Across the county, teachers are working to solve some of the biggest challenges facing education today. They do this work in their classrooms with students, in their schools and professional associations, and—increasingly—in collaboration with other educators who seek opportunities to lead the transformation of teaching and learning and to have a voice in the development of policies that affect their profession. On September 26-27, the Department of Education and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) will offer a forum for educators to transform their best ideas into actionable plans by bringing together 29 educator-led teams in Tacoma, Wash., for Teach to Lead’s sixth summit.
Teach to Lead started as an idea in March 2014 to recognize the importance of—and challenges faced by—teachers, and to advance student outcomes by expanding opportunities for teacher leadership, especially those that allow teachers to stay in the classroom. Today, Teach to Lead has received a groundswell of interest from teachers around the country.
Over the past 18 months, educators have submitted more than 560 ideas for expanding teacher leadership through Teach to Lead, from Hawaii to Florida and Maine to Alaska. And nearly 200 teacher-driven action plans—developed through the Teach to Lead network and with the support of key stakeholders—are being implemented by educators at the school, district, and state levels. What’s also encouraging is that 85 organizations are committed to supporting and sustaining the work of teachers engaged with Teach to Lead across the country.
Summits are an opportunity to help spotlight and advance the groundbreaking, teacher-led work happening in states, districts, and schools. Teachers have gathered in Louisville, Ky.; Denver; Boston; and Washington, DC. For the educators who join Teach to Lead’s summits, 91 percent report that they plan to stay in touch with people they meet at the summits to share promising practices and successes. And through in-person and virtual settings, Teach to Lead has connected more than 4,000 educators, creating a large network of professional support.
At the Tacoma, Wash., summit, teams of educators and supporter organizations will work over two days to translate more than 160 ideas into concrete plans that educators can take back to their districts and schools. Some of the educator-led teams will focus on issues such as aligning professional development with project-based learning in classrooms; integrating English language learning concepts into daily teaching practices; and developing programs to expand parent and community involvement in education.
There has never been a more critical time to recognize the importance of meaningful teacher voice in decisions that are made in schools, districts, and states. Earlier this month during the Department of Education’s annual back-to-school bus tour, I visited with teacher leaders at Roosevelt Middle School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. What I saw there was nothing short of revolutionary. The state is in its second year of implementing a statewide system of teacher leadership that allows teachers to lead from the classroom and honors that leadership with greater compensation. These leadership positons are developed by local stakeholders and cooperatively staffed by teacher and administrative selection teams. I heard directly from teachers and principals about the impact that teacher leadership is having on their practice. Iowa is leading the nation when it comes to building strong models for teacher leadership.
We know that attracting and retaining effective educators in our classrooms is one of the most critical challenges that high-need schools face. We also have seen that when teachers are given the opportunity to lead, with autonomy, time, and a real voice in decision-making, the results can be remarkable and lead to increased learning outcomes for students.
A recent Los Angeles Times article highlighted Mission High School in San Francisco and the impact that the school’s teacher-supported and led initiatives has had on teachers and students. Mission High School has been able to address teacher retention through teacher supports, such as building in time where teachers can plan lessons together and design assessments that measure a broad range of skills critical for students to master.
Teachers also have created action groups where they review data and investigate the root causes of achievement gaps. These groups then create action plans to address the gaps. Graduation rates at Mission High have gone from among the lowest in the district, at 60 percent, to more than 80 percent. In 2013, Mission High’s graduation rate for African-American students was 20 percent higher than the district average.
I’m encouraged to see the progress at Mission High School, the work of teacher leadership in Iowa, and the many projects Teach to Lead has helped to support. The impact of teacher leadership is powerful and we must continue to find ways to support, highlight, and finance these efforts across the county. When teachers are given the opportunity and space to lead, the results are extraordinary.
What we know from the past five Teach to Lead summits is that teachers have some of the best ideas to solve many of the biggest challenges facing education. It’s our job to keep asking teachers, what do you need, and how can we work together? For more information, please visit: http://teachtolead.org/
Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education.