Districts learn how to implement teacher leadership program
Early planning is critical to its success
Seventy-six school districts convened in Des Moines to kick off an initiative designed to improve instruction in Iowa’s classrooms.
The initiative, called Teacher Leadership and Compensation, or TLC, focuses on creating leadership roles among some of the best teachers who, in turn, work with other teachers to ensure top-quality instruction is occurring in the classroom. The program is one of the state’s key initiatives in education reform.
“Iowa’s teacher leadership system creates much greater capacity to drive other key education reforms, such as high state academic standards and our early literacy initiative,” Gov. Branstad told the districts. “With new and expanded positions, such as mentors, instructional coaches and model teachers, Iowa is now better supporting the more complex work that educators are expected to do.”
The schools represented in the session are the second group of districts to be selected for TLC. The first group, representing 39 districts, launched their programs a year ago. When fully implemented, all of the state’s 300-plus districts will have an opportunity to implement a TLC program at a cost of $150 million annually.
“Iowans are making this investment because they know it’s critical to restore Iowa schools to best in the nation and give Iowa students a globally competitive education,” Branstad said.
TLC is truly a sea change for schools, said Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds.
“It is changing the culture of schools with more opportunities for collaboration and ongoing professional development focused on the needs of teachers in their classrooms,” she said.
Brad Buck, director of the Iowa Department of Education, said TLC will transform the delivery of education.
“The intent is not to tinker with the margins but rather fundamentally change the roles associated with the teaching profession and resources designed to support even better teaching in every Iowa classroom,” he said.
Ryan Wise, a deputy director at the Iowa Department of Education, said it’s crucial that before these districts dig into the finer points of launching TLC they first prepare to manage the change.
“Invariably, changes make people uncomfortable,” he said. “If you don’t prepare to lead your staff through the transition, through the change, you may unintentionally sabotage your efforts.”
Wise laid out key points of change management, including ensuring that everyone shares the same vision of what TLC means to the district.
“It’s not a one-time communique to your team,” he said. “It is ongoing, it is purposeful, it is woven into the fabric of the school district’s consciousness.”
Representatives from a few schools that launched TLC last year gave advice and cautionary tales to the audience on what to expect when launching the initiative in the fall. The overriding thought was understanding that preparing for TLC is time consuming.
“The amount of time and effort the building administrators have put in is phenomenal,” said Tamela Johnson, curriculum director of Humboldt Community School District. “In will take a year or two before the administrators will be able to step back and really examine their programs. But the level of excitement and enthusiasm among teacher leaders has been great.”
Kim Rojas, a high school instructional coach at Bettendorf High School, said she wished she'd had the wisdom to seek out other instructional coaches to gain insight.
“We wished we knew more about what a typical day would look like for an instructional coach,” she said. “We really would have liked a chance to shadow a coach. I highly encourage you to talk to your administrators to see if there is someone you can go shadow. If you have a chance, go shadow more than one because there are different things going on in every building.”
Administrative support is key for instructional coaches.
“How does your school support your work?” Rojas asked. “Anytime we have a professional development day, we work ahead of time with the focus: What do our teachers need? What do our administrators want? And how does it align with our goals? This provides entry points for coaching. No matter what you do, make sure your professional development is aligned to your goals.”
Administrators also need to be comfortable in selecting a teacher leader – and then letting her do her job.
“First is the idea that everyone wants to be a teacher leader -- that is just not right,” said Tony Voss, the superintendent of Hudson Community School District.
“And be confident you have the right people for the jobs,” Rojas added. “Your confidence will allow you to give them a lot of professional autonomy. Then your job becomes that of a compass to ensure we are heading in the right direction. But have faith they will get the jobs done.”
Particularly in smaller districts, you have to incorporate everyone’s talents.
“We need to recognize that schools are complex places,” Voss said. “So how do we leverage the skills that we have within the school district? It’s got to be a teacher-centered system with TLC. Work needs to be done in collaboration – that is not negotiable. This is a big paradigm shift. Teachers no longer can go off to their classrooms and shut the door for the day.”