How does your school’s TLC program stack up? Are you sure???
Editor’s note: Joellen Killion is the keynote speaker at the teacher-leadership conference titled TLC: What Works.
Killion is a senior advisor to Learning Forward and served for many years as the association’s deputy executive director. As senior advisor, she leads initiatives related to the link between professional development and student learning. She led the most recent revision of the Standards for Professional Learning, and has extensive experience in planning, design, implementation and evaluation of professional learning at the school, system and state levels. She works with coaches, principals, district and state leaders to support understanding and embedding standards-based professional learning in a system.
Here, Killion talks about effective TLC programs.
What are the attributes of a strong Teacher Leadership program?
Strong teacher leadership programs include many elements that align with research, occur within requisite conditions for success, and result from collaborative decision making. Strongest among them are clear, designated roles and meaningful responsibilities for teacher leaders; principals who advocate for and support teacher leaders; opportunities for teacher leaders to engage in ongoing professional learning and coaching; and principals who model and enact shared leadership.
What do schools/districts frequently get wrong in their programs? Why?
Teacher leadership fails frequently because there are few strong advocates who both cultivate the conditions for teacher leadership and monitor its success. These conditions include a strong leadership model that incorporates substantive opportunities for teacher leaders to impact the school culture, the quality of teaching, and student learning. A lack of evidence about impact is another missing element. Without ongoing evidence of success collected from multiple data sources, it is difficult to adjust and refine the program to achieve its goals. A third element that affects success of teacher leadership programs is the misconception that teacher leaders are unprepared to take on substantive leadership responsibilities. As a result, they often have low-level responsibilities that have little significance or potential for impact.
The reasons for these shortcomings vary. Some might include insufficient conceptual development of the teacher leadership program; inadequate preparation and support of teacher leaders and principals; lack of a defined operational guidelines; insufficient planning or poor implementation of the program; or failure to engage in ongoing monitoring, assessment, and evaluation of the program and teacher leaders.
You say that Teacher Leadership programs must be continuously updated. Why is that?
I spoke earlier about the need to have ongoing data for monitoring and measuring effectiveness. As teacher leadership becomes more routine and teacher leaders become more capable and effective, the program is ready to shift to include richer opportunities that will have greater impact on the school culture, teaching quality, and student learning.
If you could create a profile of a successful Teacher Leader, what attributes would she have?
The first attribute is a belief that the most successful leader is a learner who partners with others in a collaborative inquiry. The second is openness to seeing through others’ perspectives. A third is understanding human and system change. Strong facilitation, relationship, and leadership skills are also core attributes of successful teacher leaders. Other attributes depend of the specific roles and responsibilities teacher leaders have. For example, if teacher leaders engage colleagues in professional learning, then it is crucial that they have strong learning design skills.
How do you know your Teacher Leadership program is working?
I’d be able to answer this question only if I had a clear sense of what district or school leaders declared the goals of their particular teacher leadership program to be. I’d hope those goals would include student success, effective teaching and learning, collaboration among all stakeholders, and collective responsibility for student success.
How do you know your Teacher Leadership program is not working?
Some obvious indicators that a teacher leadership program is not working would be jealousy, competition, student stagnation, and teacher leaders feeling disrespected by staff and administrators. Again, though, without knowing the goals and if those goals are achieved, it is difficult to know if a program is unsuccessful.
A few other remarks?
Teacher leadership has tremendous potential to increase student success, the quality of teaching and learning, and the culture of a school. Within every school are the answers to the knotty problems that educators face. Teacher leadership offers a positive continuous trajectory for teacher career growth. It elevates the value of shared leadership. It creates viable opportunities for collaboration that cultivates collective responsibility among educators for student success. These benefits are realized when teacher leaders partner with peers, community, and administrators to ensure the success of all students.