Teachers who have opportunities to lead from their classrooms by participating in school decision-making and collaborating with colleagues are more likely to say “teaching is a valued profession in their society,” according to an international study. They also are more confident in their abilities and more satisfied in their jobs.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Teach to Lead initiative is designed to make available more opportunities for teachers to exercise leadership. “Teacher leadership means having a voice in the policies and decisions that affect your students, your daily work and the shape of your profession,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in March 2014, when he announced the initiative, which is a partnership with the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards.
Since then, the Department’s Teaching Ambassador Fellows—teachers who work to elevate the voices of teachers nationally—organized four Teacher Summits and one State Summit at which hundreds of teachers shared their ideas for how to improve their schools. They also created “Commit to Lead,” an online community where teachers can not only share their ideas but also collaborate with others to bring them to life.
State Strategies to Leverage Teacher Leadership
Several leading States are investing in teacher leadership as a core strategy to improve their educational systems. Federal programs, such as Race to the Top and the Teacher Incentive Fund, have also been catalysts for creating more teacher leadership opportunities. For example, thirteen of the nineteen Race to the Top states either have in place or have proposed new policies that would create roles to encourage teachers to lead while remaining in the classroom. Policies include comprehensive teacher career advancement initiatives, multi-tiered certification systems with tiers for advanced or master teachers, and certification endorsements related to teacher leadership.
- In Delaware, teachers are among those leading weekly meetings called “professional learning communities” that focus on helping teachers work together to use a variety of data to analyze and adjust their instruction to meet individual student needs. Teachers are also training their colleagues in the Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards.
- In Florida, districts can select effective teachers who have completed clinical educator training supervising teachers or mentors to supervise pre-service teachers during field experiences or internships.
- Project SUCCESS in Massachusetts trains experienced teachers to become Lead Mentors for new teachers, especially those in high-need schools and disciplines.
- North Carolina is recruiting more than 400 teachers to serve on the Governor’s Teacher Network (and continue in their teaching roles) to design professional development and instructional and formative assessment resources for educators statewide.
- The Tennessee Teacher Leader Council is developing flexible teacher leader models (designed to increase student achievement) for implementation in districts across the State.
- In Ohio, teachers are playing a variety of key roles—training colleagues, writing curriculum, providing feedback to the State—in the transition to more rigorous college and career ready standards.
“We’re doing all of this to get a really good, strong movement in teacher leadership going because we know the best ideas in education are often borrowed or stolen from another teacher,” said Maddie Fennell, a Teaching Ambassador who worked on the initiative, “and somewhere out there in a classroom are teachers who have the ideas that can really transform the system if we can just raise their voices up to a level where they can be heard by people who are also making policy and can spread what they are doing to a systems level.”