The success of teachers' work with students is heavily influenced by the structures of the school and the opportunities available for them and their students. These structures and opportunities fall into several major categories: school organization and structure, student policies, student programs and activities, and staff programs. While these categories are traditionally classified as administrators' responsibilities, teacher leaders play a pivotal role in shaping each of these areas to maximize student learning. In fact, the voice of teachers is essential to ensuring that these policies and programs are designed in an optimal manner.
Some aspects of a school's policies and programs remain principally within the administrator's responsibilities even in a school with active teacher leaders, including approaches to teacher evaluation, budgeting, staffing, and facilities use. However, even in these areas the views and perspectives of teachers, and especially teacher leaders, can make a substantial contribution to how those aspects of the school's program are designed. For example, if an important purpose of teacher evaluation is to encourage professional reflection and contribute to professional learning, it should not be regarded as something that the administrators do to teachers. Rather, it should be a collaborative effort in which teachers play an active role.
The categories of schoolwide policies and programs are described in the following sections.
School Organization and Structure
School organization and structure refer to all those fundamental aspects of how the school is organized for instruction: The organization of the school into subunits, the master schedule, and the assignment of different teachers to teach different courses or be responsible for different groups of students. These issues influence the tone of the building in the broadest possible way.
Organization of the School into Subunits
Very small schools typically exist as a single unit. With one or two classes at each grade level in an elementary school, for example, it is possible for every teacher to know virtually every student in the school. Student clubs can include students of different ages, and peer tutoring programs are simpler to arrange than in a larger school. In a large elementary school and in most middle and high schools, many educators have found it desirable to create smaller subunits, for example, instructional teams, houses, or schools-within-schools. These subunits typically correspond to specific areas or wings within the school; therefore, the physical structure of the building influences what can be accomplished organizationally.
Large elementary schools can be structured either as grade-level teams or as family teams, in which several teachers in adjacent grade levels (for example, two teachers of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders) form a team to work together with all their students. Another practice at the elementary level concerns the move to a looping approach, in which a single teacher retains the same students over several years by moving with them, typically from 1st to 2nd, and then to 3rd grade, and then returns to the 1st grade for a new group of students. This is the approach that Elena, one of our teacher leaders in Chapter 1, proposed to her school.
At the middle school, it is not uncommon for the school to be divided into houses, frequently corresponding to a wing of the school in which students have instruction in all the core subjects; they go to other areas in the school for elective courses. Typically, each house contains one teacher in each of the core areas; they coordinate their efforts to a greater or lesser extent depending on the actual content of what they are teaching and their own strengths and preferences.
At the high school level, the typical subunits are the departments (for example, English, science, math). But some high schools, particularly very large ones, have instituted cross-disciplinary schools-within-schools, for example, a 9th grade school. Such an arrangement can help ease the transition of some students from the smaller environment of a middle school to the more impersonal culture that is typical of most large high schools.
Each arrangement has its advantages and disadvantages. Teacher leaders can play an important role in shaping the conversations with their colleagues, assembling relevant research, and helping to voice issues important to teachers that administrators might not consider or to which they might not give sufficient weight.
The Master Schedule
It is impossible to overstate the significance of the master schedule in shaping the educational experience of students and the professional life of teachers. The schedule defines the time available for teachers and students and therefore influences the type of engagement that students can have with what they are learning. At the elementary level, the schedule conveys powerful messages about the relative importance of different subjects, such as when reading is allocated 90 minutes per day and science receives a paltry 30 minutes twice (or once!) a week. Furthermore, the scheduling of special classes—art, music, and physical education, when these are taught by specialists in those fields—often has the effect of isolating those subjects and disrupting the flow of class activities.
At the middle school level, particularly if the school is divided into houses, the teachers themselves may determine their house schedule. However, the house schedule is affected by elective classes, which may interfere with sustained time for students to engage deeply with content. Many high schools have experimented with block scheduling, in which instructional periods are roughly 90 minutes in length, rather than the more typical 45 (or so) minutes.
All these different approaches have their advocates, and none is clearly superior to the others; again, it is a matter of balancing the consequences of each one and selecting the best option for a particular situation. As it is in the organization of the school's subunits, the voice of teachers is essential to arriving at the best approach. In a supportive culture, teacher leaders may take the initiative in beginning the conversation.
Grouping of Students and Assignment of Teachers
Most schools have moved away from the rigid tracking of students that characterized schools in the 20th century. But while elementary reading groups are no longer labeled the “bluebirds” (largely predicting the population of high school AP English 10 years later), many schools find that some grouping of students into temporary skill groups—for at least portions of the day or for some subjects—helps ensure the success of all students. And most high schools offer courses as electives (either advanced levels of traditional academic subjects or specialty areas such as video production), affording students the opportunity to experience appropriate challenge or to pursue interests.
Any grouping of students other than random assignment involves decisions regarding which teachers work with which students. Of course, at the high school level, teacher expertise is a critical factor. But at other levels it is a less important factor, and assignments can be more flexible. Decisions about teacher assignment to groups of students, and indeed the manner in which students are grouped, are ones that can be left to teachers to work out, particularly when those discussions are guided by teacher leaders with a broad picture of the school's mission and vision.
At the high school level, where advanced courses are typically available for students who qualify for them and wish to make a commitment to doing the frequently substantial amount of work involved, decisions must be made as to the mechanisms of qualification. In many schools, these decisions are made by teachers, who invite certain students to enroll, or there is an expectation among certain groups of students that they will take certain courses. These practices frequently result in the patterns Tom (from Chapter 1) observed in his school—much greater numbers and percentages of more affluent students in the advanced courses and girls underrepresented in mathematics and science.
School Decision Making and Governance
Few schools these days are run as administrative fiefdoms; virtually all school administrators establish structures (such as a leadership council or site council) both for making routine decisions regarding operations and for debating more substantive issues such as those described in this chapter. The leadership council is the group to which suggestions regarding a block schedule would be referred. Moreover, teachers increasingly play an important role even in those areas that are, in traditional schools, reserved for administrative fiat. These areas include staff hiring, budgeting, and teacher evaluation.
Schools with such representative governance typically establish a procedure by which teachers serve on decision-making bodies. Teachers may be elected by their colleagues, although in some cases the representation is more formal. For example, in many high schools, department chairs constitute the leadership council and individual members are selected by the administration. Similarly, at the elementary and middle schools levels, the teachers most active in school governance may be tapped by site administrators for these pseudo-administrative roles.
But where participation in site councils is voluntary and the decisions as to who is involved are left to teachers, teacher leaders play an important role in the area of schoolwide decision making and governance. They are willing to serve on site councils and contribute ideas for the better or smoother functioning of the school. They care deeply about the quality of the staff and volunteer to serve on a selection committee reading résumés, creating interview questions, and assessing candidates. They recognize the importance of schoolwide approaches to mentoring and professional development and make material contributions in those areas.
Some teachers are content to allow schoolwide decisions to be made around them and to accept the results without being part of the deliberation. But teacher leaders welcome the opportunity to engage with the issues and ensure that their schools' organizational structures maximize opportunities for student learning.
Schoolwide structures reflect important aspects of a school's culture. Interactions among members of the faculty (for example, in formal meetings to debate a possible change in the school schedule or in more informal interactions around the school) are respectful. The procedures established for student participation in advanced courses reward student commitment to hard work; teachers aim to encourage as many students as possible to stretch themselves in their work. The schedule is organized to include as few interruptions as possible so students can engage deeply with content.
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In other words, the school's organizational structures support the culture of high-level learning for all students and encourage students to fulfill their potential. All teachers, and especially teacher leaders, are alert to the impact of organizational structures on the school's ability to fulfill its mission. They don't accept such structures as fixed and divinely ordained; rather, they are a part of the framework of the school that can be adjusted to maximize student learning. Figure 5.1 provides examples of how teacher leaders work within the area of school organization and structure.
Figure 5.1. School Organization and Structure: Examples of Practice
Emerging teacher leaders work with immediate colleagues to examine the school's organization and structure to maximize student achievement. For example, they might
- Encourage students to enroll in advanced courses.
- Participate in a team or school study group to propose a new organization of the school into subunits or a revision to the master schedule.
Established Teacher Leaders
Within Department or Team
Teacher leaders embrace opportunities to make the most of school organizational structures within their own departments or teams. For example, they might
- Rearrange the team schedule so students have longer periods of time in each subject.
- Determine when (if ever) it makes good educational sense to group students by ability or skill level.
- Permit any students at the high school level who are willing to commit to the extra work the opportunity to enroll in an advanced course.
Across the School
Teacher leaders take the lead in examining school structures across the school. For example, they might
- Invite colleagues to examine practices with respect to the organization of the school into smaller units and make a proposal to the full faculty.
- Assemble research on the advantages (and disadvantages) of a block schedule, invite colleagues to share perspectives, and make a proposal to the full faculty and administration.
- Initiate a project with colleagues from the department or from across the school to propose a new master schedule for the school.
- Work with colleagues to establish a schoolwide policy on student access to advanced courses.
- Serve as the team's representative on the school's site council.
- Develop a staff survey on block scheduling.
Beyond the School
Teacher leaders participate in district, state, or national networks for critically examining school organizational structures. For example, they might
- Serve on a district committee to formulate the district's policy regarding tracking and ability or skill grouping.
- Work with representatives of other schools to propose a revised district specialist schedule for the elementary buildings.
Just as the school's organizational structures define the broad use of space and time within the school, student policies define students' experience in the school as a whole. When adults recall their school days, many of their memories (particularly the negative ones) relate to a punitive grading or discipline policy, or to teachers whose homework assignments bore little relation to the course.
Most of the school's policies for students are established for the school as a whole. However, every teacher and every group of teachers who work together in a department or team interpret these policies for their own classes. They ensure that the policies and practices are implemented in a coherent manner and that they contribute to a positive school culture. Furthermore, for younger students, the policies and practices for students structure not only the students' relationship with the school as a whole but that of their parents.
The principal underlying concept regarding student policies is that they should serve to support student learning. They must respect students and the pressures on their lives. They must honor student needs and be designed so that student compliance with them is consistent with advancing student learning. Punitive policies simply encourage student efforts to circumvent them or subvert them to their own purposes. On the other hand, policies that support students in their development not only promote active compliance but also contribute to an overall culture of learning in the school.
One of the best ways to ensure active student compliance with policies and practices is to engage students in their development. Students are keenly aware of issues of fairness and are quick to point out when an approach is overly heavy-handed. Students understand the value of an orderly school environment and can easily appreciate the value of homework in providing additional opportunities for learning. As for grading, students know a reasonable grading policy when they see one, and their participation in the design or revision of the department's or school's approach to grading helps to ensure that it is both a good policy and one that students will accept.
The goal of a school's attendance policies is to ensure that students are in school as much as possible, on the assumption that they will not learn the curriculum when they are absent. Thus, some schools establish a policy that if students accumulate a certain number of absences during a school year, they cannot pass the course or courses for the year. A second goal of most attendance policies is also to encourage student punctuality; therefore, some schools have instituted policies under which a certain number of late arrivals is converted to a day's absence.
Of course, it is not advisable for students to attend school if they are sick and are carrying a contagious illness. Unfortunately, some students are not even aware they have an illness when it first sets in, and they spread it before they and their parents realize it. In addition to serious illness, which can keep students out of school for many days or even weeks, students are occasionally the victims of accidents (such as broken bones) that can result in extended absences.
In devising or revising the school's attendance policy, it is essential that the policy not be interpreted by students as punitive. It must also accommodate student responsibilities. For example, if a student has accumulated 16 absences early in the year, and 18 is the maximum allowable number, that student may take the view, What's the point? I may as well drop out! In addition, some students may have a situation at home that requires them to care for younger siblings who are ill when a parent must go to work. Students should not be penalized for shouldering such responsibilities.
Furthermore, students' responsibility for arriving at school on time can be an opportunity for learning. Those students who ride a bus have a particular challenge; they must be there exactly when the bus is due to come—they don't have the flexibility to leave (whether walking or being driven) a few minutes later. Therefore, bus riders can benefit from teacher-led discussions as to how to prepare the night before for the need to leave the house at a specific time in the morning—how to assemble school supplies and materials in a set location, determine the clothes to be worn, and other advice. These are life skills that carry into adulthood.
In general, attendance policies must simultaneously encourage student and parent responsibility regarding coming to school and flexibly accommodate individual student situations. This typically involves clear procedures to make decisions on a case-by-case basis in addition to general guidelines.
Every school needs an orderly environment in which students can work. Schools are crowded places; consensus as to what constitutes acceptable student conduct—in classrooms, in the corridors and lunchroom, on the playground, and on the buses—is important to ensuring access to learning for every student. Furthermore, some schools are plagued by bullying, making life miserable for the victims.
Discipline policies at the high school level also typically encompass such matters as what students may and may not store in their lockers, when and under what conditions they may leave the school grounds, and when they may access their lockers. Such policies are typically affected by the environment in which the school is located and whether students are likely to come in harm's way.
All schools attempt to instill habits of self-discipline in their students, but there is little consensus as to how this can be achieved. Some schools institute harsh zero-tolerance policies governing the infraction of school rules. Other schools have softer, more democratic approaches. While rigid rules are appropriate for certain matters, such as weapons possession, it is unlikely that, when applied to all areas, they encourage the type of self-monitoring behavior that is needed for the student to develop habits of self-discipline.
In addition, most educators recognize the relationship between student conduct and the quality of instruction. In general, when students are involved in meaningful learning, they are less likely to seek ways to circumvent the school's rules. Therefore, a school's approach to student conduct is both a contributor to and a consequence of the quality of instruction.
Homework is one of the least understood components of a coherent educational plan. Well-crafted homework assignments can accomplish several important goals of a school: extending learning time and providing an opportunity for students to practice skills or rote learning (such as Spanish vocabulary). New conceptual learning is not appropriate for homework, since such learning must be mediated by a teacher. But once the foundation has been laid, homework assignments provide an opportunity for students to consolidate their understanding. Out-of-class projects offer many of the same benefits as homework assignments.
Caution should be exercised, however, when considering how to use homework in the best manner. For example, long homework assignments are not appropriate for young children; most primary teachers assign homework sparingly, if at all. Second, it is essential that students be able to complete the assignments independently. If an assignment requires adult assistance, it may be inequitable, as some students will have more reliable access to such assistance than others. It is not responsible to put students at a disadvantage if they don't have someone at home who can provide help. In addition, many teachers have experienced the phenomenon of parent-assisted science projects—it's not clear how much the students have really learned from them.
Homework assignments can help forge a link between home and school. Some disciplines lend themselves more to this than others—for example, students can interview their older relatives about what it was like to grow up during the 1960s or investigate the histories of their neighborhoods. Some mathematics assignments can use information from home, such as a survey by 2nd graders of which vegetables their families ate for dinner the previous night. When captured the next day, this simple information can be converted to graphs and charts, hypotheses can be formulated, and patterns can be observed.
Many parents appreciate guidance as to how they can best support their children in completing schoolwork. Such a topic is suitable for a parent evening, with written materials sent home to all families. It is an unfortunate fact that in some households, students find it very difficult to complete homework, even when they want to do so. There may be no quiet place in which to work, or they may be expected to care for younger siblings or prepare the evening meal. The school's responsibility in such situations is to offer as much assistance to families as possible, both by making a case for the importance of homework to learning and by offering practical suggestions for parents. In addition, some schools, as part of their programs of learning support, provide a protected time and space after school hours for students to work on their out-of-class assignments.
It is also important for educators to recognize the difference between completion and effort with regard to homework. Some students will make an honest attempt to do their homework but will run into a snag that prevents them from completing it. Teachers must have policies that acknowledge the effort and encourage students to be resourceful, such as by phoning classmates or seeking additional help from a homework hotline, but they should not penalize students who, in spite of a good attempt, have not been able to complete the assignment.
Lastly, flexibility is essential. Emergencies arise, and they arise in some families and communities more than in others. Students need to know that they may not abuse the understanding of their teachers; at the same time, when legitimate emergencies occur, students must not be penalized for factors beyond their control. Students need to know that homework or at least the honest effort to complete it is important for lots of reasons. Homework is important to ensure mastery of complex material, and it is important in developing self-discipline. However, when students fail to get their homework done, they need to know that their teachers, and the school as a whole, are reasonable.
Much of a school's philosophy toward students is captured in its approach to grading; unfortunately, many schools' policies toward grading are not coherent (Marzano, 2000). Competing concepts are combined into a single letter or number with the result that no one is clear about what the grade signifies. Some teachers (primarily at the high school level) take pride in their “tough” grading policies, bragging, “No one ever gets an A in my class!”
But what does a grade even mean? Does a grade represent how well the student has mastered the material? Or how much effort the student has expended? Or how much improvement the student has demonstrated since the last grade was given? What is the role of extra credit? Can it be used to increase an otherwise low grade? And on what basis? Is it only that the student has done more work? If so, is this a legitimate practice? Lastly, are the principles behind student grades consistent across a school district, or a school, or even a single department?
A fairly strong case can be made for any one of the approaches to grading mentioned. The important challenge is to determine what a grade represents and to apply the principle consistently. And in order to do that, it is essential to be clear about the purpose of grades.
The first purpose, of course, is one of communication—to the students, to their parents, and to other institutions (especially colleges and universities). In that regard, it is essential that a grade represent student learning of the curriculum. Many parents are dismayed to discover as a result of state tests that their children are performing well below their peers even though they have been getting good grades. At the very least, grades must communicate about student learning.
Second, of course, grades can be and are used to motivate students to work hard. This can be important. Students may decide to forgo a night out with their friends to study for a test if they think it can make a difference. On the other hand, students need assurance that their efforts will pay off if they do work hard and learn the material, that there will be no tricks on the test. In other words, the effort must be worth it.
It is tempting to use grades to encourage students and to reward them for their hard work alone, even when it does not result in high-level learning. While it is important to acknowledge student effort, a better way to do that is through a separate grade or comment for effort, leaving the actual grade as simply a reflection of the quality and amount of student learning. The same reasoning applies to recognizing outstanding progress. Comments can be used to encourage students to continue in their efforts.
Grades are an important part of a school's culture, particularly at the secondary level. As such, the school's policies with respect to grading should be purposeful and designed to further the school's aims. Most schools could benefit from a hard look at how they grade students.
All student policies are important reflections of the school's underlying culture. If educators are sincerely trying to promote high-level learning for all students, they will seek to replace a punitive grading (attendance, homework, or discipline) policy with one that encourages student effort, one that is flexible and responsive to changing circumstances. They will ensure that the school's actions are consistent with its stated beliefs and that all the school's formal and informal policies support the development of student success and responsibility. This effort may require changes in policies that were developed at an earlier time, when values may have been different. Teacher leaders play a vital role in this area. They recognize the systemic nature of schools and the critical part that student policies play in shaping the culture of the school. They are not content to allow inherited policies to dictate the relationships between students and teachers in ways that might undermine the core mission of the school, and they work to change them where appropriate. Figure 5.2 outlines ways teacher leaders might work with their school's student policies.
Figure 5.2. Student Policies: Examples of Performance
Emerging teacher leaders work within their classes to examine and improve student policies. For example, they might
- Participate in team or departmental meetings to consider alternatives to the grading system.
- Try a new homework policy with their own students to determine whether it is more effective than the one they had been using previously.
- Encourage their own students to make use of the school's homework hotline.
- Establish clear guidelines for student conduct and maintain records that can contribute to the team's or department's deliberations about a broader discipline policy.
Established Teacher Leaders
Within Department or Team
Teacher leaders organize opportunities for examining student policies within their own departments or teams. For example, they might work with their colleagues to do the following:
- Develop a departmental approach that motivates students to make a sincere effort to complete their homework.
- Implement a new grading system that encourages students to take pride in their work.
- Design a policy for student discipline that rewards students for assuming responsibility for their own and others' behavior.
Across the School
Teacher leaders organize efforts to examine student policies within the school. For example, they might
- Coordinate the development of a new school policy regarding student attendance.
- Work with representatives of other departments or teams to review the school's grading policy with the goal of revising it.
- Coordinate an overhaul of the school's approach to homework.
- Institute a buildingwide analysis of the school's discipline policy.
Beyond the School
Teacher leaders participate in district, state, or national networks for examining the impact of student policies on learning. For example, they might
- Serve on a district committee to revise the district's approach to discipline.
- Participate in a statewide conference or committee on the impact of student policies on learning and culture.
- Contribute an article to a professional journal on the results of implementing a new grading policy.
- Participate in a school district's formulation (or revision) of its promotion and retention policy.
Student Programs and Activities
Student programs bring the school to life for students. As much as teachers would like to believe that it is their brilliant instruction that motivates students to come to school each day, the truth is more likely something quite different. Most students, and former students, remember school in terms of the activities and programs in which they participated. Student efforts may also bring recognition to the school, as when a school's math team competes at the state level or the basketball team has a good season.
Student programs are different from the student policies described earlier in this chapter. Student policies set the context for formal learning, by specifying the attendance, grading, and discipline policies. Student programs, on the other hand, establish opportunities for students to expand their interests and skills, participate in out-of-class activities with classmates, and develop leadership skills. While some are linked to formal learning (e.g., a tutoring program for younger students), many are independent of the formal curriculum. Either way, the school is greatly enriched by them.
Some student activities are clearly curriculum based, such as a Spanish club or a literary magazine. Other examples are model U.N., a chess club, a math team, or a science team. A teacher leader recognizes an opportunity to engage students in activities that are not currently part of the school's offerings. An example of this could be a teacher's invitation to a poet-in-residence to spend a week at the school engaging all students in learning, reciting, and writing poetry. Such an effort could culminate in a parent evening, at which students read poems aloud to their peers and families. Such a plan, in addition to external resources, would require a significant amount of initiative as well as the coordination of the teacher leader's work with that of the other teachers in the school.
Other curriculum-based student activities are those in which students are enlisted to assist other students in their learning. Many elementary schools have implemented opportunities for older students to read to those in the kindergarten classes, or to assist the teacher in organizing hands-on science activities. Older students serve on a homework hotline, or actually tutor younger students. And as every teacher knows, when you teach a concept, you learn it to a greater depth. Hence, engaging students in helping younger ones learn is likely to pay dividends in the older students' learning, as well.
Extracurricular or Cocurricular Activities
The best-known examples of cocurricular student activities are, of course, athletics. But there are others, including dramatic productions and class projects. A teacher might also see student interest in computer troubleshooting or a debate team. Such activities, while separate from the normal curriculum of the school, make a clear contribution to student learning in the regular school program.
Some schools have well-established programs of student clubs and activities, all of which require adult supervision and direction. In some schools, those roles are assumed by parent volunteers, but few schools can rely on such outside assistance. Rather, it is a matter for the staff to take up, determining which are the most important to enrich the students' total school experience.
In schools where teachers assume responsibility for the coordination of established activities and clubs, such as athletics or the school play, it is typically either part of their job (as with the drama teacher) or they are paid a stipend. Such stipends are intended to reflect the enormous amount of work involved in these extra pursuits, and the reputation that a school develops for excellence in such areas. A school's sponsorship of a chess team, participation in the model U.N., or the performance of its athletic teams serve to define the school in the eyes of others and offer important opportunities for its students.
Teachers who organize and manage established student activities often demonstrate leadership among their peers, even when they are paid a stipend for their work. But a more dramatic illustration of teacher leadership occurs when a teacher recognizes an opportunity to institute a new student program. For example, a teacher might introduce students to a new sport or establish a class project to raise money for an improvement to the school.
Some of the activities students remember long after they leave school are those that afford them the opportunity to develop their own leadership skills. Even elementary schools are able to establish programs involving older students, in roles such as science lab assistants who organize and prepare materials for the teachers. Opportunities abound in middle and high schools, from student government, to a student chapter of Habitat for Humanity, to a peer advisor program. Furthermore, students can actively participate in determining student policies. When such involvement is invited and encouraged—for example, requesting student participation in revising the school's approach to grading—students often surprise their teachers with the thoughtfulness of their contributions. Students at all levels benefit from participating in school governance, often as a participant on the student council or as a member of the school's site council. The benefit to students is greatest when the issues they address are truly significant.
In addition, students can be active investigators of school life. If a school faculty were interested in exploring issues of student culture (e.g., learning whether students felt they were treated fairly or with respect), students could make a material contribution in the design of a survey instrument. Naturally, their views would be solicited, but in addition, students themselves would have good suggestions as to how the questions should be framed to communicate with other students.
Student leadership can extend beyond the school. For example, in a school in Vermont, members of a student club collaborated with the school maintenance staff and a local waste management company to organize a schoolwide recycling program (McKibben, 2004).
The recognition of the value of community service has led many high schools (and indeed some states) to institute a service requirement for students as necessary for graduation. This requirement recognizes the value of service for students: It enables them to see into the lives of others, frequently those who are less fortunate than they. It also is a testament to the value of service in clarifying what is important and in making a contribution to the community and people's lives. Furthermore, by participating in community service, students get a view of the agencies that offer the services and the people who work in them as doing a different, clearly important, kind of work.
There are a number of rationales for including service learning in the life of the school. Underneath them all, however, is the notion that schools are not just places where students go to learn; they are places from which students and teachers go forward into the community to make it a better place. In these service efforts, they make a contribution to the common good and students are not regarded as “problems to be managed, or resources only for the future” (Barone, 2003). They can make a contribution now. When students are involved in challenging situations in real-world settings, they acquire an appreciation for the issues people in their community deal with. This awareness can lead to a heightened sense of self and the development of an ethic of caring. Students develop a deeper respect for both human differences and similarities. Furthermore, by engaging in service learning opportunities, students are exposed to the responsibilities of citizenship in a democratic society.
It is not only high school students who can benefit from community service. Many elementary and middle schools also have outreach efforts involving volunteering in a soup kitchen or assembling Thanksgiving baskets. Students can be introduced early to the fun of collaborative work and the rewards of service.
U.S. society is filled with jobs for which students of various ages are suited. Some require skill, such as helping build a house with Habitat for Humanity, and therefore suggest a sustained commitment so the needed skills may be acquired and applied. Others require less specialized knowledge, such as visiting residents in a nursing home. Some, such as volunteering after school to tutor younger students, involve a commitment to another individual, and therefore should not be taken lightly. Activities such as nursing home visits, if they are conducted over time and with the same individuals, can also result in meaningful cross-generational relationships.
There is virtually no limit to service opportunities for students, but they need to be located and cultivated. Many adults in the community do not initially think of students as a source of volunteers, but once introduced to the idea, they embrace it willingly. However, the contacts must be made; that is typically a job for a teacher leader.
Teachers who organize student programs make a valuable contribution to the school. Once these are recognized as jobs, they may be eligible for a stipend. At the outset, however, these jobs are usually the brainchild of an inspired teacher who sees an opportunity—a teacher leader. In getting it going, in formulating an idea, in persuading colleagues to join the effort, and in marshaling resources, these teacher leaders display all the skills and dispositions described in Chapter 3. Figure 5.3 lists ways in which teacher leaders can affect student programs in their schools.
Figure 5.3. Student Programs: Examples of Performance
Emerging teacher leaders work within their own classrooms to engage their students in rich student programs in the school. For example, they might
- Encourage students to participate in a tutoring program offered in the school.
- Elicit their students' opinions on new ideas for programs under consideration.
Established Teacher Leaders
Within Department or Team
Teacher leaders organize opportunities for student programs within their own departments or teams. For example, they might
- Organize clubs within the team or department for students from all classes.
- Establish student leadership roles across the team or department.
- Create an intramural sports team to challenge students from other teams or departments in the school.
- Enable students in science class to create an environmental education resource on unused land on the school campus.
- Arrange for students from the team or department to contribute toys to a children's hospital.
- Coordinate a program where science students create signs for storm drains with the message “Dump No Waste: Drains to River” for a local conservation foundation.
Across the School
Teacher leaders organize opportunities for student programs within the school. For example, they might
- Establish a student government where none has previously existed.
- Work with colleagues to establish clubs during a time of the day in which students are not productively engaged.
- Coordinate opportunities for students to exercise their skills beyond the normal school program, for example, in a debate team or a chess team.
- Initiate a student tutoring program.
- Organize a big brother/big sister program in the school.
- Introduce a new sport to the school.
- Organize students to volunteer in the community library.
- Solicit homemade craft items from school parents, organize a sale with students, and donate the money to a local animal shelter.
Beyond the School
Teacher leaders participate in district, state, or national networks for the larger establishment of student programs. For example, they might
- Serve on a district or state committee to institutionalize the debate team.
- Coordinate with educators from other schools or districts to implement student opportunities for leadership, such as a peer leadership program.
- Work with representatives from other districts to organize a statewide program for students, such as a debate competition or a Russian club.
- Represent the school in a district- or statewide program for drug-free schools.
- Represent the district at a state conference exploring the effects of student programs on achievement.
Schools are not simply organizations where adults organize things for students. They are also places where adults organize things for themselves for the benefit of their students. A healthy school environment, it is now recognized, is one in which teachers are productively engaged in meaningful work and have ongoing opportunities to enhance their knowledge and skill. Schools are also places where teachers are validated as people, where they feel affirmed as a member of a team. Here we'll describe several different categories of staff programs.
Recruitment and Hiring
Although traditionally reserved for administrators, the area of teacher recruitment and hiring is important to teachers. They recognize the importance of attracting exceptional teachers to the school. It is essential that new recruits have skills that will complement those of teachers on the staff and that they bring new strengths to the faculty. Teachers also want to be sure that new teachers will carry their weight in the hard collective work of the school.
Furthermore, when the opportunity arises to hire a new principal, teachers have an interest in ensuring that the strongest candidate is hired. In some districts, teachers have little influence over these decisions, but in places where they do, the resulting decisions are likely to be better than without their input.
There are many steps in recruiting and hiring, whether seeking teachers or principals: reading and screening résumés, creating and adapting interview questions, conducting interviews, contacting references, reviewing portfolios and videos, and deliberating about the candidates. Teacher leaders may participate in some or all these activities; time that most conclude is well spent.
Professional development is a broad term that applies to teacher participation in programs designed to expand teachers' knowledge and promote higher levels of student learning in the school. It can include such things as seminars and workshops, collaborative work with colleagues, mentoring, and supervision of student teachers. Most professional development concerns instruction and student learning. But there are other types as well, such as workshops on student drug use or patterns of child development. These topics have some impact on student learning, of course, but they are not directly linked to teachers' instructional skills.
The manner in which professional development is organized in a school reflects the school's culture of professional inquiry and the de-privatization of practice. Opportunities for professional learning are widely dispersed throughout the school and should not be interpreted to suggest that a teacher is not performing adequately. Rather, participating in professional learning should be regarded by all teachers as integral to the work of teaching.
There has been abundant research on the characteristics of effective professional development. It is well recognized that much of what has been offered in the past—one-shot workshops, university courses—has little impact on classroom practice. Instead, it is important for professional development offerings to serve the following purposes:
- Engage teachers in professional conversation
- Permit teachers to use new approaches in their classrooms
- Encourage teachers to learn from one another
- Include follow-up and coaching
- Be embedded in the work of the school
- Contribute to the intellectual capital of the school
Professional development thrives in a school when it is supported by initiatives at the district and state level. Exemplary professional development can happen in a school in the absence of those initiatives, but it is far more likely to occur when it is supported more broadly. This support refers to a culture for professional learning and to more practical matters, such as resources to pay for released time or external consultants.
Teacher leaders understand the essential role that professional development plays in the life of a school; they know that it energizes staff and contributes to the cumulative wisdom of a school's faculty. They are themselves active learners, always seeking to increase their understanding of how diverse students learn complex content. In addition, teacher leaders understand that a school's effectiveness with its students depends on the skill of every member of the faculty. Therefore, they work steadily but sensitively to engage all members of the staff in important professional learning.
Site administrators play a significant role in supporting school-based professional development and the work of teacher leaders in promoting that learning. Administrators are frequently the ones who know what is coming along from the district, and they are the ones ultimately in charge of the school's schedule and budget. Therefore, when teacher leaders want to exercise initiative in the area of professional development, the site administrator is a key individual to be convinced of the approach and to assist with the planning.
While teachers are the most critical members of the staff in influencing student learning, professional development extends to other members of the staff. For example, a teacher leader may determine that the aides' skills in supporting their work with students could be strengthened, and then work out a way to provide that training. Or it may become apparent that the school's secretary is conveying a punitive attitude toward parents; a teacher leader could, through coordination with the principal, work to change the secretary's demeanor.
Mentoring, Coaching, and Teacher Evaluation
Teacher development is supported by programs of mentoring and coaching. These may be organized by the district, but they are implemented in each school. Good mentoring and peer coaching programs are much more than buddy systems; those serving as mentors and coaches need substantive training to carry out their roles in a supportive and nonjudgmental manner. Furthermore, most educators who have participated in mentoring and peer coaching find that they—the mentors and the coaches—benefit in ways they did not expect. They frequently report that their own teaching has improved!
Even teacher evaluation, a domain traditionally reserved for administrators, can benefit from the voice of teachers in its design. If teachers are to benefit from a system of teacher evaluation, it must afford opportunities for teachers to reflect on their practice and engage in professional conversations with colleagues. While it is true that the actual evaluation of teacher performance is an administrative function, it is strongest when teachers are actively involved in self-assessment and analysis of their own teaching (Danielson & McGreal, 2000).
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When educators consider school improvement efforts, the programs for staff are sometimes taken for granted. But they require the same deliberate planning and implementation as any other component of the school's program; teacher leaders play a critical role in this vital area. The area that comes to mind is, of course, that of professional development; the role of teacher leaders is absolutely essential there. But teacher leaders play a part in the full range of staff programs, ensuring that the climate for faculty is as vibrant as it is for students. Figure 5.4 lists ways in which teacher leaders can work in the area of staff programs.
Figure 5.4. Staff Programs: Examples of Performance
Emerging teacher leaders work with immediate colleagues to participate in opportunities for professional learning. For example, they might
- Help plan a workshop for colleagues.
- Attend workshops and courses offered by outside groups to enhance their own skills.
- Join professional organizations for their own subject or level.
Established Teacher Leaders
Within Department or Team
Teacher leaders organize active staff programs within their own departments or teams. For example, they might
- Review résumés or serve on an interview committee for the department or team.
- Organize a professional development opportunity for their team or department.
- Organize an orientation session for teachers new to the department or team.
- Circulate an article relevant to the team's work.
- Develop a team or departmental program for celebrating staff birthdays.
Across the School
Teacher leaders organize opportunities for professional development within the school. For example, they might
- Participate in the hiring process for a new principal.
- Organize a professional development course for the school.
- Organize an orientation session for teachers new to the school.
- Serve as the building liaison for student teachers.
- Initiate a support group for candidates for National Board certification.
- Coordinate the year's schedule for outside speakers at faculty meetings.
- Plan TGIF activities for colleagues.
Beyond the School
Teacher leaders participate in district, state, or national networks for professional development. For example, they might
- Serve on a districtwide professional development committee.
- Design an instrument to determine district needs for professional development.
- Represent the district on a statewide professional development body.
- Play an active role in professional organizations at the state or national level.
- Make presentations at state or national conferences of professional organizations.
- Organize professional development courses to support district initiatives.
- Represent the district at national conferences (e.g., subject or grade-level specific).
School life for faculty is not all work and no play; schools with a vibrant faculty culture include opportunities for teachers to participate in nonwork activities, such as an evening at the theater, a concert, or just a party. Camaraderie is stimulated when colleagues are able to depart the usual work environment and interact with each other in more social settings, such as during a miniature golf game or a cookout at the local pool.
Of course, social programs require organization. Someone has to make the roster for snacks for faculty meetings or for Friday morning recognitions. Faculty birthday celebrations require someone to organize them. Teacher leaders frequently step into these roles. They recognize the value of social activities to cement team relationships, and they help ensure a healthy climate in the school.