Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Five Goals for Teacher Leadership: Effective Teacher Leadership Improves Teaching and Learning Outcomes and Gives Teachers Voice in Policy Making at All Levels

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Five Goals for Teacher Leadership: Effective Teacher Leadership Improves Teaching and Learning Outcomes and Gives Teachers Voice in Policy Making at All Levels

Article excerpt

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Throw around the phrase "teacher leadership" in a room of education professionals, and you'll likely get a lot of enthusiastic nodding. It's hard to argue with the idea of teachers taking on leadership roles to improve their profession. For more than a generation, education leaders have advocated for policies at federal, state, and district levels to support the spread of teacher leadership. And yet, teacher leadership has not taken hold in either a strategic or systemic way.

Why? Perhaps, as Atul Gawande said of the medical industry, while good ideas abound, not all of them spread (2013). Ideas that do spread share two important qualities: They solve a clearly defined problem, and they benefit the general public as well as practitioners. The failure of teacher leadership to take hold has been a failure to define its purpose beyond the generic, albeit laudable, ideal of increased professionalism for teachers.

Policy making is fundamentally about resource allocation. Policies favor interventions that can answer the key questions: Who benefits, how, and to what degree? Those of us who work in the teacher leadership space must ask: How do we make teacher leadership indispensable? How do we ensure that policy makers believe it is a priority and not the first item that gets slashed when budgets are tight?

For teacher leadership to have staying power, it must prove itself to be genuinely influential--to matter more than other strategies for improving schools.

The obvious way to achieve this is to prove that teacher leadership fosters school improvement, principally evidenced by growth in student learning. However, almost 30 years after the Holmes Group and Carnegie Task Force on Teaching as a Profession brought national attention to the issue, the link between teacher leadership and increased student achievement has remained tenuous at best.

Today, reforms in teacher evaluation nationwide make it increasingly feasible to target leadership positions at demonstrably effective teachers. This has a twofold impact. First, teacher leaders are more likely to be respected as credible by the peers they seek to influence, and second, the teachers doing the leading are more likely to share practices that have a positive influence on student achievement.

As baby boomers retire and those with less than 10 years experience teaching have become the majority of the teaching force, teacher leadership is experiencing a resurgence in popularity (NCES, 2008). For teacher leadership to have staying power this time, it must prove itself to be genuinely influential--to matter more than other strategies for improving schools. At Teach Plus, we have identified five measurable goals for teacher leadership:

1. Improve student outcomes;

2. Improve the access of high-need students to effective teachers;

3. Extend the careers of teachers looking for growth opportunities;

4. Expand the influence of effective teachers on their peers; and

5. Ensure a role for teachers as leaders in policy decisions affecting their practice.

Why teacher leadership?

Our work at Teach Plus is rooted in the belief that leadership opportunities for teachers have a measurable, positive effect on students, schools, and the teaching profession. Teach Plus recruits, selects and trains outstanding teachers to be leaders in their schools and in district and state policy debates. We have worked with almost 1,000 teachers in six cities to date. Our programs engage teachers as change makers at the school and system levels while acknowledging that different teachers want different avenues for leadership.

At the school level, the Turnaround Teacher Teams Initiative (T3) recruits and supports cohorts of effective, experienced teachers to be teacher leaders in chronically low-performing schools. The T3 Initiative operates in 12 schools in partnership with Boston Public Schools, Fall River (Mass. …

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