A recent national survey found that 9 in every 10 teachers wish they had more opportunities to further their careers and professional skills without leaving the classroom. Teachers reported interest taking on mentor, lead teacher or peer evaluator roles, regardless of whether the professional growth opportunity resulted in additional pay. Unfortunately, in many cases, teachers aren’t given these types of opportunities to lead from the classroom.
Though opportunities for career growth are largely determined at the district and school level, state policymakers are creating structures and providing dedicated funding streams to support teacher recognition, leadership and advancement. This has included:
- Removing statutory and regulatory barriers to support local policies that advance teacher leadership.
- Creating tiered licensing systems and/or separate teacher leader licenses and endorsements.
- Adopting teacher leadership standards.
- Providing professional development for teacher leaders.
Supports for teacher leadership are well-developed in some states — (see, for example, the District of Columbia’s Leadership Initiative for Teachers and Iowa’s Teacher Leadership and Compensation System) — and still in their formative years in others. Indiana and Oklahoma, among others, have made significant headway in their efforts to redefine and formally support teacher leadership.
Indiana: In 2015, the state superintendent and department of education established a blue ribbon commission to examine and propose recommendations that address the state’s teacher shortage. The commission’s 2016 report included a recommendation to “re-envision career pathways and leadership opportunities to encourage, develop, and retain teacher-leaders and provide pathways for promotion, so that teachers have the opportunity to advance in ways beyond leaving the classroom for administrative positions.” In its ESSA plan submitted the following year, the department committed to use Title II – Part A funds to, among other things, “adjust staffing structures to integrate career pathways and leadership development opportunities to advance and retain excellent educators.” The Legislature has supported this work by providing grant funding to districts to carry out specific objectives related to teacher leadership and performance pay.
Oklahoma: In 2015, the state department of education formed a task force to examine and propose recommendations that address the state’s teacher shortage. In its preliminary report, the task force recommended the Legislature “create better career ladders that provide for increased advancement and leadership among teachers.” A teacher-leader career ladder was established in state law the following year. In its ESSA plan submitted in 2017, the department committed to use Title II – Part A funds to, among other things, “ensure implementation of the teacher-leader career ladder to elevate teachers who take on responsibilities of mentor, model and lead roles while receiving additional compensation.” Legislation enacted in 2018 created two new levels of teaching certificates designed for teachers who assume leadership roles. Teachers who obtain advanced certificates will be eligible for extended contract days for leadership training, additional pay and reduced teaching loads.
Though it is much too early to tell how these policy reforms will play out, one thing can be said for sure: State leaders are recognizing the transformative power of effective teachers; and they are dedicating time and resources to ensure teachers are receiving the supports, acknowledgement and professional growth they deserve.