Teaching Profession

Teacher Leadership Should Be Strengthened, Report Says

By Mary Ann Zehr — April 25, 2001 3 min read
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Schools should be reorganized to give teachers richer opportunities to be leaders, according to a report by the Institute for Educational Leadership.

For More Information

Read the latest task force report from the 21st Century School Leadership Initiative, “Leadership for Student Learning: Redefining the Teacher as Leader.” (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

The April 19 report, titled “Leadership for Student Learning: Redefining the Teacher as Leader,” lays out 10 ways that teachers can provide valuable leadership in schools, from helping to choose textbooks and instructional materials to weighing in on school budgets and the selection of new administrators.

Unfortunately, schools often tap teachers for leadership in only limited ways, it says. In most school systems, teachers become true leaders only through landing posts as administrators, getting involved with activist-type teacher movements, or becoming involved in union affairs, it notes.

“Despite many impediments, the existing system is ripe for teacher-driven change from within—that is for ‘teacher leadership’ intrinsic to the role of teachers in the classroom, school, and larger policy environment,” the authors of the report write.

Such change can occur and be sustained over time only if it is “supported through education or professional development for everyone from the teacher to parent to school board to administrator,” said Rebecca S. Pringle, a science teacher at Susquehanna Township Middle School in Harrisburg, Pa., and a member of the task force that prepared the report. “It’s not easy to share governance, particularly when you’re not used to it.”

She added that, in their early efforts to improve, schools tried to involve teachers in decisions through site-based management. But unfortunately, she said, some of that involvement was not sustained because it didn’t have buy-in from school boards, administrators, and legislators.

The Task Force on Teacher Leadership released the report as the third in a series published by the institute’s School Leadership for the 21st Century Initiative. The task force was headed by James A. Kelly, the founding president of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and Mary Hatwood Futrell, the dean of the graduate school of education and human development at George Washington University in Washington and a former president of the National Education Association.

Union Role

People who doubt that teachers belong in educational leadership circles raise the possibility that teacher leadership will lead to control of education by unions, the report points out.

But the authors apparently believe unions can play an important role in supporting teachers as leaders. They highlight as a model the contract of the teachers’ union in the 135,000-student Montgomery County, Md., district, which delineates new leadership roles for teachers, in areas such as improving instruction, evaluating teacher performance, mentoring, and dismissing incompetent teachers through a peer-review panel of teachers and principals.

Becky Fleischauer, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based NEA, agreed that the Montgomery County contract is a good model for teacher leadership and said the report is on target by including teacher unions as important partners in helping teachers get involved in shaping education policy. Other partners named by the report are school districts, institutions of higher education, business leaders, and the mass media.

The problem many states face of having standardized tests that are not aligned with academic standards is a result of teachers’ inadequate involvement in educational policy matters, she added.

“One place where we could benefit more is [having teachers involved] in the developing and implementing of test standards and accountability measures,” she said. “One might say the alignment problem has been a result of not seeking input from teachers.”

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A version of this article appeared in the April 25, 2001 edition of Education Week as Teacher Leadership Should Be Strengthened, Report Says

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