This past Thursday and Friday I was working with my Professional Standards and Practices Board for Teaching colleagues on the topic of career teacher ladders to help inform the Board of Regents’ actions on the Career Development Continuum later this year. New York State’s Race to the Top application speaks about the Career Development Continuum on pages 188 and 189, and adding teacher leader certification or annotation areas to a teacher’s credentials lends credence to a long over-due structure. Namely, greater assumption of instructional leadership responsibility for teachers. Teacher leaders are an untapped resource in our schools, and we know that principals are most effective when they share leadership with others. From the 2010 Learning from Leadership Wallace Foundation Report: “When principals and teachers share leadership, teachers’ working relationships are stronger and student achievement is higher.”
Studies on principals’ use of time paint a picture of overworked individuals and fragmented days, prohibitive for being the instructional leaders principals seek to be. Assigning administrative managers may free up some time, but distributing leadership among teachers seems the best avenue for improving student achievement. This is especially urgent with today’s RTTT reform agenda. Teacher leaders augment and expand administrator expertise, energize the profession through multiple teacher pathways, provide principals with needed support, and help with the change process. Teacher leadership opportunities may also prompt our finest teachers to remain in the classroom while also stretching themselves and others.
New York State will proceed in its work to create the Career Development Continuum, and how the state ultimately defines and evaluates criteria for teacher leadership will be relevant to all educators. Each district has its own set of issues and challenges, but there are questions requiring resolution. Can a master teacher be a great teacher leader? What course work and preparation would be required? For reliability and validity, what assessment would best identify knowledgeable and skilled teacher leaders? What role does nomination play, and would colleagues, administrators, and/or community members be part of the process?
A Teacher Leadership Exploratory Consortium is in place, and teacher leader standards have been identified. It’s now a matter of establishing a Career Development Continuum to grow the teaching profession, improve student achievement, and help all schools manage the complex changes that lie ahead.