs that teachers have for professional development but are so limited in the time we are given for actual professional development.
This year, we attended one of the U.S. Department of Education’s Teach to Lead summits, with a desire to explore ideas that would allow us to better serve the teachers in our district. We came away with a distributed leadership model that would help put professional development in schools with classroom teachers. The secondary instructional specialists would provide professional development for the teacher leaders in the schools.
We are still working with this idea as a professional learning community of secondary instructional specialists with the support of a few administrators. We have also started discussing ideas with the elementary instructional specialist and our local union as well. As we collaborate in a larger group, we hope that our work will transform into something that meets everyone’s needs in the district.
The biggest obstacle? Getting everyone on the same page with adequate funding to provide a solid teacher-leader system. As teacher leaders, we have the knowledge about teacher needs and wants, but no power or budgets to make things happen. State and federal funds do not yet consider teacher leadership as part of what schools budget.
Teacher leadership requires time and compensation from the school district. It cannot be loaded onto a full schedule and it cannot be for a small stipend. It requires a system where teachers are respected for their leadership role and are compensated as if it is a promotion. It has to be within a system where regular teachers fully understand the role of the teacher leader and are on board with working with them in that capacity. It takes a clearly defined role that is publicly accepted by all involved. It also takes investment and release time.
Shereen Henry (@shereenhenry) has served as the secondary math instructional specialist for Shoreline School District, in Wash., the last 7 years to support teachers and classroom instruction. Before moving to the district offices, she taught high school math including courses covering Integrated Math 1, 2, and 3, AP Statistics, and Pre-Calculus. She is currently serving as a Wash. State Mathematics Fellow to be a leader in her district around instructional shifts for Common Core State Standards and Smarter Balanced assessment implementation.
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.