We’re All in This Together: Developing Teacher Leaders

Why invest in teacher leadership? Principals can’t do it all. Teaching and leading are different skill sets. And strong teachers with job-embedded training can have a greater impact on more students.
high school math teachers collaborating
5/11/21
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First, principals can’t do it all on their own. We already know this to be true, both from the research and lived experience. Second, teaching and leading are different skill sets. Influencing teachers to rethink their instruction requires practice, as does building strong teams. Third, strong teachers with job-embedded training can amplify their impact and reach more children.

Research finds that effective teacher leadership combined with strong instructional leadership from the principal are linked to improved student achievement outcomes in ELA and math. Those gains are even more significant when teacher leaders are involved in schoolwide decision-making processes and instructional leadership teams. Expanding leadership and engaging teams in driving continuous improvement efforts—known as distributive leadership—often leads to breakthrough results.

Distributed leadership models also correlate with higher teacher motivation, retention, and overall job satisfaction. With so much benefit to teachers, as well as to students, principals must learn how to empower teachers, identifying, cultivating, and catalyzing existing and nascent leadership in order to drive a shared vision of equity and excellence across their school community.  

In many rural and urban districts, teacher leadership is a game changer. New Leaders’ partnerships with Edgecombe County Public Schools (6,200 student population) in rural North Carolina and Detroit Public Schools Community District (53,400 student population) illuminate how our teacher leader training, Emerging Leaders, is transformational at every level.

"I can be impactful to many children by influencing teachers. I love hearing from teachers that this technique or that activity was so helpful. I love stories of how things went from dark to light for teachers, and how that just turned around their classroom."
New Leaders Alum

Teacher Leaders Coaching Teacher Leaders

Today, a cadre of experienced New Leaders-trained Multi-Classroom Leaders (MCLs) coach and support teacher leaders in their training year. With a keen eye toward equity, MCLs lead teacher teams. They drive data-driven instruction and continuous improvement. They create collaborative planning structures that improve teaching and learning. Today, over 30 MCLs impact 2,800 students in schools across the district.

In 2017 when our partnership began, Edgecombe faced high turnover and barriers to recruiting new talent. They needed a viable solution for attracting and retaining good teachers, as well as easing demands on principals, who juggled multiple roles. Four years later, MCLs have maintained a laser focus on instruction amid the ongoing pandemic and unprecedented disruptions to learning.

Teachers Leaders Moving into Principal Roles

Today, ten graduates of our Emerging Leaders program are now leading schools of their own in Detroit Public Schools Community District. In three years, our partnership has developed close to 100 educators at all levels—teachers leaders, instructional coaches, assistant principals—who have learned to coach teachers, lead teams, and bring effective teaching practices to scale. For some teacher leaders, this professional learning  experience is a stepping stone to more leadership.  

Research shows that investments that develop teacher leadership also encourage teachers to remain in the profession and help to nurture teachers, particularly teachers of color, into pursuing advanced leadership roles. Like MCLs in Edgecombe, our graduates in Detroit benefit from fellow mentors and a community of like-minded leaders who are committed to transforming schools.

"I was mentored, and now as a teacher leader, I am paying that forward. That’s the way that education is going to grow. When we take what someone has given us and share it with the next individual, then everybody becomes strong."
New Leaders Alum

It’s a popular misconception that the best principals are superheroes, single handedly leading school improvement efforts. The notion is neither sustainable nor scalable. Our schools don’t need stand-alone superheroes at the helm. We need leaders at every level, from the classroom to the principal’s office, working together toward equity and excellence.

Now is the time to invest in the leadership within our schools. In this unique moment—with the American Rescue Plan (ARP) committing $128 billion to K12 education—districts and states have the opportunity to shift the tide toward more equitable learning outcomes. Research proves that strong leaders are an effective strategy and investment.

Learn more about how we can work together to optimize this opportunity and build a cadre of leaders in your district or state who are well-prepared to lead in this moment and the next.

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