An ever-increasing number of school systems are investing in teacher leaders as a key strategy for improving learning for all students. And they should, as research shows that shared and distributed leadership can be found in most highly successful schools.
When I was a classroom teacher, my passion for continuous learning led me to approach our superintendent about creating the first staff development position in our school system. Not only did we create that position, I wound up filling it.
Early in my tenure, I observed that many of our best teachers were looking for avenues to assume more leadership, and the only option available to them was in administration. I felt the creation of a new staff development department would help additional leadership opportunities. So I convened a team of teacher and principal leaders and we brainstormed ways we could empower our teachers, tap into their creativity, and develop their leadership capacity so that others could benefit from their knowledge and skills.
Ultimately, we launched a program that recognized teachers for their expertise by calling upon them to serve as resident staff developers. Instead of bringing in "outside experts," we would have our own "inside experts." Together we created the first teacher leadership cadre (TLC). We had three times the number of applicants we could handle for our first class of 30.
Cadre teachers reported the experience as one of the highlights of their careers. More than 20 years later, the cadre remains, many of the original teachers still contribute, and the most recent director of the cadre led a session at Learning Forward's summer conference three years ago. Launching the TLC was a powerful learning experience that has influenced my work for two decades.
The teacher leadership cadre was an early example of what today has become a plethora of models for recognizing and rewarding great teachers who want to remain close to the classroom.
Last year an independent commission of the NEA released a report on the future of the teaching profession titled Transforming Teaching: Connecting Professional Responsibility with Student Learning. Among its many excellent recommendations was a call for new leadership roles in schools for teachers. "School leadership is a joint endeavor with highly effective classroom teachers," the report reads. "In a collaborative school culture where all teachers share responsibility for student learning and well being, shared decision-making models utilize classroom expertise in advancing the effectiveness of schools and the mission of public education. Administrators and teachers have a collaborative relationship characterized by joint decision making and accountability. Teachers assume hybrid roles that involve both teaching and leading; effective principals spend some time teaching and welcome opportunities to work with teacher leaders."
Last week I spoke to a group of legislators and asked how many of them had been teachers. About 20 percent of the hands went up. When I told the group my assumption that had they been given more options to teach and lead, many more of them would still be working in schools today, I saw many heads nodding, and several people spoke to me after the session to affirm my assumption.
We must establish career paths for teachers that reward them for assuming new responsibilities and continuing to serve the students who need them most. One of those ways teachers can do this is by serving as a professional development coach for their campus. I can't imagine anything more important than increasing the knowledge and skills of all staff members to assure that all students experience great teaching every day.
Executive Director, Learning Forward