Supporting Teacher Leaders: Advocating Change From Within

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Getting two individuals to agree with each other on a topic regarding educational practices can sometimes be challenging; whether it is how students take notes, data teams, or implementing a new practice on campus. Getting the twenty to over one hundred teachers at a school site to agree on this same topic can be an even greater challenge for teacher leaders and administrative staff. However, teachers, like all professionals, seek to improve their practice and there are several ways that schools can support teacher leaders in helping improve teaching practice. One way is to assist with obtaining education leadership development resources.

I agree with Danielson’s assertion in Chapter 2. What is Teacher Leadership? of Teacher Leadership that Strengthens Professional Practice (2006) that improving education requires teachers to improve their professional practice by encouraging their colleagues to do things better. Some attempts at modifying educational practice have been focused more on change for the sake of changing instead of a pure focus on improving educational practices (Curtis & Aspen, 2013). In my experience, this can make teachers resistant and even resentful of change which highlights the importance of choosing fewer new practices to implement at a time and selecting practices that are supported by evidence and research.

In one local school district, the district office had decided to implement DII (Direct Interactive Instruction) teaching as well as new Common Core textbooks as well as providing new classroom technology for the teachers. While all of these tools are excellent and can be used to improve teaching, one teacher was explaining to me that she feels overwhelmed by the introduction of several big changes at once. The teacher’s other concern is that she isn’t sure that all of the tools will even be effective and the training has simply taught her the skills but provided little research or proof that the practices would be effective. I can understand this teacher’s hesitation as it can be difficult for teachers to use a tool or practice if they do not have the evidence proving that it can help, especially since most new practices require a great deal of time and effort to implement. As part of encouraging colleagues to “do things better,” leaders also have the responsibility of assuring the efficaciousness of practice before asking teachers to begin using it.

Teacher’s concerns about the effectiveness of a tool can be an excuse for not using it and this is where the administration can shape and support programs and policies that not only encourage teachers but also support the teacher leader (Chapter 5. Schoolwide Policies and Programs). I believe this is where some schools struggle, whether the administration is afraid to take a stand and require teachers to use a new grading policy or they are too strict and enforce an unpracticed and unsupported way of teaching. This does not mean that policies and practices that are unpopular should be immediately discarded but, as Danielson (2006) states, “the voice of teachers is essential to ensuring that these policies and programs” (Chapter 5. Schoolwide Policies and Programs) are effective. Like the change in an organization or society, the change must come from within to be authentic. I have also seen this mentality work for change within organizations when people feel their voice has been heard and considered they are also more likely to have ownership over the change. For this to work, support must come from several different levels to support the teacher leaders.

Danielson’s charts regarding the different policy settings are extremely helpful and show the “ladder” that must be present to support effective teaching strategies. Since departments, schools and the district itself are essentially matryoshka dolls (the teachers are in the departments, the departments are in the school, the school is in the district) expectation and execution of a new or existing practice require the support from the level above and below it. If the district examines Cornell notes, for example, and decides to use this practice in all of the classrooms, the teacher leaders must first be trained to use it and encourage other teachers to as well. The administration must support the teachers in learning this skill by allowing release time for observation and in-services. The district must also allow this time and support of the teachers and support the administration in implementing the skill.

While these are only two of the concepts that Danielson discusses, I believe that the beginning stages of promoting practices can be the most difficult because teachers may resist the change if they do not feel it will be effective. However, once a team of teachers is convinced of the usefulness of the practice, it is support from all levels of support that assist the teacher leaders in leading the profession to effective and lasting change.

References

Curtis, R., & Aspen, I. (2013). Finding a new way: Leveraging teacher leadership to meet unprecedented demands. Aspen Institute, ERIC, EBSCOhost. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED541444

Danielson, Charlotte. (2006). Teacher leadership that strengthens professional practice. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/105048.aspx