Why Teacher Leadership Matters and How to Build It in Your School

January 9, 2018

Why Teacher Leadership Matters and How to Build It in Your School

The New Teacher Center's (NTC) report "School Leadership Counts" finds that students perform better in schools with the highest levels of instructional and teacher leadership. The report draws from five years of survey responses collected by NTC from almost 900,000 teachers across 16 states. The report also finds that the school characteristics that have the strongest association with student achievement, such as teachers determining the content of professional development, are often the least likely to be present in schools. For instance, in fewer than nine percent of the schools, on average, teachers strongly agree that "faculty and leaders share the same vision," while approximately eight percent strongly agree that their "school improvement team is effective." Ultimately, the report suggests that a balance of authority and accountability for teachers is essential to school success, but notes that schools struggle most with giving teachers greater authority.

With almost 20 years of experience working in high-need schools across the country to make great teaching the centerpiece of schools, NIET's own findings indicate that meaningful and impactful teacher leadership, when accompanied by rigorous standards and clear structures, is a key mechanism for increasing teachers' authority and raising student achievement. Many of our school partners use the TAP System, or best practices fostered in TAP schools, developed by NIET to support improvements in educator effectiveness. Using survey data from NIET's national survey of educators, we examined how three important, but less common, school characteristics identified by the NTC report are being implemented in NIET partner schools.

TAP Master Teacher Amber Simpson engages educators in a leadership team meeting at Barrera Elementary in Somerset ISD, Texas.

Teachers and School Leaders Share a Vision for Improvement

NIET Partner School Finding: Ninety-three percent of teachers agree with the statement, "My school has a clear vision about how to meet student learning goals."

To cultivate a shared vision of instructional success for teachers and school leaders, NIET works with districts to create a common language using an instructional rubric that defines teaching practice across four domains and multiple indicators of practice. The rubric facilitates a clear and common understanding of what effective teaching looks like in that school, which is readily shared by teachers. Teachers, teacher leaders and principals play distinct roles in making key instructional decisions to strengthen and advance the shared vision.

School Improvement Team Is Effective

NIET Partner School Finding: Ninety percent of teachers agree with the statement, "I am becoming a better teacher because of the support and collaboration at my school."

School leaders know that convening a school improvement team is not enough to bring about success. This is why NIET helps school leaders establish clear processes and structures to ensure that leadership teams and weekly professional learning teams are cohesive and continually improving their effectiveness. School leadership teams include both principals and teacher leaders who identify instructional and academic needs using a variety of data, deliver professional development strategies aligned to those needs, and then evaluate the success of professional learning strategies. NIET President Dr. Patrice Pujol describes how establishing protocols for a cycle of improvement can ensure that leadership teams are growing in their own effectiveness and increasing their impact on teaching quality and student achievement in every classroom.

Teachers Have a Role in Determining Content of Professional Development

NIET Partner School Finding: Eighty-one percent of teachers agree with the statement, "I am satisfied with my ability to influence decision-making."

For teachers to grow in their teaching practice, support and feedback must be directly aligned to their needs and their students' needs. NIET works with schools to include teachers on the school leadership team with a clear role in determining the content of professional development, and places them in positions of authority for leading it as well.

NIET's report "Beyond Job-Embedded" details how professional learning in schools partnering with NIET is led by master and mentor teachers who are selected based on their own effectiveness and their ability to lead adult learning. Teacher leaders identify and "field-test" student strategies before introducing them in weekly professional learning. This ensures that they work with students in that school. Their knowledge of teachers' individual practice gained through observation, feedback and coaching, enables them to personalize their support for teachers and their students. Teacher leaders receive coaching from administrators to ensure that their own coaching is effective. This structure for continuous improvement and collaboration places teachers at the center of their professional learning.

In line with the key conclusion from NTC's report, NIET has learned that in order to support teachers and students to do their best work, teachers must be given substantial authority in instructional decision-making and accountability for improving instructional practice. By expanding opportunities for teachers to take on additional authority through teacher leadership, and linking this to accountability for improvements in teaching, NIET is helping schools create an environment where teachers and students learn, grow and improve together.