I recently had the opportunity to work with teacher leaders, instructional coaches, and school administrators in Iowa whose districts are part of the state’s Teacher Leadership and Compensation Program.
The Teacher Leadership and Compensation (TLC) System rewards effective teachers with leadership opportunities and higher pay, attracts promising new teachers with competitive starting salaries and more support, and fosters greater collaboration for all teachers to learn from each other. The overriding philosophy of the system is multi-pronged, but boils down to this:
Improving student learning requires improving the instruction they receive each day. There is no better way to do this than to empower our best teachers to lead the effort.
Through the system, teacher leaders take on extra responsibilities, including helping colleagues analyze data and fine tune instructional strategies as well as coaching and co-teaching.
Here are some of the topics we explored as we examined teacher leader actions:
#1. Teacher collaboration requires establishing a shared vision and goals. Teacher leaders can play an important role in facilitating conversations with colleagues that identify common pictures of the school they want to be. In our session participants viewed the clip, Did You Know 2028, and discussed what they thought high school needed to be like in 2028. Then they considered what middle school needed to be in 2021 to prepare students for that high school. Finally, what does our elementary school need to be now as the class of 2028 is in our classrooms?
#2. Teacher leaders often are facilitating colleagues in PLCs. We studied, Questions for Life, to identify strategies for preparing questions to guide collaborative problem solving.
What are the parent/home factors that impact current student performance? (analysis)
What are the (3) most important things parents could do to support us? (appraisal)
Summarize the current support that we receive from parents. (summary)
How much effort should we invest in requesting support/educating parents about the goals and approaches we are taking? Why? (evaluation)
What ways might we support parents in supporting their child’s learning?
Without facilitation, many PLC conversations would begin with the last question and lack the depth that is necessary for most critical and creative thinking.
#3. Teacher leaders promote peer coaching relationships. If there are instructional coaches in the building, teacher leaders are the first in line to be coached and they are very public about the value they are finding in being coached. Teacher leaders in a building should also be peer coaching each other, building relationships across grade levels and departments. When teacher leaders invite peers to their classrooms to provide coaching to the teacher leader, they model vulnerability and create an environment that encourages on-going teacher growth.
#4. Teacher leaders build trust among school colleagues. Patrick Lencioni writes that when teams have trust, members:
Ask for help
Take risks in offering feedback and assistance
Tap into each other’s skills and experiences
Admit weaknesses and mistakes
Teacher leaders can take on all of these behaviors to begin a trusting climate. Teacher leaders who request help and tap the skills of their colleagues are more likely to have teachers respond to them in the same way.
#5. In the last hours of our three day workshop, we examined some of the resistance that teacher leader had met, or predicted meeting. Here are some of the resisting statements and responses we considered. (Turning Gripes to Goals)
Teacher: “We already have too many meetings.”
Leader: You find meeting can eat up a lot of precious time.
Leader: You want to be sure that any time spent has a positive impact on student learning.
Leader: Let’s establish that as a norm for setting our PLC agenda.
Teacher declining collaborating with a teacher leader: “I’m fine.”
Leader: Your students’ achievement produces satisfaction. Where do you want to grow in the coming year?
Leader: You see lots of progress as you look at student learning. Which student (s) would you have hoped had performed higher or deeper?
Throughout the session we identified the important role that school administrators play in creating a collaborative culture that maximizes the impact of teacher leaders. The partnerships of teacher leaders, instructional coach, and administrators need to communicate with teachers the value of teacher learning for student learning. As a team, they must be lead learners.