Press | Well Prepared Teacher Leaders Can Advance Student Success, But Training Inadequate

New York, NY–Across the country schools are striving—and sometimes struggling—to meet the challenge of higher academic standards and in response, many districts have created teacher leader roles.

Unfortunately, few are providing these educators with the skills they need to transition from teaching students to successfully leading adults: A survey by the Council for Great City Schools found that while 86 percent of districts have created teacher leader roles, only 32 percent provide specialized training for educators taking on leadership responsibilities.

A new report from New Leaders, Untapped: Transforming Teacher Leadership to Help Students Succeed, suggests a better way. The paper shares promising findings drawn from the organization’s Emerging Leaders Program, which provides job-embedded coaching and training to develop teachers into true instructional leaders. An evaluation of the program demonstrated that quality training can quickly prepare teachers to bolster instruction across multiple classrooms, benefitting students even during the training year.

“Appointing a teacher to a nominal leadership role is not enough,” said Jaime Aquino, Chief Program Officer at New Leaders. “They need on-the-job training that includes ample practice and expert feedback to ensure they build the skills needed to lead their colleagues to excellence.”

Untapped shows that during the yearlong Emerging Leaders Program, almost three quarters of participants in 13 school districts and charter organizations were able to raise student proficiency rates across the classrooms they supervised, in some cases dramatically. For example:

  • Washington, D.C. Emerging Leaders participant Shauntaye Fontroy is a reading intervention specialist at Cesar Chavez Parkside Middle School. Under her leadership, the sixth-grade team more than quadrupled the percentage of students reading at grade level.
  • New York City Emerging Leaders participant Heather DeFlorio Asciolla, a tenth-grade ELA teacher and department leader at Queens Metropolitan High School, guided 90 percent of 10th graders classrooms to achieve mastery of a Common Core ELA standard requiring the use of detailed evidence to support a claim. At the start of the school year, not one had mastered this skill.
  • Memphis Emerging Leaders participant Roger Faulkner, an assistant principal at Sherwood Middle School, oversaw two eighth-grade science teachers with 150 students and led gains of 28 percentage points on the state science test.

Given these promising early findings, it is critical for districts to place a renewed focus on supporting teacher leaders, assert the authors of the report. Not only can effective teacher leadership help schools meet the new standards, it can also mitigate challenges—such as low teacher retention—that are particularly acute in schools serving high-need students. While few respondents to the Met Life Survey of the American Teacher expressed a desire to become principal, 25 percent indicated interest in leadership roles that would permit them to remain in the classroom. Preparing teachers for meaningful leadership responsibilities gives them greater ownership over their work and allows them to advance professionally even as they guide their colleagues—and students—toward excellence.

Untapped also shows that, with the right training, teacher leaders can transform schools into true professional learning communities, where a team of educators with diverse areas of expertise shares responsibilities to make school leadership more sustainable for principals, half of whom leave their roles within three years. Most critically, strong teacher leaders can accelerate student learning – research shows that schools have better academic outcomes when leadership is shared.

To unleash the potential of teacher leaders, the authors of the report make several recommendations. These include removing barriers that exclude teachers from formally observing and evaluating their peers and making teacher leadership a priority during collective bargaining conversations. The authors also urge policy makers to ensure that professional development funds can be used for teacher leadership development, with a particular focus on models that emphasize authentic opportunities for participants to practice and receive feedback on key leadership skills while leading a team of teachers in their schools.