Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Teacher Leadership and Compensation

I have take quite a bit of interest lately in the new education reform legislation that was signed into law by the Governor at the end of this last session. Of particular note is the Teacher Leadership and Compensation portion of House File 215 included in Division VII. This particular section has the potential to have a profound impact on student learning in Iowa. In addition, there is the possibility that it could serve as a model to be emulated nationwide.

Some key features of the legislation include an increase to the base pay of teachers to $33,500 (the current minimum salary is $28,000) and to create pathways for teachers to assume leadership roles in their buildings. This is notable because the primary way teachers are promoted in schools now is to become a building principal or other administrator. Obviously, not all teachers have aspirations to become administrators!

The Teacher Leadership and Compensation Model provides avenues to promote teachers into leadership roles without relinquishing their primary vocation: teaching. I am sure you are probably wondering, what on earth will these so called 'teacher leaders' be responsible for? And this: 'isn't that the job of the principal?' I think first if you look at the overall context and goal of the legislation it will help. It is all grounded in strengthening instruction in the classroom. We all know that the key to increasing student achievement in classrooms is ensuring that students are exposed to a quality instructor in every classroom. We also know that like all other professions, teachers need continual training in the newest techniques and strategies that are research based (proven to work) in order to continue to meet the demands of an every changing student demographic (see Developing Strong Teaching).

Over the last decade or so, the role of the building principal has evolved. A position that was grounded primarily in the work of management and organization of the school building looks a lot different that it did when you and I were students. While the day to day operation remain an important and paramount task of the principal, we now have added the responsibility of 'Instructional Leader' to the job description. That means a lot of things, and depending who you ask, the answer may be different. But what you won't find argument about, is that the building principal is responsible in ensuring that quality instruction grounded in sound research is occurring in the classroom, and that students' academic achievement is on the rise. If that isn't happening, the principal is responsible for leveraging resources and strategies to 'move the ball down the field' so to speak.

The disconnect that sometimes occurs is a failure to realize that building principals are not experts in all content areas. While administrators were all teachers at some point in their career, they are very likely not 'masters of all' when it comes to instructional strategies. For example, once upon a time I was a music teacher. It wouldn't make a lot of sense for me to proclaim and model expertise in the most up to date strategies for teaching reading. It is much more likely (and practical) for a teacher to ask a trusted colleague or expert in the content (e.g. the reading teacher) for suggestions and strategies when they might be stuck with a particular group of students or skill. Heck, if you need help with vocal technique or choral conducting strategies, I am your guy. If you need help with reading strategies--not so much. BUT, I can give you ten other people in the district that can be your go to person. The role of the building principal as instructional leader in this regard is to leverage these resources and connect the dots (generally speaking).

That is what makes the prospect of Teacher Leadership and Compensation so promising! It provides us with a model and vehicle in which to make this happen. Such things have been proposed before, but as a state we have never been able to get them off the ground. Why? Because there has never been a mechanism to fund such a model. That funding was put into place with HF 215. Over the next three years, $50 Million has been appropriated to ramp up these systems. When fully implemented, this will create an investment of $150 Million annually. 

Here at Hudson, I believe we need to take full advantage of this. Providing opportunities to increase student achievement by strengthening instruction is critical to fulfilling our vision of 'Creating Effective Learning Environments That Result in Success For All Students'. We have taken the first step by completing an application to the Department of Education for a planning grant. This grant will fund our efforts to create a model that best suits the Hudson Community School District. If you are interested in helping with the planning process, please contact my office.

Next week I will share with you more details about the three options for Teacher Leadership and Compensation that the state has endorsed. 

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