Every student, no matter where they start, has the potential to learn and grow. Knowing that their teachers believe in their potential is highly motivating to students.
But what about teachers?
The reality is teachers can and do improve their practice every year – especially if they are given strong coaching around effective instructional practices and have meaningful opportunities for collaborative learning. Creating an educator culture where colleagues and school leaders believe in and foster each other’s potential is highly motivating.
That is why Iowa's statewide investments in teacher leadership and support are so important.
Under the Teacher Leadership and Compensation (TLC) System, Iowa is funding teacher leadership positions in every school district. The state provides resources for effective teachers to receive training as well as compensation that equip them to lead professional learning for their peers and provide individual classroom coaching – two strategies research shows can be highly effective in improving instructional practice and increasing student learning.
In 2019-20, Iowa identified the Iowa Instructional Framework as an optional resource for districts to support the work of these teacher leaders and help teachers to improve their practice. The framework, which is aligned to Iowa's Teaching Standards and Criteria, provides a clear, detailed description of effective instructional strategies, including questioning, student engagement, and thinking and problem-solving. Through the Iowa's partnership with NIET, the state has offered the framework as well as high-quality training and support for free to districts across the state.
These investments are even more important in this moment. In district partners' transition to different learning modalities due to COVID-19, the framework has provided a roadmap for advancing teaching and learning through daily uncertainties. Defining teacher leader roles and responsibilities, fostering student ownership of learning, and deepening coaching conversations have prepared educators for addressing real-time needs of teachers and students.
Inside Grundy Center Community Schools, East Central Iowa
The adoption of the Iowa Instructional Framework in Grundy Center Community Schools has helped educators establish a common language for instructional coaches and teachers, clarify expectations, and "get to the heart of the matter − helping our teachers grow," said Dr. Cara Doak, student achievement coordinator at Grundy Center Middle/High School. "The framework makes the coaching conversation more intentional, thought-provoking, and reflective, which is beneficial to all teachers."
In a time of so much unknown, the Iowa Instructional Framework is an effective tool to guide many of the district leadership decisions as well as those at the building and classroom level.Dr. Cara Doak, Student Achievement Coordinator, Grundy Center Middle/High School
Dr. Doak was among more than 200 educators from across the state who attended NIET trainings on the framework earlier this year. Those lessons proved valuable during the unexpected events to come. "These sessions afforded our district the opportunity to learn together and gain a deeper understanding of how the framework can positively impact students at all grade levels and subject areas," Dr. Doak said. "We focused on how to support teachers as facilitators of knowledge acquisition. It demonstrated how teachers can place the cognitive load in the students' hands."
Dr. Doak credited the framework's focus on exemplary teaching as an "integral element" of the district's work. "In a time of so much unknown, the Iowa Instructional Framework is an effective tool to guide many of the district leadership decisions as well as those at the building and classroom level," she said. "The framework is easily adaptable to online teaching and learning, as the domains and indicators do not change just because learning is happening online. Good teaching is the same no matter the modality."
Inside Urbandale Community School District, Central Iowa
Formalizing the roles of teacher leaders under the TLC program helped Urbandale Community School District create a network of teacher coaches, according to Dr. Crista Carlile, the district's director of teaching and learning.
"The role of a coach is integral in our support of teacher growth," said Dr. Carlile, who views the coaching model as the cornerstone of the district's curriculum work and related professional learning. "We are creating a culture where teaching is a team sport and a public act. The formal teacher leadership roles are the conduit to achieving this culture."
Clearly defining and communicating the responsibilities of Urbandale teacher leaders – whether school administrators, district instructional coaches, or curriculum facilitators – helped educators in these roles build relationships and trust with classroom teachers. Implementing the Iowa Instructional Framework took their professional learning communities to an even deeper level.
We are creating a culture where teaching is a team sport and a public act. The formal teacher leadership roles are the conduit to achieving this culture.Dr. Crista Carlile, Director of Teaching and Learning, Urbandale Community School District
With teacher leader roles and support structures in place, Urbandale was equipped to adapt to shifts in instructional focus after the pandemic hit – from prioritizing standards for learning to revisualizing learning in the fall to make up for lost instructional time. With the district offering in-person, hybrid, and fully online options this year, teacher leaders have helped classroom teachers to learn new technologies and adapt instructional practices for a variety of modalities.
Setting the Foundation for Growth
Opportunities such as those in Grundy Center and Urbandale allow educators to continuously push their practice to the next level, looking for new ways to deepen students' engagement and strengthen their learning outcomes. These opportunities also allow educators to grow as leaders through coaching their peers and building schoolwide capacity – all of which benefit students.
Iowa is investing in the belief that just as every student can grow, every teacher can grow, too. Through TLC and the Iowa Instructional Framework, Iowa has set a model for statewide leadership in what works and what will build the capacity of teachers for years to come.
The Iowa Instructional Framework is currently in use across 96 districts in the state. To learn more about how NIET is supporting teacher leadership in Iowa, please visit our website. To learn more about opportunities for teacher leaders to receive training and support on the Iowa Instructional Framework, please reach out to Lora Rasey at the Iowa Department of Education at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cover photo courtesy of the Urbandale Community School District