Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Quality Training is Crucial for Successful Teacher Leadership Systems

Since Hudson has been as an early implementer of teacher leadership, I have been honored to visit with school districts around our state as they begin to ramp up their systems. Foremost, schools are interested in the experience we had during the launch of teacher leadership at Hudson. Secondarily, I am able to share results from my research into implementing teacher leadership. A familiar 'key to success' for all school districts is a willingness to share leadership in ways that have not been the norm in Iowa or schools around the country. There is a degree of calculated risk, loosening the reigns, and allowing more practitioners to take an active and critical role in the leadership of the school organization. For those who are familiar with change theory, teacher leadership in your district is likely considered a second order change.

A misconception exists that since teachers have been trained and credentialed to work with young people this will automatically transfer to working with adults. This is not true. Indeed, working with adult learners is very different from working with children. It is very important for school districts to know and understand these differences as they begin to build and implement systems of their own. Training can help!

In our ongoing discussion at Hudson I have continued to remind our leadership team (comprised of teachers and administrators) that it will take multiple years to fully leverage and unleash the power of our own teacher leadership system. It takes time to build this capacity! Although we have been on this journey for more than a year, Hudson schools are still a novice when it comes to teacher leadership. We have learned a lot--but still have much to learn.

During those early months we were really just trying to find our way. We didn't have very good answers to questions like, "What does an instructional coach do all day long"? Sure, we had our standard answer: Strengthen instruction through embedded professional development. Good answer, but the natural follow up was "How?" and, "What does that look like"?

To really answer those questions in a practical manner we turned to our local Area Education Agency (AEA) for help and guidance. One of the key findings in my research was the importance of ensuring that our teachers not only have access to high quality training, but that our principals participate alongside teacher leaders. Our AEA has been able to use economies of scale to leverage outstanding professional development for our teacher leaders and principals. This training has helped them increase and develop their skill set,  answering those questions that seemed somewhat elusive one short year ago. There is no doubt that without the collaborative relationship we enjoy with our AEA, these opportunities would have been far out of reach for Hudson and many schools just like us.

A greater number of districts are beginning systems this year while others will be coming online in the 2016-2017 academic year. Although this is a voluntary initiative, it is the goal of our state that every district in Iowa have a teacher leadership system in place for the 2016-2017 school year. In spite of the political environment of the educational system in Iowa, I think it an exciting time to be in education. It is my sincere hope that we have the political will and determination to continue supporting the worthwhile efforts of sharing and distributing leadership in schools.

As a bit of parting advice for those schools yet to come: make the professional development of your teachers and principals a priority. Proper training will lead to a better and stronger implementation of your teacher leadership system. 

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