Groups Seek to Expand Teacher Leadership

LOUISVILLE — Kentucky schools need to identify and support new ways for teachers to find time to improve their skills and develop as leaders to strengthen schools. Efforts to increase teacher leadership in recent years have shown great promise, but state and district leaders should start looking at how systems could change to yield stronger academic results, according to presenters at a June meeting co-hosted by the Collaborative for Teaching and Learning (CTL) and the Prichard Committee and sponsored by The Cralle Foundation.

Roland O’Daniel, CEO of CTL, Cindy Parker, CTL Board Member, and Senator Mike Wilson, chair of the Senate Education Committee offered opening remarks for the event. Keynote speaker Stephanie Dean of Public Impact, a group in Chapel Hill, N.C., focused on ways to dramatically improve school results, said that education leaders should realize that principals are often overloaded with managerial and academic duties.

She explained how school districts in several states are trying out new staffing models and roles that give teachers more time and extra pay to take the lead on improving classroom results and helping their colleagues improve learning experiences for students. The plans work by “extending the reach of high-flying teachers,” Dean said. Teachers in the group’s Opportunity Culture initiative teach in a classroom for part of the day but also lead teams, supporting colleagues, and making sure all students experience strong classroom learning.

“This work is all about tradeoffs and deciding what’s most important,” said Dean, vice president of teaching and learning policy for the North Carolina group. She said that teacher talent can be used in creative ways to improve results across schools.

Panelists at the meeting, “Achieving Excellence and Equity in Student Learning: Pathways to Accomplished Teaching,” said that recent teacher leadership efforts in Kentucky have created conditions that make expanded roles for teachers a promising proposition.

“Determining the ways for teachers to move up without becoming an assistant principal is mission-critical for me,” said Faith Stroud, principal at Robert Frost Sixth Grade Academy in Louisville. Keeping effective teachers in the classroom and growing their expertise to help teachers and students in the school should be a top strategy for school improvement, she said.

“There are so many connections and networks out there to improve learning, and I am like a broker,” Stroud added. “That is so important, because as teachers participate to enhance their abilities, their confidence soars. We need teachers to use that within our school to take the practice of education seriously and take the needs of our kids seriously.”

Teachers at the meeting who have participated in teacher leadership experiences such as the Hope Street Group Teacher Fellows Program, said that finding new ways to allow teachers to build their own skills and work with others to improve student results should be seen as an essential part of the education system.

“A lot of teachers leave the profession because they are starving for that kind of growth,” said Meka Wilhoit Barry , a kindergarten teacher at Second Street School in Frankfort.

Increasing teachers’ professional abilities and giving classroom teachers new roles and responsibilities focused on schoolwide or district success can be help deliver on goals like improving instruction for all students and reducing achievement gaps, key priorities for CTL and the Prichard Committee.

In a report on teacher leadership it published in May, CTL said that revamping professional learning for teachers — including new opportunities for feedback and collaboration — and differentiating roles for teachers should be a priority for districts and schools.

Both strategies “have the potential for significant positive impact on the culture of teaching, and in some cases require relatively minor adjustments in expectations and practices,” CTL concluded in its report “Elevating the Teaching Profession: A Call to Action.

“The ultimate challenge is to take knowledge about all the elements that can positively transform teaching and learning and implement them in replicable and sustainable ways,” the report said.

While finding examples of positive teacher views and informal school- and district-level change, formal changes to create to a new teaching culture remains a challenge and opportunity for the state.

“Teacher voice and leadership must be a norm and an expectation, not an exception, and teacher support services and professional learning should likewise be designed with flexibility and customized for individuals to enable teachers to develop their strengths,” the CTL report urged. “In addition, these must be emphasized in pre-service teacher preparation so teacher candidates, as well as current practitioners, understand that this is expected and supported.”

The meeting was the inspiration of Dr. Deborah Walker, the late executive director of the Collaborative for Teaching and Learning. Unfortunately, Deborah passed away in February after losing her battle to cancer. Deborah was an avid advocate for equity and quality educational opportunities for all, regardless of race, gender, ability, economic status, or religion, she was committed to improving educational leadership as a key strategy in addressing this goal.

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