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January 1, 2015
Vol. 57
No. 1

Re: Leadership / Meaningful Pathways for Teachers

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Why is teacher leadership of so much interest at this time? Several factors have converged from the perspectives of both policy and practice to make teacher leadership a focus.
First, appreciation for the classroom teacher as one of the most important in-school factors influencing student achievement has never been higher. As the teacher's role has been elevated both by the public and within the profession, teachers' input is increasingly sought and offered.
Moreover, the principal's role has never been more challenging, and teacher leaders are needed more than ever. Administrator, instructional leader, teacher evaluator, community liaison—the principal is asked to do it all. The 2012 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, which focused on school leadership, found that 75 percent of principals thought their role was too complex for them to feel successful. Clearly, it is in the principal's interest to build additional leadership capacity in the school. In a shared leadership model that reflects a changed role for teachers, teacher leaders may assume some functions that are traditionally delegated to the principal.
Growing teacher leaders is about more than making the principal's role manageable. It requires a change in the culture of the school that engages both teachers and administrators in setting goals, coaching teachers, designing curriculum, and more.
Let's look at it from the perspective of a teacher's career prospects. More than half of the teachers polled in the MetLife survey said that they were interested in combining teaching with another responsibility in their school, but only 16 percent were interested in becoming a principal. This suggests that we must find ways to develop pathways for teacher growth that do not assume that the only route leads away from the classroom. If that is the only road for professional advancement, we will continue to lose teachers. We must change that paradigm.
A UNESCO Institute for Statistics report predicts that worldwide, we would need nearly 4 million more teachers to achieve universal primary education. According to the U.S. Department of Education, enrollment in teacher preparation programs in the United States dropped 10 percent from 2004 to 2012. We need to attract and retain high-quality teachers in our classrooms to ensure each child learns from a skilled teacher.
If developing the leadership potential of teachers empowers them to better support student learning, encourages them to stay in the profession, and makes it possible for principals to be more effective, then schools and districts should explore how to bring these opportunities to their respective sites.
In an October 2014 commentary in Education Week, ASCD author Regie Routman wrote that
Collaboration between teachers, the principal, and students is a successful school's modus operandi. Research has clearly shown that teachers become more effective, efficient, and joyful when they have time to plan, observe, problem-solve, coach, and learn together. Universally, teachers in the highest-achieving countries are given significant time to work together and develop an intellectual culture of inquiry, high expectations, and best practices.

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