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ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show

2016 ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show

Learn. Teach. Lead.
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Books in Translation

February 2010 | Volume 52 | Number 2
Forming Assessment Through Technology

Developing Differentiated Roles for Effective Teachers

Ellen R. Delisio

Talented teachers who excel in the classroom often move into administrative roles after a few years, leaving the chalkboards behind. Some teachers aspire to rise to the principalship, but others may simply be looking for better pay and greater opportunities for growth and leadership. Experts say that expanding teachers' roles by offering additional leadership and mentoring opportunities could help to retain highly effective teachers, and keep them where they desire to be—in the classroom with their students.

"Research shows that establishing paths for instructional leadership helps create a sense of collective responsibility for improving teaching and achieving other school goals," Laura Varlas states in ASCD's Infobrief, "Highly Effective Teachers: Defining, Rewarding, Supporting, and Expanding Their Roles." Varlas asserts that creating "career ladders" that provide a way for the most effective teachers to coach new or struggling ones also "hits the dual goal of differentiated roles for teachers and professional development that supports highly effective teachers."

Rethinking Teachers' Roles

According to Molly Lasagna, a policy specialist with Learning Point Associates, a nationally-recognized nonprofit consulting organization, states and local districts are interested in spending money on ways to maximize talent and increase teacher retention. "They are looking at ways to create new differentiated models—so teachers can stay in classrooms, but still have leadership and/or mentor roles, in a kind of a bridge to the administration. Some places are starting to think of teachers as facilitators of learning—they seek out support structures students need and get them to students in an individualized way."

In a 2009 thought paper, "Toward the Structural Transformation of Schools: Innovations in Staffing," Learning Point Associates notes that factors such as the easy access to knowledge the Internet provides, the need for schools to provide evidence of their success, and the data systems that have made information about schools' and teachers' performance more accessible all point toward this being the opportune time to "unbundle" education, transforming the way instruction is delivered and schools are ordered.

In the system of "unbundled" education, "the teacher moves away from being the disseminator of information and toward being a facilitator of learning. And as school becomes the nerve center of the community, teachers also will be coordinators of services. There is little or no utility in requiring that every teacher do all of this work; instead, a system of neo-differentiated staffing will ensure that each educator can specialize in one aspect of a child's education and together with his or her colleagues ensure that each component of holistic learning is adequately attended to and that all students achieve mastery of Performance Competencies."

Another reason to pursue change: many Generation Y teachers—young people in their twenties just entering the profession—are expressing interest in pursuing opportunities that go beyond being classroom instructors, Lasagna says. "After teaching two to four years, they realize there is a ceiling on this profession," she notes. "They want to stay in education, but they don't want to be an administrator or be a classroom teacher for 35 years." Offering these teachers different ways of participating in the education process could help schools retain more enthusiastic, talented educators.

Advancing the Teaching Profession

Some differentiated programs at the national and local level are drawing attention. One of the most successful and comprehensive differentiated teaching models is the Teacher Advancement Project (TAP), operated by the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching. Founded 10 years ago by Lowell Milken, the program now boasts more than 220 TAP schools in 13 states, with 80 percent of the schools serving high-needs students.

Four elements make a TAP school: multiple career paths for teachers, ongoing applied professional development, a clearly defined teacher evaluation system, and a performance-based compensation element. "It's a built-in system that offers powerful support to teachers. It's really for the teachers, elevating the profession and giving them opportunities they won't have in non-TAP schools," says Jana Rausch, senior manager of media and public affairs for the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching.

For example, TAP schools classify instructors as classroom teachers, mentor teachers, those who help lead professional development, and master teachers who work full-time mentoring classroom teachers and who help drive instruction of the school. "This [system] allows TAP teachers to have the best of both worlds—they have more leadership, but still have an impact on kids. It's an opportunity to grow professionally and mentor others," Rausch says.

The professional development component includes building into the schedule 60 to 90 minutes a week for teachers to collaborate, talk about instruction, and target student needs.

In terms of salaries, pay is based on multiple measures, including a teacher's performance in class, how much that teacher has grown professionally, individual student value-added growth, achievement growth, and schoolwide growth.

Teachers Leading the Way

Districts, also, are taking steps to grow their own teacher leaders. The LEAD 2010 program in the Mountain Brook, Ala., school system is graduating its first cohort of 32 teachers this year.

"We wanted to develop leadership qualities in our teachers and hope they use those skills in grade levels, departments, and in any kind of groups [they belong to]," says Jackie Simons, assistant to the district superintendent. The teachers participated in training during the summer and continued during the school year, discussing topics such as the history and culture of schools, why the administration does certain things, how to prepare engaging instruction for teachers, how to work in professional learning communities, and how to deal with conflict.

Members of the group are working during the school year on projects to serve the school district and students. These include planning summer staff development sessions, organizing book discussions at schools, preparing presentations for administrators and the board of education about LEAD 2010, creating teacher training videos, and developing a handbook for new teachers. "We're hoping the projects make an impact and we're hopeful teachers will go back to their schools and assume leadership roles in whatever situations arise," Simons says.

The program generated so much enthusiasm that the district plans to start another group in the fall, Simons adds.

Creating Strong Teacher Partnerships

Opportunities also exist for teachers to create and oversee their own schools, through a teacher professional partnership (TPP). TPPs are educational entities organized and operated by teachers under a formal contract. According to the Teaching Partnerships Web site (, "TPPs may enter into contracts to manage entire schools, a portion of a school or to provide some other educational service. Teachers are in charge and they manage or arrange for the management of the schools and/or services provided."

The practice started in Minnesota, and in the original model, the TPP elects a lead teacher who signs a chartering contract on behalf of the school. In other states, the schools operate according to the district and state laws. For example, under Wisconsin law, the charter must be issued to an individual. The school district enters this contract with the school with the understanding that a teacher cooperative will be given the authority to manage or arrange for the management of the school.

In a union-compatible TPP model operating in Milwaukee, teachers remain employees of the district and are leased from the Milwaukee Public Schools. Teachers remain union members and maintain their district seniority, so they continue to receive their pensions and other benefits as laid out in the collective bargaining agreement.

Keeping Pace with the Changing Times

While more teachers need to be prepared to work in schools with differentiated roles as more opportunities arise, change in teacher preparation programs must drive, or at least parallel, sweeping changes in school systems.

"We're hoping for changes in teacher instructional programs; we're saying they need to rethink how we prepare teachers for the 21st century," says Jim Cibulka, president of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). "Preparing teachers to assume differentiated roles is a very important component, as is preparing them to work in teams with other professionals."

But while NCATE encourages teacher preparation programs to spend more time helping students learn to collaborate or focus on a specialty, until the education system changes, education graduates will be out of sync with how schools operate, says Cibulka. "Do we prepare teachers for schools as they are now or as they are evolving?" he asks.

"We need to be transforming our preparation programs alongside transforming how schools are set up. The answer is in stronger partnership between teacher preparation programs and school systems, so we are producing the numbers and types of teachers schools need," Cibulka states.


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