Over the last four years, something special has been happening in Boston. A new model of professional learning powered by teacher leaders has evolved. The Boston Teacher Leadership Certificate (BTLC) program offers collaborative courses designed and facilitated by teachers to help teachers be effective in their leadership roles.
As organizations spring up across the country promoting and elevating teachers as leaders, hints of a career ladder are emerging in this profession which has historically offered a flat trajectory for growth. These new opportunities allowing teachers to be leaders without leaving the classroom have been shown to improve teacher retention and job satisfaction, and when teachers are supported to perform those roles skillfully, student achievement increases.
Despite these advances, there still exists a challenge that often goes unnoticed by principals and teacher leaders alike: the assumption that teachers will be prepared to make informed and effective decisions in their leadership roles. Teachers are often selected for these roles due to their effectiveness as teachers of children, yet teacher leaders guide the work and professional learning of adult colleagues. The skills needed to be able to do this effectively are distinct from those needed to manage and teach a classroom of children.
The BTLC program has addressed this problem through its graduate level courses; the competencies that participants must demonstrate are grounded in research and experiential knowledge about what teacher leaders need to know and be able to do. In these teacher-designed, teacher-led courses, participants strategically build leadership skills and are empowered to take charge of developing and strengthening their profession together. A critical element of this program is its data routines. Data is used to grow and refine the program, and used to understand more about the specific impacts of teacher leadership on the world of education. This aspect is, so far as we know, a one of a kind example of teachers applying to their profession what they do in their classroom: making decisions based on data.
Just as Hargreaves and Fullan point out in their book, Professional Capital, effective teaching is complex work and the needs are urgent; our students cannot wait for each of us to learn from only our own experience. Through the BTLC program, teachers are building capacity to strengthen professional capital within the Boston Public Schools while working smarter together.
More than just an individual accomplishment, completing the BTLC program is an organizational asset for Boston. Teaching quality varies across the district’s 135 schools. From the vantage point of a teacher leader role, an accomplished teachers’ expertise stands to benefit not just to the students in his or her own classroom, but all students throughout the school and district. With teachers skillfully playing larger leadership roles in their schools and networking to share ideas across schools and districts, shared knowledge about teacher leadership is developing to be a powerful resource for school and systemic improvement.
We believe we have begun to address the often-overlooked importance of skill development for teacher leaders. As teacher leadership opportunities become more numerous, now is not the time to let excellent models flourish in isolation. We invite others thinking about teacher leadership to join us and work smarter together. In this way, individual accomplishments across the nation can be leveraged to make collective impact on public education in America. The conditions are right to take these ideas to scale across districts, states and the country.