Teachers Learning from Teachers: Dynamic Initiative Taps into Educators’ Expertise

The Center for the Future of Teaching & Learning at WestEd collaborated with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to launch the Teacher Practice Network (TPN) initiative, which supports a vast national network of teacher leaders who mentor and coach their peers. By providing high-quality standards-aligned resources and ongoing professional learning led by teacher leaders, the initiative works to help teachers effectively navigate new ways of teaching as they implement college- and career-readiness standards.  

Through the TPN, the Gates Foundation has made grants to 38 different organizations that partner with local education agencies to train and directly support the work of over 800 teacher leaders across the country. In turn, these teacher leaders have provided direct professional learning to nearly 18,000 teachers in urban and rural districts, and have shared resources and materials with more than 1.6 million teachers online.

In 2017, more than 500 TPN teacher leaders, and a sample of more than 2,500 teachers whom TPN teacher leaders supported, responded to surveys about their experiences with teacher-to-teacher professional learning. Among teacher leaders surveyed,

  • 91 percent felt more confident in effectively teaching in standards-aligned ways.
  • 89 percent felt prepared to support or lead professional learning of other teachers.
  • 99 percent valued sharing teaching ideas and materials integral to improving practice.
  • 86 percent felt energized about being a teacher from their year as a teacher leader.

Teachers who were taught by teacher leaders corroborated these findings, with 94 percent reporting an increase in collegiality, 96 percent indicating greater knowledge of high-quality instructional resources, and 95 percent expressing increased self-confidence in standards-aligned teaching.

Network partners have three main recommendations for making teacher leadership work:

Allow time. Research shows that it takes at least 15 hours of professional development to help a teacher to change her practice to improve student learning. On average, teacher leaders in New York City provided each teacher with whom they worked more than 27 hours of professional learning support during the course of the 2017–18 academic year.

Diversify support. At schools where teacher-led professional learning succeeds, teachers are getting intensive support. That support often materializes in a variety of ways, such as one-on-one or group meetings and classroom video intervisitations.

Cultivate trust. Teachers are accustomed to top-down mandates, but they are often concerned that these can be used against them in teacher ratings. What works better, he says, is for administrators to step back and allow teachers to create safe, collaborative, non-evaluative spaces in which the work can thrive.

The same goes for teacher leaders. Rather than telling teachers what to do, we need to support them to discover the tools they have so they can grow into their best professional selves.

For more commentary, see https://www.wested.org/rd_alert_online/teacher-leadership-professional-learning-initiative-taps-educator-expertise/

For more on Teacher Practice Networks, see https://thecenter.wested.org/our-work/tpn/