What is Teacher Leadership?
The collective education and education policy reform community have been talking about and using the words “teacher leadership” for years, but when I ask different stakeholders what teacher leadership is and how it is formally recognized and understood in the context of recruitment, retention, and student achievement, I get varying and often anecdotal responses. We need to come together and formally define the scope of what teacher leadership is. Unless we agree on what core competencies, nuances, and specific expertise exists under the scope of “teacher leadership” it will likely become another education reform initiative that was tried and then abandoned because it couldn’t show impact at scale.
Why is it important to have commonality among professional level roles? Without common definitions or understandings of the professional expertise required to fulfill the roles, we ultimately risk inconsistency in educational delivery for students.
Last month I (along with several education partners from across Nevada) attended the October TeachStrong Convening at the Center for American Progress in Washington DC. If you’re not familiar with TeachStrong, I’ll share just a little bit about it, but I encourage you to also check out their work here. TeachStrong is a campaign that was created to help elevate and celebrate the teaching profession with the intent of highlighting the important role that teachers have on student learning and achievement. The campaign represents a coalition of more than 60 organizations that have agreed on 9 policy principles that they believe will help systemically improve teaching and ultimately advance education in the United States overall. Nevada Succeeds agrees with these principles. The coalition’s ability to get organizations like the American Federation of Teachers and Teach For America to sign off on the same set of comprehensive education reform policy ideas speaks to the fact that there is more agreement on how to improve education than some would believe.
A couple of times a year TeachStrong invites states, district representatives, and non-profits from across the country to come together to discuss and share their work and experiences related to the coalition’s goals and policy principles. The October Convening was held specifically to discuss how states and districts are making progress on Principle 9, creating career pathways that give teachers opportunities to lead and grow professionally, and how that particular principle is advanced by teacher leadership initiatives.
I was interested in attending this conveying because of the focus on career pathways. Creating career pathways for teachers is one of the recommendations from Nevada Succeeds’ What’s Next Nevada? project and was the foundation of our work in Phase III. Earlier this year, I facilitated focus groups of educators (teachers, administrators, other licensed personnel, and support professionals) to discuss how Nevada could build career pathways that improve student achievement and retain teachers. What we found from this work is that, while there are many informal and a few formal pathways for teachers to advance professionally while still staying in the classroom, there is significant variability among what many of the current pathways look like. For example, a learning strategist’s position, role and compensation looks different from school-to-school and district-to-district. The same is true for positions like instructional strategist and data coach, yet all of these roles likely have sets of core competencies that could be drawn out to inform career pathways.
Last week, the Nevada Department of Education in partnership with Chiefs for Change, hosted a day long meeting on teacher leadership efforts in the state, how NDE is investing in teacher leadership, and how teacher leadership is an integral part of the NDE’s goal of becoming the fastest improving state in the nation. It was wonderful to have people representing many of the state’s teacher leadership programs and efforts come together. One of the main takeaways from the day is that Nevada is going to have to decide what role(s) the state and districts should play in supporting teacher leadership efforts and why. We are also going to have to decide how to measure the impact of and support for teacher leadership efforts.
Focusing on teacher leadership and career pathways will help cultivate the dynamic profession educators of all types want to be a part of, will help educators’ expertise be better leveraged, and will ultimately help change the narrative around the value of teaching and education as a profession.