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Educators Envision a Less Flat, More Respected Teaching Profession

In a post on Chalkbeat Colorado, Mark Sass, a "hybrid" teacher outside of Denver, says that state policymakers and teachers' unions need to do a whole lot more to foster the growth of teacher-leadership positions in schools. Giving teachers better career-advancement opportunities is critical to improving schools, he says:

Research shows that one of the major reasons teachers leave the profession is due to the relatively flat career advancement structure that exists. ... Teacher leadership is one way to build the capacity and provide teachers with the leverage points necessary to transform public education. International comparisons to our education system reveal that the status of the teaching profession in our country lacks the necessary trust that other countries place in their teachers.

Among specific types of positions Sass advocates are mentor teachers, model teachers, and teacher-advocate leaders who would have a role in "policy decisions and implementation [that] is sorely lacking, if it exists at all. ..." But he emphasizes that, to have real impact, these jobs have to consist of more than title and role changes.

All of these positions take new resources. We need to redesign the current compensation structures found in most master agreements. Our current system relies on the idea that each individual has the same basic responsibilities—it relies on a structure that reflects a flat teaching career.

Sass' post comes at a time when teacher-leadership ideas may have some newfound traction: Last month, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced a new initiative to promote teacher leadership in schools—though the details remain sketchy.  

Meanwhile, in a post on Valerie Strauss' Washington Post blog, Jack Schneider, an assistant professor of education at the College of the Holy Cross, argues that policymakers need to give current teachers more credit for their educational attainments than they are accustomed to doing lately. To this end, he says that one way to better support teachers—as opposed to just dreaming up ways to hire "a new corps of 'smarter' teachers"—would be to rebuild professional-development systems "around the idea of connecting teachers with high-quality educational research." He offers some examples of what this might look like:

We might ... imagine teachers meeting each week to read and discuss research—developing applications for their classrooms and tracking the results. Or we might imagine teachers meeting in "lesson study" teams, as they are called in Japan, to study their own practices and reflect on research that might help them improve.

Thinking even further outside the box, we might envision sections of school libraries transformed into teacher research centers—digital repositories supervised by research librarians trained to help teachers consume scholarship. Or perhaps most ambitiously of all, we might imagine schools of education renewing their purpose through this mission—training teachers to engage with research and preparing administrators to support that effort.

Maybe there would be lead teacher-researchers or teacher-research specialists in schools, too. Food for thought. ...  

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