As school districts across the country confront the challenges of recruiting and retaining great teachers while trying to close persistent achievement gaps, two prominent nonprofit organizations today released a blueprint for building effective teacher leadership programs. The Aspen Institute Education & Society Program and Leading Educators, which partners with school districts to accelerate the impact of teachers in leadership positions, unveiled Leading from the Front of the Classroom: A Roadmap for Teacher Leadership that Works at the Education Writers Association seminar in Detroit Monday.
The paper provides school districts with concrete strategies for maximizing the potential of highly effective teachers to influence their colleagues, shift school culture and advance teaching, learning, and student achievement. The good news is that school districts across America increasingly are investing in the development of new career pathways for their best teachers as a reward and retention strategy. Unfortunately, they often do so without regard for the impact they want these teachers to have or how this can reinforce and strengthen other reforms. As a result, these initiatives have yet to stem attrition or improve achievement in any consistent or widespread fashion.
"I’ve heard from so many teachers who are tired of the heartbreaking choice between serving their students and serving their profession. Teacher leadership must be a force for changing education—not a result of it," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said.
Leading Educators Founder and CEO Jonas Chartock said, "What principal hasn't wished she could harness the talent of her best teachers and spread it to every classroom in her school? We know from our own experience this is possible and with this paper, Leading Educators hopes to point districts in the direction of creating high-impact leadership programs that address their many challenges around talent retention, achievement, and administrator burnout. In the areas where Leading Educators works directly with schools on developing these types of programs, we have seen higher teacher satisfaction and more collaborative, less stressful learning environments."
Aspen Institute Vice President Ross Wiener said, "Done right, teacher leadership elevates the profession while advancing other reforms. For example, it's overwhelming for principals alone to give every teacher the feedback and guidance they need and deserve – and it's not how any other profession is structured. Teacher leadership leverages talent within the teaching corps, makes the job more attractive to ambitious and accomplished teachers – and can make education reform more sustainable at the same time."
The paper cites several examples of effective teacher leadership initiatives at the state, school district, and school levels, including programs in Tennessee, Chicago, the District of Columbia, and Denver, among others. Standalone profiles also were released today of teacher leaders as Common Core coaches in Tennessee, team leaders in Denver Public Schools, and school-culture leads in the Noble Street Network of charter schools in Chicago.
These approaches share common attributes that have the potential to improve retention and student achievement:
They are designed for impact: This means aligning teacher leadership programs with key school priorities rather than just using leadership as an opportunity to recognize successful educators.
They know their context: Successful teacher leadership is predicated on having strong and well-defined systems in place to identify effective educators. School communities must have trust and confidence in their teacher leaders and not question the process by which they achieved their elevated position within a school.
They have defined measures of success: It is critical that districts and schools build a broad understanding of the long term and leading indicators of success. Vision must be clear and well-communicated.
They are built strategically: Effective teacher leadership programs cannot be a burden on principals or other educators, but must actually redistribute some responsibility in ways that make the principal job more manageable. Schools must commit to designing roles that make sense for their communities, train teachers in the management skills they need to be successful leaders, and recognize these leaders for their impact.
"By investing in the creation of a thoughtful teacher leadership program we've seen our schools in a position to hold all students to high expectations," said Michael Milkie, Superintendent of Noble Network of Charter Schools. "This paper captures a critical piece of our success and hope it serves as a model for other school organizations and districts looking to maximize the impact of the talent in their classrooms."