The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards: Taking Teacher Leadership to New Levels

By Jessica Giffin, GTL Center Technical Assistance Support, Mar 31, 2014

GTL Center staff joined thousands of educators at the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards “Teaching and Learning” conference in Washington, D.C., March 14-15, 2014. Among others, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Linda Darling-Hammond, Charlotte Danielson, Tony Wagner, and Angela Duckworth addressed the crowd.

Attendees were asked a central question: What is teacher leadership? Is it just mentoring other teachers or providing professional development to colleagues, or is it leading engagement efforts related to education policy reforms? And how can teachers lead without leaving the classroom--that is, what structures, policies, and support do teachers need so they can take on these additional roles and responsibilities while still teaching?

Many perspectives emerged:

  • Announcing a new “Teach to Lead” initiative, Secretary Duncan defined teacher leadership as “having a voice in the policies and decisions that affect students, teachers’ daily work, and the shape of the profession.” The bold initiative will engage teachers, principals, state chiefs, teachers’ groups, and district leaders in meetings aimed at creating more opportunities for teacher leadership. Secretary Duncan will report on the results at next year’s conference.
  • A panel of teachers led by David Cohen, associate director of Accomplished California Teachers, and including Lannelle Gordin, director of the Teacher Leader Certification Academy; a retired teacher; and two National Board Certified teachers described personal experiences, struggles, and challenges in carving out a leadership role for themselves. Their advice:
    • Teachers will be better able to take on leadership roles if districts and administrators provide them with additional time and leave.
    • A supportive administrator can make life easier for teachers by, for instance, delegating some of their own leadership responsibilities, providing opportunities to mentor other teachers, leading professional development of other colleagues, or just encouraging teachers to take on leadership opportunities within their unions, school, community, district, or state.
    • Teachers taking on leadership roles should be prepared to face some negative attitudes from their administrators, fellow teachers, and others and combat pushback by making the case that their leadership experiences benefit students and the profession.
    • Teachers should expect to put in extra time and additional work, knowing that the results will be worth the effort.
  • Meanwhile, leaders from all levels--classroom to district--in Fairfax County Schools, Virginia, shared their teacher leader standards, which describe the domains and functions of teacher leaders, and an overview of their three-day training course created to develop teachers’ leadership skills.
  • Ellen Sherratt and Gretchen Weber shared their model for ensuring that teachers’ voices are heard on the policies that impact them--Everyone at the Table. Developed with Public Agenda, these materials help policymakers promote productive, solutions-oriented dialogue about teachers’ perspectives on teacher evaluation and other policies.

GTL Center Director Angela Minnici tied it all together, presenting on the potential of teacher leadership to improve teacher recruitment and retention. With 75 percent of teachers believing “a greater decision-making role for teachers in regards to school policies and practices” is “absolutely essential” or “very important” for teacher retention, there is little room to argue against increased teacher leadership. The question simply is how. The National Board is already taking steps to get the “Teach to Lead” initiative up and running and has committed to convene educators, district leaders, principals, and chief school officers to take action.

Great examples of teacher leadership abound--from a teacher-run school in Denver and teacher voice groups like VIVA Teachers and Teach Plus to efforts by the Center for Teaching Quality to develop Teacherpreneurs and teacher ambassador fellows at the Department of Education. But teacher leadership needs to go to scale! A recent blog by GTL Center’s Ellen Sherratt describes trends that are elevating the profession--and counts teacher leadership as one of them. Teacher leadership must be integrated into the career pathway so that the only option is not “up and out” as a principal or administrator.

We want to hear your thoughts:

  • What should teacher leadership look like for teachers who remain in the classroom?
  • How can states, districts, and schools develop true teacher leadership roles?

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