“To know about change is to know about inertia, which is to say that sometimes the status quo needs a wakeup call. You can’t wait for success, you have to kick-start it.” (Fullan, 2009)
Teacher leadership plays a pivotal role in student achievement. Our globalized, networked age requires students to become knowledge workers.
The Teacher Leader Model Standards describe the knowledge and skills that will identify teacher leaders. The Standards offer some considerations for practice, as well as support strategies for implementing teacher leadership roles within schools and districts.
Transforming Authority and Influence
The traditional hierarchical structure of schools is a holdover from the industrial age, when teachers were treated like interchangeable parts in a machine. To improve education in America, the way education stakeholders and the public at large perceive authority and influence should change, recognizing that teachers have content and pedagogical expertise that administrators often don’t. Instead of top-down leadership, the Standards imagine school cultures in which teacher leaders and administrators have reciprocal relationships, supporting one another’s work and sharing responsibility for outcomes.
Expanding Teachers’ Roles
Teachers who want to keep teaching while taking on additional leadership roles are often forced to choose between the two. To best leverage their classroom expertise and leadership skills, teachers should be able to work in hybrid positions that allow them to work in both capacities. Schools can complement these hybrid positions by promoting shared leadership structures and providing built-in common planning time.
These roles should be clearly defined and involve a transparent selection process.
Creating Structures to Support Teacher Leadership
Ensuring that the proper supports are in place for teacher leaders is a critical component for the success of teacher leaders and their students. School scheduling should include time for teachers to problem-solve together. Teachers also need specified time to collaborate with administrators, parents, and school board members. Partnerships with higher-education institutions and reform-minded organizations can make innovation less time-consuming for districts and schools. Technology can facilitate useful communication among teachers at the school, district, state, and national levels. It also can create new efficiencies that allow teachers to lead outside their classrooms.
Preparing Teachers for Leadership
As teacher leaders take on new responsibilities and roles, there should also be investments in their growth. Teacher preparation programs should teach recruits to work collaboratively, assume differentiated roles, and research and implement best practices. Teacher leaders are not born; they are made. Universities and non-profits must create new approaches to recruiting and cultivating the teacher leaders needed for 21st century schools. Teacher leadership curriculum should focus on adult learning and organizational change as well as peer review, assessments reforms, virtual networking, and how best to spread new pedagogical strategies. Principal preparation programs should also be redesigned to support the creation of school cultures that encourage teacher-administrator collaboration.
Promoting and Recognizing Teacher Leadership
To encourage the growth of teacher leadership, states and districts need to create staffing models that include differentiated career options for teachers. This process would involve developing new structures for licensing and/or credentialing teacher leaders and creating criteria-based models for selecting leaders. New performance pay systems could also be redesigned to compensate teacher leaders for their new roles and responsibilities as well as their effectiveness in spreading their pedagogical expertise.
Sustaining Teacher Leadership over Time
Identifying, preparing, and fairly compensating teacher leaders will take time, but several strategies can help sustain the current momentum. First, standards-based assessment and evaluation systems can lay the groundwork for differentiated career paths, teacher leader credentials, and professional pay systems. Longitudinal studies collect data on teacher leadership roles and their impact on teacher career choices, retention, and student achievement. A compendium of best practices will accompany the Teacher Leader Model Standards, and will help teacher leaders succeed.