One of the most important levers in strengthening excellence in the classroom is creating a career advancement model that allows teachers the opportunity to grow, take on instructional leadership roles, and earn additional compensation. In Indiana, five school systems are transforming their schools' teacher leader development models by partnering with NIET under the federal Teacher and School Leader (TSL) Incentive Program, a federal grant program targeted at expanding and sustaining work to support teachers and improve students' academic success.
Beech Grove City Schools, Brown County Schools, GEO Foundation, Goshen Community Schools, and Perry Township Schools are using the TSL grant to support the implementation of NIET’s TAP System for Teacher and Student Advancement. TAP helps build educators' effectiveness and enables schools to develop teachers as instructional leaders, plan weekly professional learning tailored to individual needs of teachers and students, create a shared vision for improving teacher practice and student achievement, and implement strategic compensation systems.
Creating Opportunities for Teachers to Grow as Leaders
One essential component of the TAP System is creating opportunities for teachers to pursue a variety of positions throughout their careers – career, mentor, and master teacher – depending upon their interests, abilities, and accomplishments. Under the TSL grant program, these Indiana school systems are allowing effective teachers to advance professionally without having to leave the classroom and developing expert teacher leaders within schools to provide support to their colleagues.
"By empowering our staff to be more in charge of their classrooms and leadership listening to staff challenges more regularly, I believe we have more buy-in from staff and more commitment from staff to our school's success," said Kevin Teasley, president/founder/superintendent at GEO Foundation. "We've seen teachers graduate up the ladder to take on mentor and master teacher positions. This will pay dividends in the future when new leadership positions open up as we will hire from within which will create more sustained implementation of the TAP System and eliminate the bumps that are caused by turnover."
Improving Instructional Practice
Another fundamental element of TAP is implementing an observation and evaluation system that is grounded in research-based instructional best practices. "[NIET’s Teaching and Learning Standards] rubric for evaluation provides educators with a guideline for the effective teaching that occurs in every classroom as the school collectively works to achieve the goal," said Christy Wrightsman, director of career connected learning at Brown County Schools.
"This work is making a difference for our teachers and students because it deploys research-based best practices across multiple layers of our district," said Dr. Laura Hammack, superintendent at Beech Grove City Schools. "This work is not just an evaluation system; rather, this work uses a comprehensive evaluation system using instructional strategies known to evidence measurable impact on student achievement."
Strengthening Job-Embedded Professional Learning
Unlike traditional models of professional development, TAP provides teachers with a system of professional learning that is ongoing, job-embedded, collaborative, student-centered, and led by expert instructional leaders. These school systems have restructured schedules to provide time during the regular school day for teachers to meet, learn, plan, mentor, and share with peers, led by a master teacher who is an expert in the content area. "Through ongoing, job-embedded professional growth opportunities, we are able to collectively analyze data, develop student ownership, advance instructional practices, and foster reflective practices," said Dr. Hammack.
"Our [previous] system for growing teacher leaders was antiquated and broken," said Wrightsman. "Teacher leaders were not emerging because expertise and leadership was hidden in a single classroom with only the accidental or occasional sharing between teachers. Now, we have intentional sharing by well-trained, certified instructional leaders who lead Professional Learning Communities (PLC) lessons for all teachers, so that all teachers are learning and growing in their understanding of high-quality teaching. The culture we are building is one of shared leadership and expertise."
Focusing on Student Data
Through the structures established under the TAP System, educators now have dedicated collaboration time to evaluate student work and analyze student data to improve instructional practices. "Our school leaders meet more regularly to focus on instruction and ensure academic success by analyzing data and research as well as student work to determine what specific student needs should be a priority focus for further development," said Whitney Wilkowski, director of professional development at Perry Township Schools.
"This work makes a difference because it is intentional and strategic based on the student work and data," said Lori Line, assistant superintendent at Goshen Community Schools. "When you ensure a process of addressing the needs of the students, and are intentional with the supports you put in place, it does make a difference. When you see the difference the supports make when you are intentional, it is all worthwhile."
In only a short amount of time, these five school systems are already seeing the benefits of implementing a comprehensive approach to establish sustained structures for building educator excellence and increasing student achievement. The TSL grant program is creating a lasting impact in these school communities, and educators and students will only continue to grow as they deepen their work to strengthen teaching and learning.