Strengthening teacher leadership in Iowa
Some things get better with age. One of those is teacher leadership. Iowa’s Teacher Leadership and Compensation (TLC) system was signed into law in June 2013. And between 2014 and 2016, schools began adopting their own local TLC plans. Since then Iowa has emerged as the unrivaled leader in supporting teacher leadership with $163 million in dedicated state funding and more than 10,000 teachers receiving additional compensation for taking on new roles.
In October the Iowa Department of Education released a new report showing the number of school districts mostly or fully meeting local student achievement goals increased for the third straight year. In addition, schools continue to see strong results in improving teacher recruitment and retention, promoting collaboration, and increasing opportunities for professional growth.
Most encouraging is the spirit of continuous learning and improvement reflected in local school districts’ approach to strengthening their teacher leadership plans over time. As I’ve visited with teacher leadership teams in my travels across the state, I’ve noticed five actions that drive this improvement.
1) Take an “All-In” Approach
In the early days of TLC many schools took a tentative approach to teacher leadership. Working with coaches, creating teacher-led professional development and regularly observing colleagues were novel methods for many school communities.
Now, several years into the system, these are no longer pilot strategies – they are simply the way Iowa schools operate. All teachers in schools that are maximizing TLC participate in some capacity, whether it is taking on a formal leadership role or taking advantage of the expertise of their colleagues in improving their practice.
2) Build on Teacher Strengths to Address Emerging Challenges
Two of the most common teacher leadership roles I see in schools are literacy coaches and technology integrationists. These leaders achieved success in these areas in the classroom and now use their knowledge to support and coach their peers.
In recent visits I’ve seen this approach applied to emerging challenges like helping teachers identify resources for addressing student mental health needs, meeting the unique needs of a growing number of English learners, and developing school-wide strategies to address equity issues in closing achievement and opportunity gaps.
3) Adopt an Instructional Framework
Instructional frameworks, also known as instructional rubrics or learning progressions, create a common instructional language and vision for quality teaching across an entire school district. This summer more than 80 school districts adopted the Iowa Instructional Framework, created by the National Institute for Effective Teaching.
Instructional frameworks, whether the Iowa model or similar approaches, provide schools the opportunity to focus improvement efforts on specific instructional components and to align feedback. Getting everyone on the same page when it comes to what great teaching looks like accelerates the impact of TLC.
4) Maximize Resources
Iowa’s significant annual investment in teacher leadership provides districts with considerable latitude in how to spend the funds to meet local needs. School districts that make the most of TLC know exactly how much TLC funding they have available (see column Q) and the ways in which they can use those funds.
5) Regularly Revisit Your Plan
This summer more than 800 educators gathered in Des Moines for guided reflection on their local teacher leadership plans. The framework for the conference was “A Systemic Approach to Elevating Teacher Leadership,” which was developed by Learning Forward. This roadmap identifies four key components that make up a teacher leadership system and offers critical questions to consider for each component. This is a helpful tool for ensuring continuous improvement of your local TLC plan.
I encourage all schools to incorporate these approaches as they strengthen teacher leadership and maximize this significant investment in our education system.
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