Cultivating Teacher Leadership through Teacher Leadership Academies

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During the 2014-2015 academic year, 39 Iowa School Districts began their first year of implementation of their Teacher Leadership and Compensation Grants.

For those of you from outside Iowa, here is a little history on the Iowa Teacher Leadership And Compensation System:

Ultimately, the question becomes how will we cultivate and develop the leadership capacity of teacher leaders, while still allowing many of them to keep a foot in the classroom working directly with students? What kind of training/experiences to we need to provide for our teacher leaders to build better leaders?

Perhaps the conversation stems around establishing standards and competencies for Teacher Leaders. What are the requisite skills needed for effective teacher leaders? Can we develop a continuum of growth for the development of those skills among our teacher leaders? Doing so would clarify these questions for teacher leaders and give them areas to focus on to develop their abilities to be more effective teacher leaders. To some degree, this work has already been done by NEA. These standards could at least provide a launching point for districts to develop their own continuum of standards and competencies for teacher leaders.

Perhaps what teacher leaders need most is the development of creation of a model of ongoing professional development revolving around cultivating their teacher leadership skills. In my mind, districts should create an internal Teacher Leadership Academy that provides teacher leaders with ongoing, needed training in several areas related to growing the leadership abilities of their teacher leaders.

Based on needs that have arisen in my own district, here are some areas of focus that I believe should occur in such an academy:

  • ReImagining and Exploring Student Learning Needs in the 21st Century.
  • Examining Current PLC Structures and Focus Areas, reinventing PLC’s to take things to the next level so we avoid stagnation.
  • Identifying and Leveraging Strengths of Teacher Leaders
  • Systems Thinking / Mapping​
  • Exploring Global Models of Education (Finland/Singapore, etc.) – Reimagining Our Model of Education
  • Cultivating Positive Relationships as an ILT Team and among non-ILT Teachers
  • Examining and Exploring Strategies for Improving School Climate and Culture
  • Collaborative Leadership Strategies
  • Understanding Adult Learning Theory
  • Crafting and Communicating Quality Messages
  • Using Social Networking to Expand our Leadership Networks – Twitter Chats, etc.

Obviously, there would need to be a structural framework within which to operate the Teacher Leader Academy. Each district would need to develop this internally based upon what works best for their district and within the parameters of their TLC Grants. Basic ideas districts will need to consider include:

  • Building cohorts – Each building’s students have unique learning needs based on performance data and should develop data-informed goals and plans to demonstrate growth in student learning. We must align our TLC efforts to be able to clearly articulate how our efforts directly correlated to increases in student learning.
  • Subject Area/Grade Level Cohorts – Each team of teachers has specific roles and responsibilities within the context of supporting a building goal. TLC leaders need to be available to support and facilitate teams of teacher leaders (PLC’s) in the development, modification, and
  • Instructional Cohort – What instructional strategies should we focus on to improve student learning? For example, at my high school next year, we are looking to have 3 Instructional Strategy Cohorts centered around Hattie’s High Yield instructional strategies of Questioning, Feedback, and Collaborative learning. Our seven Lead Teachers, including myself, will facilitate a process whereby part of our PLC time on Wednesdays will be devoted to interdepartmental work centered around developing the skills and expertise within one of the three areas of mutual interest to the Lead Teacher and the teachers within that cohort.
  • Technology Support Cohort – Like many other districts and buildings across the district, our school is in the midst of 1:1 initiative. At the high school school I work in, we will be in the fourth year of a 1:1 iPad implementation during the 2015-16 school year. (A short story on our use of iPads can be found here). As this is our fourth year and technology is quickly obsolete, our district has purchased 1500 new iPad Air 2’s for our high school students. Our current iPads will then be sent to our middle and elementary schools. Our 8/9 middle school will begin its first year of 1:1 iPad implementation this year, meaning that our students will be even more capable with using the iPad as a learning device coming into our building. How will will continue to innovate and grow in how we use the iPad to support student learning? How will we align our use of the device with our building goals, needed learning supports, and our TLC model? Clearly, there is a need to develop this.

Within this Teacher Leader Leader Academy, teacher leaders could work in several different areas to develop their competencies as teacher leaders. Examples include:

  • Blogs to share our Teacher Leader Stories / Journeys.
  • Creating a Leadership Challenge / Professional Goal that they will work to develop over their year, provide evidence of development at the end of the year.
  • Developing Action Research Plans: ​looking for answers to everyday, real problems related to classroom instruction, systemic changes, or more global issues.
  • Professional Book Studies: Classroom Instruction that Works, Mindset, Teacherpreneurs, etc. ​
  • Ongoing Needs Assessments
  • Ongoing posting to online discussion forums
  • Creating and posting anchor videos of their own teaching that everyone could discuss / process
  • Actively Participating in Calibration Meetings – could also do online webinars later in evening so all ILT members are available to attend

Of course, these are just my ideas. Implementing a truly effective Teacher Leader Academy will require not only ideas, but a collective action among teacher leaders and administrators. This work should be collaborative and inclusive of all teacher leaders in its development and implementation. It is important that we do not let any teacher leadership model become a hierarchy. Different positions, with different amounts of release time exist to fulfill different roles and responsibilities, but one one role should never appear to be superior to another. If this occurs, it will disenfranchise teacher leaders and teachers. A truly effective teacher leader model allows all voices to be heard to shape the best ideas, is inclusive of all teachers, not just those serving in a defined teacher leader role, and will rotate personnel within various roles as needs emerge and change, as well as to keep introducing new ideas and fresh perspectives to make the model sustainable over time.

I’ll leave you with a few select quotes, taken from Forbes 100 best Quotes on Leadership:

Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others. —Jack Welch

You don’t need a title to be a leader. –Multiple Attributions

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has. —Margaret Mead

The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet. —Reverend Theodore Hesburgh

~Brad Hurst

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