Op-Ed: Leadership Program Good for all Teachers

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By Brad Buck (Iowa Director of Education) and Chris Coffelt

From the Des Moines Register

TAP leaders provide support for colleagues, create collaborative teams

One of the most promising new initiatives in the recently passed Iowa education reform bill is a funding stream for teacher leadership roles at about $300 per student.

As recipients of a federal Teacher Incentive Fund grant, the Saydel and Central Decatur school districts have been working to create teacher leadership roles that involve real and meaningful work to drive improved classroom instruction. Based on our experience, we believe the teacher career ladder is going to be one of the most powerful tools we have for improving schools in Iowa.

Saydel is located just outside Des Moines, and Central Decatur is a rural district in the south-central part of the state. Each of our districts worked over the last several years with teachers and principals to identify key goals. Each of our districts identified higher levels of classroom instruction as the most critical component of improvement.

Having tried many types of professional development without seeing significant or sustained impact on teaching practice, we were ready for a new approach.

We partnered with the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, which oversees a national teacher effectiveness reform called TAP: The System for Teacher and Student Advancement. Together we applied for a federal Teacher Incentive Fund grant with the goal of putting our teachers and principals at the heart of efforts to drive higher levels of instruction in every classroom, even those of our most effective teachers.

The TAP system increases the skills of all teachers in a school by using teacher leaders in that school to raise instructional excellence across the faculty. Teacher leaders in each school form a leadership team with administrators responsible for setting school goals, providing school-based, job-embedded professional development and conducting multiple performance evaluations of each teacher.

This creates a more cohesive and coherent approach to professional development based on the needs of our students and takes into account the specific instructional needs of their teachers. Perhaps the most important aspect of this approach is the way it enables teachers themselves to lead the effort to redefine instructional excellence at a higher level, and to embed these higher standards in school culture, conversations and practices.

At any one time, about 20 to 25 percent of teachers in a school are serving as master or mentor teachers. Teachers must apply for these positions, and demonstrate effective instruction themselves, as well as an ability to coach and support other adults. They have ongoing training and accountability to ensure that they are providing high quality support for their peers.

Most critical of all, we use time within the school day for professional learning “clusters” and ongoing coaching in classrooms so professional growth is a part of everyone’s job. Standards for teaching are spelled out and used in evaluation and professional support, creating a common language around excellent instruction.

This approach is working, not just in our districts, but in schools across 10 states demonstrating significant, sustained increases in teacher skill and student achievement growth compared to comparable schools. Each of our communities looked carefully at TAP and visited schools and districts in other states using this approach, particularly in rural areas.

Teachers in our districts voted with more than 90 percent overall approval to bring TAP to their school. The power of this teacher-centered approach was described by Saydel’s Dia Fenton, a math teacher serving now as a master teacher.

“By using teacher leaders in each school to provide professional support to colleagues, we are creating powerful collaborative teams to build instructional excellence across the entire faculty,” Fenton said. “I am excited about the impact on student success.”

Staff in our districts have been energized by this renewed focus on school improvement. We believe our work will not only benefit our students, but create meaningful change in the way teachers approach teaching and learning.

We believe all school leaders share this common goal and look forward to supporting this movement in the state of Iowa

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