There is general agreement among educators and policy makers on the need for a new approach to school leadership through “teacher leaders,” “hybrid teachers,” or “teacherpreneurs” – educators who continue to work with students in classrooms, while also coaching or otherwise supporting peers, and actively shaping instructional practice and policies. Yet there’s little consensus on the definition of “teacher leadership” or on the best ways to implement and support it. In the National Network of State Teachers of the Year report, Creating Sustainable Teacher Career Pathways: A 21st Century Perspective, for example, Dr. Catherine Fisk Natale and others note, “Teacher leadership has been promoted as a means to professionalize teaching and reform schools…but its definition differs widely.”
CTL is gathering information about teacher leadership – what it means and what it looks like – from professionals across the country involved in its development and implementation. This anecdotal research will inform the work CTL is doing in partnership with the Kentucky Network to Transform Teaching (NT3), Kentucky Department of Education, The Fund KY, Kentucky Education Association, Hope Street Group, and Bluegrass Center for Teacher Quality, to create a sustainable statewide teacher leadership framework. The working draft of the framework defines teacher leadership as follows: “Teacher leaders transform their classrooms, schools, and profession, activating teacher growth and achieving equity and excellence for students.” The draft framework is made up of six categories: Leading from the Classroom, Modeling and Coaching, Leading Groups and Teams, Increasing Teacher Voice and Influence, Professionalizing Teaching, and Leading to Connect to Larger Community and World (click here for working draft of teacher leadership framework in PDF).
What unites teacher leadership efforts is a focus on the development and support of leadership skills among teachers in the classroom, in instruction, in advocacy and policy, and across a diverse professional community. Despite consensus efforts like the Teacher Leader Model Standards, however, the array of teacher leadership roles in districts across the country is so broad, and the implementation of these roles so varied, that it is difficult to consistently define them or determine the best ways to support them. To take but one example, a recent NT3 Teacher Roles Inventory yielded more than 50 different teacher leadership titles across just nine states, such as New Teacher Developers and Peer Assistants, Literacy Facilitators, Online Mentors, and Instructional Coaches.
In contrast, in a 2014 commentary in Education Week online, Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ) Founder and CEO Dr. Barnett Berry noted that the typical school leadership model is limited and administrator-led. Berry cited a CTQ survey of administrators from more than 30 school districts and nonprofits that held federal leadership grants that revealed a narrow approach to teacher leadership: “…The vast majority of interviewees could not envision teachers leading in roles other than instructional coach or, perhaps peer evaluator.”
In addition, Berry reported, the organizations surveyed together supported more than 500 teacher leaders, yet did not have strategies in place to sustain the leadership roles after federal dollars were no longer supporting the work. Berry went on, “…Principals are wary of teacher leaders, primarily because of uncertainty about how to identify and utilize them.” In short, lack of clarity about teacher leadership roles, and the absence of structures to support them, is, at least in some places, inhibiting sustainable development of effective teacher leaders.
On the other hand, Berry concluded in the Ed Week piece, “…The 2013 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher found that nearly one in four teachers in the United States reported being very or extremely interested in serving in hybrid roles that combine teaching with leadership responsibilities.” The responses gathered so far through CTL’s informal interviews with teacher leaders and those who support them likewise reinforce the critical necessity for not only philosophical but also logistical structures and support , such as scheduling flexibility, classroom coverage, and appropriate compensation, to develop, implement and sustain teacher leadership over the long haul. In Kentucky, Lauren Hill, now Teacher Leadership Coordinator for Kentucky NT3 , continued teaching English at Western Hills High School in Franklin County while running a teacher leadership cohort of colleagues. As a teacherpreneur, Hill learned firsthand what makes a hybrid role work. “There are parameters,” she says, adding, “There’s no roadmap out there right now. We’re all making this up as we go.”
Brad Clark is Kentucky Director of Teacher Engagement and Mobilization for the Hope Street Group, a national organization dedicated to social change through initiatives in economics, health care and education. A former Hope Street teaching fellow and Woodford County teacher, Clark, too, knows personally the importance not only of building the capacity of individual teachers to lead, but also of building a broad, national network of teacher leaders to address education policy and effect lasting change. “We can connect people to each other,” Clark says, reducing teacher isolation and forging common approaches to enhance teaching and learning for all.
Stay tuned for updates on CTL’s work in teacher leadership in the coming school year. In the meantime, please leave a comment here to share your own experiences as a current or aspiring teacher leader or facilitator of teacher leadership. We’d love to talk to you!