How Can States Use Teacher Leadership to Promote Equitable Access and Improved Instruction?

By Catherine Jacques, Center on Great Teachers and Leaders, May 27, 2016

Instructional improvement and instructional leadership are central to many states’ plans to improve equitable access to effective teaching. Teacher leaders support and accelerate improvements in teaching and learning in schools across the country; however, only a few state equity plans explicitly address teacher leadership.

States are missing an important opportunity. Teacher leadership can help retain great teachers and (in programs like Public Impact’s Opportunity Culture) expand their reach. Teacher leaders also can help improve instruction schoolwide by modeling continuous improvement practices.  

How? In our recent Great to Influential report, we asked teacher leaders directly. They told us that teacher leadership roles helped them model a growth mindset and reflective practice, use research and translate effective practices, and take instructional risks to promote better student learning. Together, these attitudes and behaviors might improve educator effectiveness—beyond what specific instructional strategies can deliver–by promoting continuous improvement.

Districts can support teacher leadership in many ways. The teacher leaders we contacted cited distributed school leadership structures and supportive administrators. Teacher leaders also shared that informal teacher leadership roles mattered as much as formal teacher leadership roles. That said, decisions about informal roles are typically made by schools or districts, not states.

States can encourage teacher leadership and equitable access by applying several best practices, including:

  1. Endorse teacher leaders through education, experience, and micro-credentialing. Many state institutions of higher education now offer teacher leader endorsements that can lead to license renewal, advancement, or more formal teacher leader roles. State education agencies can help to promote consistency and quality in these programs as, for example, Ohio does in its  guidance for its teacher leadership endorsement programs. Many teacher leaders take up informal teacher leadership work in their schools. Micro-credentials for teacher leaders, especially those that can be used for license renewal or advancement recognize and incentivize authentic teacher leadership. (The Teaching Matters website features some examples of microcredentials for teacher leaders.)
  2. Leverage evaluation and professional growth systems to promote teacher leadership. Feedback on professional practice is an important approach to improve instruction. States can provide guidance and support to help districts better integrate teacher leadership into evaluation systems or professional practice systems. For example, Tennessee has created a guidebook for districts in the state teacher leader network to help teacher leaders support recruitment, retention, evaluation, and professional development. North Carolina has created an evaluation rubric for teacher leaders to align professional feedback with their specific responsibilities.
  3. Allow districts to use current funding for teacher leadership salaries and stipends. States can help districts identify funding for these roles by allowing districts to direct professional development funds to teacher leaders who contribute to this work. For example, Kentucky has provided guidance on how to use Title II, Part A funding to support hybrid roles for teacher leaders. Minnesota has passed a law that specifies how districts can use professional development funding to support teacher leader roles and teams.

Now it's your turn. We want to hear your thoughts.

  1. What impact do you see teacher leadership having on instructional quality in your state or district?
  2. What conditions and supports do you think can help grow meaningful teacher leadership at the school, district, and state levels?
  3. What policies would you like to see put in place to support authentic teacher leadership?

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