Louisiana Relying on Teacher-to-Teacher Professional Development to Change Instruction

Teacher leaders in grades K-2 gathered in July 2014 to learn new ways to teach English language arts content and design lessons for the 2014-2015 school year. Photo Credit: Louisiana Department of Education

Teacher leaders in grades K-2 gathered in July 2014 to learn new ways to teach English language arts content and design lessons for the 2014-2015 school year. Photo Credit: Louisiana Department of Education

Teachers are getting higher quality support, coaching and professional learning opportunities to help their students succeed.

Louisiana’s Teacher Leader program is drawing rave reviews from teachers for providing them with better resources, more meaningful peer-to-peer professional development and a stronger connection between educators serving in schools and policymakers serving in Baton Rouge.

First launched in fall 2012 with 50 teachers and funding from Race to the Top, the program has now grown to include more than 4,000 educators—generally two from every school in the State. The State holds one multi-day, statewide training session for teacher leaders each summer and regional meetings throughout the year.

In these sessions, teacher leaders receive in-depth training in subjects such as mathematics, English language arts, science, and social studies and in skills such as implementing college- and career-readiness standards and creating formative assessments.

The teacher leaders then redeliver that training to colleagues in their communities to help them improve instruction in their classrooms. The teacher leaders also offer feedback to State policymakers on the classroom resources teachers need and some of the more experienced teacher leaders serve on committees that help create and review those resources.

Districts vary in how they select teacher leaders. In some cases teachers apply to participate, and in others they are tapped for the role based on their leadership and teaching skills.

Teacher leaders are recognized for their leadership and can also receive a financial boost. Some districts pay them more because the training they do is in addition to working as full-time teachers. The State also provides small stipends to those who help create curricular resources that teachers can use to plan and deliver lessons linked to the new college- and career-ready standards.

Continuous Improvement

The State’s key goals for the Teacher Leader program include making sure teachers understand the policies being made in Baton Rouge and giving teachers the support they need so they can improve instruction and student learning in their classrooms, according to Rebecca Kockler, who leads the initiative for the Louisiana Department of Education. She said surveys that the State conducts after teacher leader meetings and trainings show participants overwhelmingly find the sessions helpful. In fact, she said, those satisfaction rates have gone up over the course of the program due to improvements made along the way.

Kockler said the program’s first year yielded some important insights, including:

  • The best results come when districts tap teacher leaders for additional responsibilities and bring them together to exchange ideas.
  • Virtual trainings alone aren’t adequate; teacher leaders want to meet with and collaborate face-to-face with their peers from around the State.
  • Teacher leaders should specialize in helping their peers in only one subject to keep their workload manageable.

An Influential Role

Third grade teacher Meredith Starks said she enjoyed serving on a state-facilitated panel writing English language arts guidebooks that can supplement or replace an elementary school curriculum. “I decided to do it because I wanted to be part of the decision-making and not just affected by the decisions,” said Starks, who teaches at Bellaire Elementary School in Bossier City outside Shreveport.

“I truly feel like they are listening to the teachers,” she said.  “The assistant State superintendent calls me on the phone to ask how my math lesson is going. They listen to what we say.”

This graphic has a quote from Meredith Starks, teacher at Bellaire Elementary School: “I truly feel like they are listening to teachers.”John Mark Neal, an instructional coach at Pineville High School in Rapides Parish northwest of New Orleans, agrees. He said officials spend as much time getting information and advice from teachers as they do delivering professional development to them during the State-led training sessions.

“Information about resources and mandates are always coming down, but there has always been this problem of information not going back up the ladder from teachers to State leaders,” Neal said. “Now State leaders here are listening to us and asking for feedback. Teachers finally have a voice in what goes on.”

Trust Among Peers

Dione Bradford, a third grade teacher at West Leesville Elementary School in Vernon Parish, in the western part of the State, is regularly asked by her district to help her peers.

Bradford recently led a session on teaching elementary school writing in response to requests from teachers for assistance. “It was great,” she said. “District officials weren’t in the training. It was just me, and the teachers weren’t afraid to talk and ask lots of questions. That’s a strong element of what a teacher leader provides. We can talk openly with our peers, and we can be a liaison between the district and teachers or the State and teachers.”

She added that she sometimes invites peers to observe her teaching methods, and they occasionally ask her to sit in on their lessons and offer feedback.

Jerome Henson, a teacher leader and science teacher at nearby Pitkin High School, tries to make the assistance he gives to his peers personal and meaningful. “I can deliver the information in the ‘learning style’ of particular teachers,” he said. “I know a simple Post-it note will suffice for one, but her colleague will need some hand holding. By developing relationships with each teacher, the teacher leader is equipped to meet their needs.”

Henson said the fact that the teacher leader “is someone who walks the same road as the teacher with whom he is working” is critical. “This role is one of a peer, not an evaluative role. The minute the teacher leader is viewed as evaluating, the issue of trust breaks and a nurturing peer relationship cannot survive.”

Making a Difference

Henson and others appreciate the practicality of the program, too. For example, Bradford said one highlight of the State-led trainings is that teacher leaders are asked to develop a brief and concrete action plan, listing next steps they will take to help their peers learn about changes in State policy or programs and opportunities to improve teaching and learning. That makes it more likely the information will get out to other teachers and be used, she said.

The result, said Neal, the instructional coach from Pineville High, should be improved instruction, better materials and greater satisfaction and retention of excellent teachers.

“I can’t say enough about this effort,” he said. “I think it’s going to lead to huge improvements in education in the State.”

Takeaways

  • Leverage your leaders. Encourage districts to use teacher leaders in ways that are meaningful and meet local needs to connect with and inform statewide policies.
  • Focus on core subjects, such as mathematics and English language arts. Make sure you have content experts in both core subjects to lead a teacher leader cadre.
  • Offer frequent opportunities for collaboration. Teachers are looking for meaningful ways to collaborate with their peers in person. Bring teacher leaders together in person rather than focusing heavily on virtual gatherings, which are less likely to draw a crowd.
  • Support teacher leaders as mentors, not evaluators. Let the teacher leaders mentor and coach their peers, but don’t make it an evaluative relationship.