Teach to Lead Supporters Exemplify Teacher Leadership

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.

The American Dream is Not Optional

Memphis is a city rich with history, especially when it comes to civil rights. During a recent trip to Tennessee, we were profoundly inspired by the launch of new efforts to support undocumented youth, which will help to ensure the right to a quality education for more young people living in this country.

FullSizeRenderThese efforts will be made possible through a Commitment to Action from Christian Brothers University (CBU) in collaboration with Latino Memphis—an organization assisting Latinos in the Greater Memphis area with health, education, and justice issues, and through an anonymous grant. CBU and Latino Memphis answered a call to action to support and invest in the success of Latinos, from cradle-to-career, from the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (Initiative). This commitment, totaling $12.4 million, will provide scholarships to help undocumented youth pursue their college dreams. More than 100 undocumented Latino students will now have the opportunity to get a college education because of this important investment.

While we were in Tennessee, we engaged with student leaders from CBU. Their grit, resilience and fierce dedication to their education were palpable. When we asked how the students would use their college degrees, the common thread in their responses was giving back to their communities. These students are part of the Latino Student Success program, a privately funded scholarship and loan program aimed at leveling the playing field for students ineligible for state and federal student aid.


“My parents did not finish middle school. It is not that they did not want to help, but they did not know how to and could now financially. I am thankful for the opportunities I have today, but I had to do it all on my own” – CBU Student


It’s critical to find more colleges, universities, and other partners across the country willing to make commitments that can honor and celebrate diversity in our higher education system and ensure that more young people have access to the life-changing opportunity that a quality postsecondary education can make possible.


“We cannot be a country that denies opportunity.” – John King


According to a 2012 study by The University of Tennessee Center for Business and Economic Research, the population of Hispanics in Tennessee increased 134 percent from 2000 – 2010, representing the third fastest Latino population growth in the country.

Our trip gave us a chance to highlight an emerging community that has answered the Initiative’s call to action. For CBU President John Smarrelli, this investment is at the very core of CBU’s mission, which acknowledges that the American dream is not—and should not—be optional.

IMG_0028We ended our trip with business leaders at the Greater Memphis Chamber to learn about the opportunities and solutions that may be helpful to better increase the educational attainment of Hispanic students.

It was a great day, indeed, but there is much more work to do to fulfill America’s promise as the land of opportunity. The challenge is as great as it’s ever been. That’s why we recognize that the health and prosperity of our country is a shared responsibility that takes all of us working together. Through the Initiative’s work and efforts across the Obama Administration, we aim to increase the success of the growing Latino community from preschool through college and careers.

Next month, the Initiative will celebrate its 25th anniversary, a historic milestone that will be commemorated with the announcement of even more public- and private-sector commitments to action that invest in and support the educational attainment of Hispanics. Learn more about our efforts by visiting the Initiative’s website or follow us Twitter.

Fatherhood Is a Community Value

“Goodnight room. Goodnight moon. Goodnight cow jumping over the moon.”

This sentence, said over and over again: night, after night. These words, the halfway mark in Margaret Wise Brown’s very famous children’s story, were among the last words my daughters heard every night at bedtime when they were little, shortly before “good night” and “I love you.” This sentence represents for me many aspects of what it means to be a dad, to show love as a father. Dads can provide warmth, routine, and consistency. Dads can help their children discover a love of reading and the joy of books. Dads can nurture connection, curiosity, and a sense of security. This is fatherhood.

JKwithKidsThis Father’s Day I was reminded that for many of us, fatherhood can come in many forms — anytime we strive to provide for young people in our lives, spiritually, emotionally, in times of need, and in times of triumph, this is fatherhood. Although my father passed away when I was young, I have been blessed with other father figures in my own life, and I would like to think I have played that role too in the lives of others, sometimes without even realizing it. There are the teachers who never give up on us, the coaches who never let us forget how much they believe we can succeed, the uncles and grandfathers who step in to provide advice and guidance when dad isn’t there, and the moms who are mom, dad, and everybody else. Fatherhood is about consistently stepping up and taking the time to reach out to and support a young person even when that young person does not know how in-need he or she is.

In many communities, this need to reach our youth and be there consistently for those who need guidance and mentoring is vast. So vast, in fact, that President Obama has charged all of us to stand up, reach out and remove barriers that too often prevent boys and young men of color and other young people from realizing their potential. The My Brother’s Keeper initiative has inspired communities across the country who have stepped up to ensure that all of our children, including our young boys and young men, are able to lean on and learn from those who came before them, and those who want to help guide their path forward to success. Mayors and school superintendents in cities all across the country are lifting up all students with their committed support and concrete actions like expanding summer jobs programs and launching mentoring initiatives. Being a young man of color should not mean you are a young man at risk—and a constant and committed figure of support in one’s life can make all the difference.

At ED, we take the President’s charge very seriously. From issuing new guidance to create more inclusive and supportive educational environments, to engaging communities and having honest conversations, from Denver to Chicago to Baltimore to Birmingham, our work has centered around our belief that we are all, in fact, our brothers’ keepers.

Father’s Day allows all of us to reflect on what it means to encourage and inspire “responsible fatherhood,” as the President said—both in our own homes to our own children, and to the millions of children without someone to call dad. Rise: The Story of My Brother’s Keeper, a new documentary, examines this commitment to our children and our next generation of fathers. For me, fatherhood is the nurturing love of a nightly bedtime story; it is words of encouragement, wise guidance, and a helping hand during a time of adversity; and it is the cultivation of confidence, security, and hope through caring and consistent support. My Brother’s Keeper is about building a world with more of all of those things for all young people. We all have a part to play in supporting the many faces of fatherhood and serving as our brothers’ keepers.

What is fatherhood to you? Please comment here, or reply to me on Twitter.