This week, the Department of Education, ASCD and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards hosted the first-ever Teach to Lead Supporter Convening at ED. The meeting was designed for the more than one hundred organizations that have committed support for Teach to Lead and the hundreds of teacher participants to reflect on this work and collectively envision a true teacher leadership movement.
To be clear, many of these organizations have long advocated for teacher leadership in their work. In fact, a key goal of Teach to Lead is to shine a light on all of the good work that is already happening to encourage more of the same commitments. However, this Supporter Convening acknowledged that it is only through the work of a coalition of organizations that teacher leadership has come to the national stage, and is gaining momentum. While Teach to Lead is a partnership among the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, the U.S. Department of Education and ASCD, it is the combination of ideas, resources, man-power, and support for teachers from these organizations that has elevated the conversation about teacher leadership to where it is today.
While the list of organizations that have worked alongside us continues to expand, I want to share a few examples of some of our shared, core beliefs about the importance of teacher leadership:
Teacher Leaders Serve as Models for their Peers
Edcamp believes teacher leaders are critical to bringing about change in classrooms. When teachers who are working with students every day lead the way, their peers can watch and learn how to grow their own practice. Teacher leaders deal with the same daily challenges as their peers. Through their actions and their words, they impact both students and colleagues.
Teacher Leaders Get Results
America Achieves understands that outstanding teachers and principals get results for children; it’s something they do every day in their classrooms. The challenge is to create pathways for these outstanding educators to share their expertise on a wider level. Whether by leading colleagues in their buildings, solving complex district challenges, or advising policymakers at the state and federal levels, educators who have achieved results and who remain closest to this work, must be positioned and supported to lead.
Teacher Leaders Speak to Policy at the Classroom Level
Hope Street Group supports a growing network of teacher leaders that play a critical role in crafting solutions to some of the greatest challenges in education. Two Hope Street Group Teacher Fellows share why they believe teacher leadership is key: “I believe teacher leadership is a necessary part of improving education. Teachers know firsthand what works or not in the context of school communities and can speak with authority on what education policies look like in action at the classroom level—where the process of teaching and learning lives.”
Another Hope Street Fellow shares that “teacher leadership is critical because teachers are the ones in the classroom and are the ones that see the true picture of education. Being able to bring our experiences with students and our districts is critical for creating sound educational change.”
Teacher Leadership is a Sustainable Model
Leading Educators supports the idea that great teachers should not have to leave the classroom to increase their impact. Developing teacher leadership skills and opportunities to support colleagues toward increased student learning leads to a more dynamic, high-impact career.
Leading Educators knows that by enhancing the skills and knowledge of our best educators, we (a) increase the prospect of every student having a great teacher; (b) sustain teaching careers by creating satisfying career pathways; and (c) demonstrate the benefits of a distributed leadership model where workload, responsibility and ultimately accountability are shared by teachers and the principal.
Teacher Leaders Drive School Improvement
The National Education Association stands by teachers and acknowledges the important impact they make in our children’s success: “Positive change in education must be driven by the profession and shaped by the experience of teachers working with students in schools and classrooms. Teacher leaders use their expertise and knowledge in multiple ways to benefit students, influence instructional practice and policy development.”
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Teacher Leaders Program (TLP) brings together a select group of teachers throughout the school year to learn how to take active leadership roles in their schools, unions, and communities. Participants in the TLP help to strengthen the union and its connection to the community, building greater support and understanding of public schools. Several teacher leaders involved in the AFT’s program have presented their original action research at national conferences (TEACH, Learning Forward) and have used the skills honed in the program to advocate in their schools and communities. For example, Mona Al-Hayani from Toledo Public Schools (TPS) is now the district’s trainer on recognizing and mitigating sex trafficking of minors in TPS. She has trained all TPS employees and works with the county health department on training and mitigation.
Teacher Leadership is Indispensable
The VIVA project knows that “without teachers’ professional expertise and wisdom gained from experience, we cannot meet our promise to all American students to give them an equal opportunity to learn. Teachers are our most important ambassadors to help the public understand what happens in our public schools. They are also our most important partners in making policies that assure all students have a fair chance to reach their full potential. Teacher leadership at every level of our system is indispensable.”
Teacher Leadership is About Student Success
The Department’s Teaching and Principal Ambassador Fellowships are designed to improve education for students by involving teachers and principal in the development and implementation of education policy. Teacher Leadership is a critical component when we look at how to support student success. When we allow our teachers to lead, and have space for them to remain in the classroom, they make an impact both with their students, and with all of our students.
John King is senior advisor delegated duties of deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Education.