Master Teacher Liz Martin: Engaging Teachers in School Leadership Is "Worth the Effort"

August 10, 2018

Master Teacher Liz Martin: Engaging Teachers in School Leadership Is "Worth the Effort"

By Liz Martin

Liz Martin (far right) is a master teacher at Goshen Middle School in Goshen, Indiana, and a member of NIET's 2017-18 Educator Advisory Board. Martin has experienced the power of teacher leaders and strong teacher leadership in her school. This firsthand involvement led her to apply for the Indiana Teaching Policy Fellowship sponsored by Teach Plus.

As a teacher leader, I take a lead role in planning and facilitating professional development for teachers. I love my job. However, involving teachers in decision-making expands the number of voices at the table. I often have to remind myself that our best work for students always happens when we engage teachers in making schoolwide decisions.

It's worth the effort.

As many of my colleagues know, I have enthusiastically engaged in working at a school with real, meaningful teacher leadership roles that come with authority, responsibility and resources.

I had worked in my school for two years before the district implemented the TAP System for Teacher and Student Advancement—developed by the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET).

Within the first two short years of my teaching career, I was already looking for next steps of leadership and influence I could provide beyond the four walls of my own classroom.

I chose to stay in Goshen since the school district decided to work with NIET. The partnership helped us embed teacher leader roles in our school’s structure and teacher support systems, then establish the training and ongoing support that make these roles so powerful and effective today. I am convinced that investing in teacher leadership is the answer to supporting student growth.

Liz Martin's Impact Beyond the Classroom
Plans and facilitates professional learning as a master teacher, a "life-changing" role.
Received Teach Plus Fellowship to impact state education policy.
Serves as member of NIET's 2017-18 Educator Advisory Board.
Engages young teaching professionals.

The investment is all the more important as we serve a high-need student population and have struggled in the past to reach student academic achievement goals. The decision to work with NIET was driven by a desire to build the capacity of our own faculty—and to that aim—put in place job-embedded, school-based and collaborative structures that research shows are most effective in improving classroom practice and closing achievement gaps.

But this work is not easy. Ask our teachers how they helped a student make more than a year of academic growth and you will begin to see why. When you realize that this kind of accelerated improvement needs to happen with so many of our students, in every classroom, every year, only then will you understand the challenge.

That's why my experience as a master teacher has been life-changing. I realize how important it is to build learning—real and meaningful, collaborative learning—into the daily work of every teacher. Taking on the demands of driving our own professional learning is hard, but so much more successful than relying solely on seminars or workshops from external experts. I wanted to share what I learned with educators outside of my school and district, but how?

I am convinced that investing in teacher leadership is the answer to supporting student growth."

Liz Martin, Master Teacher
Goshen Middle School, Indiana

I learned about a fellowship with Teach Plus that supports teachers to engage in policy discussions in their states. I applied and was selected to be a Teach Plus Fellow, which allowed me to take the lessons I had learned as a teacher leader and share them with policymakers looking for successful ways to support student learning.

Within the first month of the fellowship, I was given the opportunity to meet with Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Jennifer McCormick early in her tenure to discuss teacher leadership in our state. I was also asked to testify before the Indiana House Education Committee about a bill it was considering to fund teacher leadership in Indiana.

These experiences landed me at a meeting in Indianapolis, sponsored by Teach for America, and an afternoon session with a group of teachers newer to the profession. NIET Senior Program Specialist Jen Oliver and Teach Plus Indiana Executive Director Carlotta Cooprider, who previously served as a TAP school principal, led a session exploring the impact of teacher leadership on education.

Because of my roles through NIET and Teach Plus as a teacher leader, I was in the room to facilitate table conversations with young teaching professionals. While they were excited by the challenges of teaching, they expressed frustration with the lack of opportunities for teachers to provide input at their schools. "No one ever asks teachers about anything at my school; we're just told what to do." "I wish someone listened to my ideas—I think I could really help."

Behind the frustrations, I heard a passionate generation of future teacher leaders ready to participate in making their schools better places for students to learn. I was re-energized by their hopeful, energetic excitement, right in front of us, anxiously waiting to be tapped.

The heart and lifeblood of education are in our teachers. It's time for more school leaders to expand their visions to engage teacher leaders. They are critical to bringing new, effective professional growth and development practices into the building.

Creating effective, impactful teacher leadership roles is the best way to engage teachers at all stages of their careers in driving the changes and improvements that support students to succeed at the highest levels.