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National Teacher-Leadership Initiative Improves, But Can It Endure?

At the end of August, I wrote about Commit to Lead, the new online initiative from the U.S Department of Education and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards that's aiming to develop teacher leadership in schools. Commit to Lead followed through on the Teach to Lead initiative announced in March 2014 by offering teachers a place to share ideas that would improve leadership within the profession.

Commit to Lead, at its debut, had a few kinks. The hosting site had some registration issues; the categorization system seemed overwhelming; the ranking system did not seem intuitive; and some observers questioned whether the site was even needed.

Commit to Lead has certainly improved in some aspects since it launched, though.

Glitches: Initially, I noted that I had trouble trying to submit an idea once I registered. It was right after launch, when technical issues are more likely than not to occur, but according to Aparna Kumar, director of communications for NBPTS, the hosting site has resolved these problems.

Categorization: The categorization system was shaping up to be a hot mess, but now the site has trimmed down to a more manageable load, using broad, overarching concepts like "professional development," "teacher leadership" (which is perhaps a little too nebulous for a site called Commit to Lead), and "collaboration," among a couple dozen others.

Ideas: Currently, 102 ideas have been submitted, which is an increase over the 17 or so that the site had during its debut, but not a gigantic add for being six weeks out. The names by which the ideas are listed aren't particularly creative, but that's a mark against the users, not the site.

GIFs: I may have suggested in my last critique that GIFs are essential to any serious online initiative. This came more out of an affinity for GIFs rather than hard data, but ask yourself: What about this post you're reading most grabs your attention?

Anyway, the Commit to Lead site now supports them.

Leaderboard: The leaderboard shows the top 10 contributors to the site, although there is a steep "points" dropoff between the top member, Coach_Christina, and everyone after her. In determining the leaderboard, Kumar says, the board takes into account votes, comments, and social media shares. The majority have only posted two or fewer comments, which suggests that strong ideas can make up for inactive participation. The leaderboard seems like it's mostly for fun, but I wonder if it's actually more of a distraction.

Whatever you can make of the leaderboard's value, the top spot is authoritatively owned by Coach_Christina, who has proposed that principals and central administration be required to teach one prep hour or class for one semester every two years. The teacher that the administrator steps in for would then be released to participate in some of the leadership activities of the respective administrator, or go get some other form of professional development. That would give administrators an up-to-date view of the classroom, and teachers extra freedom to explore.

I don't know how long Commit to Lead will last, although the Education Department and NBPTS aren't giving up on the umbrella initiative, Teach to Lead. As my colleague Stephen Sawchuk reported, there will be three leadership summits held throughout 2015 under the Teach to Lead banner, in Boston, Denver, and Louisville, Ky. And if the Commit to Lead part of the initiative seems gimmicky, the Teach to Lead site compensates for it with a "Stories" section that offers profiles of different teacher leaders throughout the country, which combines greater depth with examples of execution.

One of Commit to Lead's top-ranked contributors, Deidra Gammill, has expressed reservations about the site, remaining skeptical of the its long-term value and whether the voting system will undermine some of the better (if not as popular) ideas. But she told me via email that there is reason for optimism. "I'm disappointed but remain hopeful that this is a step in the right direction by the Department of Education and the momentum that seems to be building as teachers are recognized for their leadership and professionalism," she said.

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