In American schools, teacher leadership is key. Whether a school is struggling toward excellence or already excellent, teachers are necessary to make efficacy a reality: in instruction, discipline, school governance, and community and parent engagement. No wonder, then, that both union and district leaders have expressed support for increased teacher leadership as a key influencer of student achievement in recent years, and that the National Education Association has made it a priority.
Despite this widespread recognition, the facts on the ground show that teacher leadership is not being leveraged effectively. The fact that nearly half of teachers leave the classroom within five years of entering the profession speaks for itself. Beyond that, though more than half of teachers are involved in school leadership and more than half express interest in taking on additional roles outside of the classroom, the model throughout the country for teacher advancement is flat. In too many school districts, systems do not exist to allow teachers to access meaningful opportunities for leadership that draw on their success in the classroom, and that give them more autonomy and ownership over things like induction, mentorship, and entrepreneurship.
This lack of opportunities for diverse engagement and advancement negatively affects teacher satisfaction, which is currently at a near-record low of 44%.
During the past several months, as part of Educators 4 Excellence’s Teacher Policy Team on Career Pathways, I and a dozen other Los Angeles-area educators have been meeting to construct a comprehensive, moderate plan to address some of these deficits. Our resulting recommendations, which we've entitled "STEP: Supporting Teachers as Empowered Professionals," would result in the creation of a meaningful and supportive teacher-career pathway in our district’s schools. Those recommendations include teacher leadership of professional development, the creation of an Educator Entrepreneurship Grant to fund teacher-created projects, a more effective teacher induction program for new teachers, and greater opportunities for seasoned, effective teachers to take on "hybrid roles" that include teaching and responsibilities outside of the classroom. These recommendations were presented to a diverse audience of teachers and district leaders on June 13, and were met with a favorable response. Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy has expressed his unqualified support for the plan, with equally enthusiastic responses from LAUSD School Board members Monica Ratliff and Monica Garcia.
As teachers from a variety of backgrounds (charter, district, and pilot schools), with varying degrees of experience (from three years to more than 20 years), and with a variety of political and educational viewpoints, we recognize the importance of emphasizing broad teacher support and development over more divisive approaches. Along the way, we’ve sought to make collaboration and teacher autonomy the center of our work, and have never lost sight of the ultimate goal: to better enable teachers to craft their own, satisfying career pathways, so that they can better support their students toward achievement and life-readiness. Consequently, our menu of options for teachers is aimed at opening doors for teachers, rather than imposing more onerous requirements and restrictions. We think that this represents a moderate step in the right direction for teachers.
What this program also represents is a step forward for students and communities. Our recommendations on induction, retention, and teacher entrepreneurship are, ultimately, student-focused ones.
At the school where I teach, in Southeast LA, I’ve seen where the deficits in these areas negatively impact students. As a relatively new teacher, entering my fourth year in the classroom, I did not receive some of the support at the beginning of my career that might have enabled me to be a more effective teacher for my students. Had I had the benefit of a comprehensive induction program, including mentorship from veteran teachers, my first and second years in the classroom might have been more successful than they were. At the same time, I’ve seen too many of my colleagues leave the profession shortly after entering it, unsatisfied with the avenues to advancement available to them. The result of this is instability for students and schools, who yearly face the loss of good, strong educators. This is especially true at hard-to-staff schools like mine, where staff turnover is more prevalent than at other schools.
At the policy level, we can and will continue to discuss how we can improve a truly multi-measure and thorough teacher evaluation system, tenure reform, and school governance models, among other things. What we cannot continue to discuss is giving teachers more avenues to leadership, and more autonomy in deciding what that should look like. This is one point at which all sides can reach agreement.
We all recognize that, where a teacher is successful, she should have an opportunity to demonstrate that success in a way that is meaningful and satisfying, for the benefit of her students. Opportunities for that kind of leadership are beyond the point of discussion; they are merely in need of effective implementation. We, along with the rest of the teachers, parents, and students of the country, readily await that step. Needless to say, it is long overdue.