A Teacher and School Leader (TSL) grant is helping Indiana districts change school cultures to focus on growth, equity, and inclusion
High rates of teacher turnover and persistent student achievement gaps are ongoing challenges for many Indiana schools. One promising solution is the development of teacher career pathways focused on strengthening classroom instruction. Three school districts that have made teacher leadership a core strategy for improvement are using a federal award to advance this work. Brown County Schools, Goshen Community Schools, and Perry Township Schools partnered with the nonprofit National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) to win a five-year, $47 million federal grant from the Teacher and School Leader (TSL) Incentive Program to develop teacher and school leader skills and distributed leadership in 32 schools, serving approximately 25,000 students, 1,500 teachers, and 80 school leaders.
These districts are training teacher leaders to coach classroom teachers as they work to better support diverse and changing populations of students, including refugees, English learners, low-income and minority students, and special education students. This strategy is changing school cultures to focus on growth, equity, and inclusion.
Read the Policy Paper: Investing in Teacher Leadership to Accelerate Learning
Read the Research Brief: Indiana Districts Utilize NIET Structures and Support to Navigate Virtual Schooling in First Two Years of Federal Grant
Developing Teacher Leadership to Accelerate Learning
The districts have created two teacher leadership roles: the mentor teacher who is partially released from the classroom 3-4 hours each week, and the master teacher who is fully released from the classroom and serves as an instructional coach and facilitator of professional learning.
We're seeing our own homegrown teachers blossom into solid master teachers. They are leading professional development that is high-quality and aligned to the needs of classroom teachers and their students.Tracey Noe, District Administrator, Goshen Community Schools, Goshen, Indiana
In the 2019-2020 school year, districts selected and trained over 200 teacher leaders. "We're seeing our own homegrown teachers blossom into solid master teachers," said Tracey Noe, district administrator in Goshen. "They are leading professional development that is high-quality and aligned to the needs of classroom teachers and their students. We are seeing teachers improve over the course of the year."
Transitioning to Virtual Learning … and Back Again
The transition to remote instruction during the pandemic showed how valuable the support of teacher leaders was to classroom teachers. Teacher leaders “went first” and learned best practices and strategies for effective virtual instruction over the summer of 2020. This allowed them to provide targeted, early support to teachers before school started, as well as over the course of the year, to ensure effective instruction was happening in each classroom, whether virtual, hybrid or in-person.
The support teachers received during their professional development time and the coaching from their teacher leaders contributed to the success of each school's shift to virtual. In Perry Township, for example, Homecroft Elementary School's student attendance rate was 95% during the virtual learning time period at a time when the national average of absent students increased in both virtual and in-person settings. Teacher leaders' efforts to create consistent support and coaching for teachers, even as disruptions and school closings occurred over the last year, enabled teachers to keep their focus on students and delivering effective instruction each day.
Supporting Principals to Be Strong Instructional Leaders
These districts have increased support for principals by creating a roadmap and clear understanding of what is expected of them as instructional leaders. This mirrors the work principals are doing to better support teachers, as described by Brian Knight, principal at Southport High School in Perry Township: "A lot of my focus, and that of my leadership team, is on individuals – making growth plans for each person in order to continue to stretch them and build their capacity. That is what I need as a leader as well." Using a common language and set of expectations has helped school leaders identify gaps and areas for improvement as well as specific strengths to build on.
A lot of my focus, and that of my leadership team, is on individuals – making growth plans for each person in order to continue to stretch them and build their capacity. That is what I need as a leader as well.Brian Knight, Principal, Southport High School, Perry Township Schools, Indiana
Increasing Equitable Access to Effective Educators
All three districts have put in place strategies to ensure that poor and minority students have equitable access to effective educators. The teacher leadership structure and emphasis on instructional support are not only helping to recruit talent to the districts, but they are also helping to increase the placement and success of teachers who support students with the greatest barriers to learning. Due in part to these recruitment and retention strategies, Perry Township's annual teacher retention rate has reached 94%.
Sustaining Progress in the Coming School Year
Professional learning is more relevant, timely, and outcome-oriented in Brown County, Goshen, and Perry Township now that it is facilitated within the school buildings and led by teacher leaders with direct knowledge of teacher and student needs.
We have people leading the way, seeing what works with our kids, then bringing it to the professional learning teams and teaching it to the rest of the staff. It happens within our own walls.Gavin Steele, Principal, Van Buren Elementary School, Brown County Schools, Indiana
"It's not, 'Let's go learn something that's happening somewhere else and try to make that fit for our kids,'" said Gavin Steele, principal of Van Buren Elementary in Brown County. "We have people leading the way, seeing what works with our kids, then bringing it to the professional learning teams and teaching it to the rest of the staff. It happens within our own walls."
This in-house support and coaching for teachers will be an especially important resource in the coming school year as educators address the challenges of academic recovery and acceleration.