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Best State-Level Practices for Teacher Leadership Outlined in Report

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How can states meaningfully engage teacher leaders? A new policy brief from Chiefs for Change, a nonprofit organization for district and state education chiefs, outlines a broad framework for what makes an effective, sustainable teacher leadership system.

State-level teacher leadership, the brief says, cannot be limited to participation in working groups. Instead, teachers should be empowered to create and sustain effective education policy; the state should build a culture of innovation (rather than allowing the red tape of bureaucracy to strangle any ideas that teachers have); and teacher leaders should be set up to address a specific challenge, rather than a vague leadership call to action.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, which is the new federal K-12 law, has provided an opportunity for states to bolster their teacher leadership systems in this regard, said Michael Magee, the CEO of Chiefs for Change. 

"For years, teachers have justifiably complained how states approach teacher engagement, and now, under ESSA, we have an opportunity to do this differently and really take advantage of all the wisdom that lives with our best teachers across any given state," he said in an interview with Education Week Teacher.

Under ESSA, Title II funding can be used to provide state- and district-wide training and support for teacher leaders. It's worth noting that under the proposed Trump budget, Title II funding would be eliminated entirely. The budget must still go through Congress. (Chiefs for Change is now an independent nonprofit, but it started as an affiliate of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which was founded by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.) 

Since last February, Chiefs for Change has been working with a group of state chiefs who are interested in including teacher voice in the design of their ESSA plans, and how to incorporate teacher leadership into their state departments of education. (My colleague Daarel Burnette recently visited North Dakota to see how that state is incorporating teachers into planning for ESSA changes.) 

During these discussions, Chiefs for Change has been facilitating peer-to-peer advising and providing supports for best policies and practices. For example, the report highlights three states that are doing innovative work in teacher leadership: Louisiana, New Mexico, and Tennessee. (Louisiana's education superintendent, John White, is the group's board chairman.) Chiefs and leaders from those states have shared their takeaways from building their teacher-leadership systems to support other states that are earlier on in the process. 

Chiefs for Change also developed a teacher leadership and advocacy continuum:

  • Stage One: Teacher leaders are aware of the need for change.
  • Stage Two: Teacher leaders desire to make change happen.
  • Stage Three: Teacher leaders have the knowledge to support change.
  • Stage Four: Teacher leaders have the ability to support change.
  • Stage Five: Teacher leaders serve as reinforcement to sustain change. 

In the past, some efforts have only gone up to Stage Three, the report notes. Those do not recognize the full potential of teacher leaders, who can be partners in the implementation and sustainability of their work. 

"I think the main thing is you have to formalize these networks," Magee said. "They have to be established in a way that gives [teacher leaders] real weight in the policy conversation. You've got to have visionary state leadership that once these systems are built, takes them very seriously." 

Most state systems do give teacher leaders stipends for their work. It's important to make sure that teachers are compensated fairly for the extra work they're doing, Magee said, although he added that the extra pay is not the driving incentive for teacher leaders.

"They really genuinely want to have a voice in the development of policy in their state, and they know that they have an incredible amount to contribute to those conversations," he said. 

That's evident from the amount of teacher buy-in states like Louisiana and New Mexico have received, Magee said. Still, the report stresses that buy-in can't be enough, and teacher leaders need training to fulfill their leadership duties. 

Also, there's no one-size-fits-all model of teacher leadership:

In Louisiana, there's a core group of about 100 teacher leader advisers who work closely with the state education agency (I wrote about how these teacher leaders have been writing English/language arts curricula for teachers across the state). Those select teacher leaders also provide support for a larger group of about 5,000 teacher leaders across the state, who take the high-quality professional development they've received and bring it back to their own schools. 

Tennessee has identified 46 districts across the state that have created unique teacher-leader models. The state has been working with coaches in those districts and has provided differentiated support. The idea is that if the work is sustainable and relevant on a district level, then the whole state's teacher effectiveness and student outcomes will improve. 

And in New Mexico, there is a "teacher liaison" who is a classroom teacher on leave, working full-time with the state education agency to work with other teacher leaders and represent educators in state-level decisionmaking. The state is also working to build long-term structures that allow open communication between teacher leaders and the department.

Chiefs for Change will release additional policy briefs that highlight these state models in more detail. 

Image of Meredith Starks, a Louisiana teacher leader, by Hannah Baldwin for Education Week (FILE)


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