Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

The Affordances of Using a Teacher Leadership Network to Support Leadership Development: Creating Collaborative Thinking Spaces to Strengthen Teachers' Skills in Facilitating Productive Evidence-Informed Conversations

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

The Affordances of Using a Teacher Leadership Network to Support Leadership Development: Creating Collaborative Thinking Spaces to Strengthen Teachers' Skills in Facilitating Productive Evidence-Informed Conversations

Article excerpt

School reform policies and school administrators are increasingly positioning teacher leaders (TLs) with the responsibility to facilitate professional learning for their colleagues. Although ample evidence exists to suggest the need for facilitators to be highly skilled for teachers' learning to be optimized, there is a dearth of research describing how TLs act as effective instructional leaders with their colleagues in professional learning communities (Nuermerski, 2012). Furthermore, no empirical studies have described effective models for supporting the leadership development of the TLs who are charged with learning to take on the role of instructional leader at their school sites.

Our research intends to address this gap in the literature by documenting a teacher leader network (TLN) that is part of the Mills Teacher Scholars (MTS), a professional development program that supports teachers to develop as TLs. In this study, we describe one TLN meeting at which 21 teachers convened to learn how to develop as teacher instructional leaders responsible for facilitating substantive data conversations with their colleagues. We analyze the affordances this learning community provides for TLs, with a goal of making visible how the TLs were supported in strengthening the skills and dispositions required to be effective facilitators of evidence-informed conversations that would move their colleagues' thinking and learning forward.

Literature Review

Current conceptions of teacher leadership no longer associate it as belonging only to a small subset of teachers who hold formal positions of authority within schools as mentor teachers, instructional coaches, or professional development facilitators. Instead, contemporary theorizing positions teacher leadership as a process of influencing others to improve their educational practice and exemplifying a learning stance as part of a more inclusive construct where teachers in all positions within schools are believed to have the capacity to develop and strengthen their leadership capacities (Katzenmeyer & Moller, 2009; Margolis & Doring, 2012). A commonly cited definition reflecting this current emphasis is offered by Katzenmeyer and Moller (2009), who explained, "Teacher leaders lead within and beyond the classroom; identify with and contribute to a community of teacher learners and leaders; influence others toward improved educational practice; and accept responsibility for achieving the outcomes of their leadership" (p. 6). York-Barr and Duke (2004) theorized teacher leadership similarly as a process by which "teachers, individually or collectively, influence their colleagues, principals, and other members of school communities to improve teaching and learning practices with the aim of increased student learning and achievement" (p. 287). Such understandings decouple teacher leadership from association with formal authority and hierarchies that reinforce divisions between classroom teaching and administration (Darling-Hammond, Bullmaster, & Cobb, 1995).

Scholars have proposed that such conceptions of teacher leadership hold great potential for eventuating school reform (Bradley-Levine, 2011) as teachers are supported to "pose and solve problems" and "assume leadership for change from within rather than looking upward or outward for leadership" (Darling-Hammond et al., 1995, p. 100). Such theorizing positions teachers as holding expertise that is valuable for entire school communities, as "leaders in practice" (Grant, 2006, p. 519) who are best positioned to facilitate school improvement efforts through ongoing, systematic study and strengthening of their instructional practice. Foundational to the theory of change embedded in such associations between teacher leadership and school improvement is a belief that "leadership is in the learning, not in the perfection" (Margolis & Doring, 2012, p. 878). Therefore a "teacher leader is the best teacher learner--the one who revises and improves their own teaching the most, as well as the one who provides the most appropriate feedback to others so they can learn from missteps" (Margolis & Doring, 2012, p. …

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