Making Teacher Leadership a Success

In our first post on teacher leadership, we noted a few key ideas and benefits of extending the impact of teachers. Here, we break down three suggestions for launching a new teacher leadership initiative as well as criteria to measure success and common pitfalls to avoid.

How do you launch a successful teacher leadership program?

Our research and experience suggest three critical steps to starting a new approach to teacher leadership:

  1. Start with a goal in mind: Avoid launching a new program without a clearly defined, and important problem to solve. For example, if your district finds that teachers are not feeling valued in decision making, a teacher leadership program aimed at increasing teacher voice would be more appropriate than a peer coaching initiative.
  2. Identify the right “strand” of teacher leadership: Teacher leadership can be instructional (coaching, learning communities, etc.), associative (organizing, community building, etc.) or policy focused (advocacy, implementation feedback, etc.).
  3. Build a leader profile and plan for their development: Identify the specific knowledge, skills, and mindsets teacher leaders will need to be successful. Consider the personal or professional goals teacher leaders could be working towards and how they’ll be held accountable to meeting the expectations for their role.  

Criteria for Success

Successful implementation of any initiative requires specific benchmarks in order to direct action, mobilize energy and inspire persistence. At the same time, setting goals is not enough. In addition to guidance, training and coaching, people need the capacity to act.

Here are four criteria that leaders can use to achieve success:

  • Alignment: Ensure teacher leadership priorities are aligned with overall school priorities.
  • Goals: Collaboratively set and track progress against clear, measurable goals for teacher leadership.
  • Systems of Support: Identify a clear, cohesive system of support for teacher leaders to drive their professional growth and success.
  • Schedules: Carefully plan and agree upon scheduling to guarantee teacher leaders have the time to succeed.

Common Pitfalls

The work we do as educators is difficult. Leaders often find themselves constrained with limited budgets and capacity to drive change; while teachers often wish for another hour in the day to make that additional phone call home or photocopy for the next day.

In launching a teacher leadership program or opportunity, look for, and avoid the following common pitfalls:

  • Temporary: Teachers notice when positions are tenuous. Avoid funding sources that may not persist long enough to influence recruitment and retention.
  • Detached: Roles that prevent teacher-leaders from spending a portion of their time teaching students make it much harder for them to keep teaching skills fresh and stay connected to student needs.
  • Low reach:  Many teacher-leadership roles actually reduce the number of students for whom the best teachers are responsible. If fewer students benefit from the best teachers, fewer will make the learning gains these teachers induce.
  • Short on time: Too many teacher-leader roles are heaped on top of teachers’ other responsibilities. Co-planning, modeling, co-teaching, coaching, and collaboratively adjusting instruction based on student data require more planning time.
  • Low or no pay: Most teacher-leader roles are low- or no-pay roles; this sends the message that teacher leadership is expendable, rather than essential to schoolwide success.
  • Low authority, low accountability: Teacher-leaders’ formal authority and evaluations rarely align with responsibility for wider student spans and a positive impact on peer and students success.

How has has teacher leadership made in impact in your school or career? What led to success? What should be avoided?  Sound off in the comments!

Sources:

  • York-Barr, J. and Duke, K. “What do we know about teacher leadership”. Review of Educational Research. (2004)
  • Karen Seashore Louis, Kenneth Leithwood, Kyla L. Wahlstrom, and Stephen E. Anderson, “Investigating the Links to Improved Student Learning,” University of Minnesota (2010).
  • Louis, Leithwood, Wahlstrom, and Anderson, “Investigating the Links to Improved Student Learning”
  • Leading Educators and the Aspen Institute, “Teacher Leadership that Works,” Aspen Institute (2014).
  • C. Kirabo Jackson and Elias Bruegmann, “Teaching students and teaching each other: The importance of peer learning for teachers,” National Bureau of Economic Research No. 15202 (2009);
  • Cory Koedel, “An empirical analysis of teacher spillover effects in secondary school,” Economics of Education Review, Vol. 28, 682–692 (2009);
  • Kun Yuan, “A value-added study of teacher spillover effects across four core subjects in middle schools,” Education Policy Analysis Archives, Vol. 23, no 7 (2015).

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