A Roadmap for Teacher Leadership

aspengroupThe Aspen Institute and Leading Educators are out with a roadmap outlining paths teachers can take to assume more leadership roles in classrooms and schools.  The Aspen Institute released Leading from the Front of the Classroom: A Roadmap for Teacher Leadership that Works, which provides practical guidance for designing effective teacher leadership opportunities. The paper was developed in partnership with Leading Educators, a New Orleans-based entrepreneurial organization that designs and supports effective teacher leadership initiatives in school districts and charter networks.

Accompanying the release of Leading from the Front of the Classroom are three profiles of promising work in Tennessee, Denver Public Schools, and Noble Street charter network in Chicago that show how these systems integrate teacher leadership with other top priorities (e.g., implementing Common Core, strengthening teacher evaluation, building strong culture among students and staff) to increase impact and sustainability.

As school systems across the country grapple with increasing demands – to implement college-and-career-ready standards and meaningful teacher evaluation systems as student populations grow increasingly diverse – the need to support and guide teachers’ professional learning and development has never been greater. At the same time, overall funding is largely flat for the foreseeable future. There simply is no way to meet our ambitions for students without distributing greater leadership responsibility to teachers.

Leadership among teachers is an underutilized resource that taps into the wisdom of experience, teachers’ credibility with colleagues, and their desire to contribute more in service of students. While it will require redirecting existing resources (e.g., ending sit-and-get “professional development” contracts in favor of stipends and release time for teacher leaders), teacher leadership is an efficient way of marshaling resources for improvement while making schools more like other professional workplaces that give expert practitioners more responsibility in leading manageable teams.

The Aspen Institute and Leading Educators argue that teacher leadership should not be pursued as a standalone or isolated project, or even primarily as a retention or reward strategy. Instead, teacher leadership should be designed to advance the most important district and school priorities. For instance, in Denver Public Schools, Team Lead teachers supervise and are responsible for supporting and developing other teachers on their teams – and Team Leads are accountable for improving their teams’ results; this structure assists in making the scope of principals’ responsibilities more manageable while fully implementing the state’s new requirement for more intensive and rigorous teacher evaluations.

The work in Denver also illustrates how important teacher leadership is to elevating the teaching profession. According to Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg: “In any other knowledge-based profession, it’s an absolute given that you won’t see people trying to coach or supervise more than six or eight people. Yet in schools, we ask school leaders to coach and supervise thirty, forty, fifty people.” Only through differentiated roles for the most effective teachers can public education create careers that attract, retain, and develop the best talent.

Leading from the Front of the Classroom provides grounded lessons from leading systems and a practical framework for designing and implementing teacher leadership effectively. We hope it is a useful resource to district and state leaders who want to leverage teacher leadership as a means for improving student achievement.

Teacher Leadership is gaining traction as an improvement strategy, as illustrated by the U.S. Department of Education’s recent launch of the Teach to Lead initiative. Leading from the Front of the Classroom assists state and district leaders and their partners in making the most of this opportunity.

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