The Importance of Teacher Leadership for Student Success

It’s sometimes said that teachers reach the pinnacle of their career the first day they walk into their classroom. Unless they wanted to go into administration, a classroom teacher had no advancement track. But that is changing in many school districts as they begin to embrace teacher leadership.

What is Teacher Leadership?

Teacher leadership can take many forms and will vary from district to district or even school to school. The National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) helped to create the Teacher Leader Model Standards. These standards spell out seven domains where teachers can be leaders while remaining in the classroom:

  1. Fostering a Collaborative Culture to Support Educator Development and Student Learning
  2. Accessing and Using Research to Improve Practice and Student Learning
  3. Promoting Professional Learning for Continuous Improvement
  4. Facilitating Improvements in Instruction and Student Learning
  5. Promoting the Use of Assessments and Data for School and District Improvement
  6. Improving Outreach and Collaboration with Families and Community
  7. Advocating for Student Learning and the Profession

In Illinois, the Illinois Teacher Leadership Network (ITLN), of which Illinois PTA is a member, is working to help define teacher leadership in Illinois, to help the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) recognize teacher leadership, and to help school districts implement teacher leadership.

Many school districts may already be implementing some types of teacher leadership without formally calling it that. In some districts, this is a necessity because there may not be separate staff available to fill some roles. In others, it may be due to the district’s recognizing the importance of teacher mentors, the need to improve professional development or instruction, or the desire to use the additional data schools are collecting to improve student outcomes.

Why is Teacher Leadership Important?

Teacher leadership provides opportunities for teachers to grow in their profession without leaving the classroom that they love. In districts where teacher leadership is being embraced, teachers are happier with their school, which means there is less teacher turnover.

A recent report by the New Teacher Center on the effect of teacher leadership on student achievement provided research-based results identifying how these two are linked. The report, called School Leadership Counts, notes that:

  • Students perform better in schools with the highest levels of instructional and teacher leadership.
  • Involving teachers in the decision-making processes related to school improvement planning and student conduct result in higher student achievement.
  • High-poverty schools often lack teacher leadership elements that improve student achievement, which limits students’ potential at those schools.

What Role Do Parents and PTAs Have with Teacher Leadership?

It’s important to remember that Domain VI of the Teacher Leader Model Standards focuses on improving outreach and collaboration with families and communities. PTAs and their families can encourage their school and district administration to learn about and implement teacher leadership as a way of improving student achievement. They can also work with their administration to help improve family engagement through programs such as the National PTA School of Excellence. Finally, it is important to recognize that schools and districts that embrace teacher leadership and including teachers in the decision-making processes are also schools and districts that are likely to embrace parent leadership and inclusion in decision-making.

Learn More at the Illinois PTA Convention

Steven Elza, the 2015 Illinois State Teacher of the Year and an ITLN member, will be presenting a workshop on teacher leadership at the Illinois PTA Convention on Saturday, May 5th. Don’t miss out on this and other great workshops. Register for convention today!

Photo courtesy US Air Force/Kelly Deichert.