One Step Forward: A National Summit on Teacher Leadership

An idea born of frustration from last year’s International Summit on the Teaching Profession came to fruition on February 5th and 6th. The first National Summit on Teacher Leadership was held in Washington, D.C., and for those in attendance there was an overwhelming sense that this is the right work at the right time. The Summit was another important step in the teacher leadership movement.

Educators who attended last year’s International Summit were disappointed that teacher representation and voice were sorely missing from many of the formal discussions that took place. We felt that if we wanted to move the profession forward, we needed to ensure that teacher voices were heard through the words of teacher leaders. We thought why not have a national summit on teacher leadership in the United States to raise these voices?

We presented the idea to the United States Delegation led by then Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, President of the National Education Association, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, President of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, and Executive Director of the Chief Council for State School Officers, Chris Minnich. They agreed and said they would commit to a summit.

Fast forward 11 months and the first National summit on teacher leadership took place in D.C. to great acclaim. Over 20 states sent practicing teachers, association leaders, and state policy makers to the summit where they heard from other states on the work they were all doing to promote teacher leadership. For two days, states worked together and made commitments to move forward with the implementation of teacher leadership policies and plans. This was not easy work because there was true collaboration taking place, which involved many hard conversations. It was truly amazing to see teacher leaders playing a lead role in this work.

At the end of the Summit each state made a commitment statement describing their next steps to keep the teacher leader movement going forward. There was palpable excitement in the room – from policy makers and teachers alike – as a result of sitting down together and, in some cases, even committing to host state summits.

In closing, Dr. Andy Hargreaves, the Chair of Education at Boston College, reminded participants of the many pitfalls associated with this type of endeavor. Don’t let the idea of teacher leadership get co-opted like the concept of professional learning communities, for starters. And don’t lose momentum that has been built throughout the Summit. His advice going forward: follow through with commitments, have short term plans, and share with each other.

We all know this work is hard but if we continue to meet, collaborate, and keep a solution-oriented mindset we can strengthen teacher leadership’s role in improving the lives of students. Frustration from last year’s International Summit led to this year’s National Summit which wisely included the many diverse voices of educators from across the country. There will inevitably be more missteps and frustrations, but it is exciting to think of the possibilities if we persevere and remain united in this very important cause.

Mark Sass teaches social sciences at Legacy High School in the Adams 12 School District in Colorado, and is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.


  1. Mark,
    Thank you for the update about this summit. How would I find out who represented my state (NY) and what they pledged?

  2. Please, stop talking all the time about teacher Leadership….. we lost our direction in looking for which direction that leadership should go… please, go directly to the essence of education… and see what is missing … Educating for character as Thomas Lickona said almost 25 years ago… and we didn’t achieve it yet … or Educating for Humanity…rethinking the purposes of education…. for example I am a former Prof. at College of Business Chicago State University…. I prepared a program regarding “Business Intelligence” to be a bachelor’s major or Diploma… unfortunately, the Dean of the College of Business said we can’t start any new program nowadays because the mayor decided to cut off the university budget.. “30%” …. then which teacher leadership you are busy with if we can’t offer the right curriculum…….

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