District leaders love the thought of “teacher leadership” that might attract and retain teachers—especially great ones—and close student learning gaps at a time of rising teacher vacancies.
But too often, teacher-leader roles fail to produce the full impact district leaders intend. They rarely dramatically improve student learning or teacher effectiveness.
What are the usual pitfalls? How can districts avoid them?
The Whole Package: 12 Factors of High-Impact Teacher-Leader Roles, a two-page brief from Public Impact, offers a quick list of the pitfalls, and a chart of the 12 essential factors for creating outstanding teacher-leader roles.
Low-impact teacher-leader roles are a distraction from what great teachers really crave: helping their peers and more students succeed. Defining and organizing high-impact teacher-leader roles can allow great teachers to have a far greater effect on vastly more students and teaching peers.
Do design teacher-leader roles with these 12 factors in mind, involving teachers in the design decisions:
- Selectivity: make advanced roles selective
- Preparation: train teacher-leaders for their roles
- Greater Reach: use roles to give more students access to great teachers, not fewer
- Continued Teaching: let teacher-leaders keep teaching students part time
- Time to Lead—and Learn: give teacher-leaders time to plan and collaborate
- Development Opportunities: let teachers in the same role help one another improve
- Accountability: make teacher-leaders formally responsible for their students and teams
- Formal Authority: give teacher-leaders formal authority to spread their practices
- Higher Pay: pay supplements of at least 10%– 50% of average pay
- Funding Stability: fund higher pay with recurring budgets, not grants or tenuous line items
- Funding Scalability: for big scale, fund extra pay with stable, state-level funds
- Prevalence: ensure that each school has many advanced roles, not just a few
Don’t stumble over pitfalls with plans that have these unfortunate qualities:
- Temporary. Teachers notice when positions are tenuously funded by temporary grants and budget line items.
- Detached. Roles that prevent teacher-leaders from spending a hefty portion of their time teaching students make it much harder for them to stay connected to students.
- Low reach. Many teacher-leadership roles actually reduce the number of students for whom the best teachers are responsible, diminishing student learning gains.
- Short on time. Too many teacher-leader roles are heaped on top of teachers’ other responsibilities, without time during school to do the job well.
- Low or no pay. Most teacher-leader roles are low- or no-pay roles, and few pay big dollars through recurring funding, sending the message that excellence is expendable.
- Low authority, low accountability. Teacher-leaders’ formal authority and evaluations rarely align with new responsibility for peers and more students’ success.
Ensure that your teacher-leader roles are part of cohesive career paths and are supported by district systems: great digital instruction tools, student learning data matched to each role, and flexible budgets, among others.
The Whole Package: 12 Factors provides guidance on designing stronger teacher-leader roles, and you can find much more here on OpportunityCulture.org. Public Impact and partners such as Education First are helping many districts launch their own Opportunity Cultures and provide highly paid, sustainably funded advanced roles.