Connections LF

Top 15 Blogs Reflect High-Quality Professional Learning Priorities

Learning Forward Blog
•December, 2022•

At Learning Forward, our blog posts tend to feel more like lively conversations with our colleagues, partners, and clients. The blog is a space where Learning Forward staff members and guest authors endeavor to share timely and highly relevant insights for the benefit of our readers to keep them connected to resources and tools that can help them in their schools and districts.

Throughout the year, our blog covers a range of professional learning topics as well as news about our own organization. We strive to keep readers connected to important work, committed as professional learning advocates, and inspired by the dedicated educators and school professionals who make sure all kids have access to meaningful learning that helps them achieve their potential. We hope you enjoy this review of our top 15 stories of 2022.

15. Learning Forward CEO | President Denise Glyn Borders will retire in June 2022 Borders joined Learning Forward in 2019 as Executive Director after serving as president of SRI Education. She led the organization during its pivot to virtual and hybrid learning models.

14. Inspiration to lean into the important work of professional learning Learning Forward’s 2021 Annual Conference featured remarks by U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.

13. How states embed Standards for Professional Learning State leaders share how they implement standards and what it looks like when policy guides practice.

12. Effective leadership: Webinar teases out findings from principal preparation, professional learning studies Frederick Brown, Learning Forward President and CEO, facilitated a webinar in June featuring two studies supported by The Wallace Foundation reflecting decades of research and study on what kind of preparation and professional learning principals need to help them be effective, support teachers, and contribute to student achievement.

11. Announcing a new website: Powered by Title II Learning Forward launched its Title II advocacy resource website in January 2022. The site aims to provide an introduction to Title II funding and valuable data and tools.

10. U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona’s speech outlining the Department of Education’s priorities and vision for education In January, Secretary Cardona named the most-urgent school reopening needs – increased access to mental health resources; expanded parent and family engagement; and interventions for students who felt disproportionate impacts from the pandemic.

9. Leaders voice how revised professional learning standards are transformative Members of Learning Forward’s standards advisory council, research partners, district leaders, and principals describe how revised Standards for Professional Learning address the challenges educators and students face as they struggle to recover from the setbacks of the pandemic.

8. Frederick Brown named Learning Forward President & CEO Brown hit the ground running, publishing key priorities for Learning Forward during his first week serving as the organization’s new leader.

7. Why now is exactly the time you should be hiring instructional coaches Building and district leaders have had many open teaching spots to fill. Filling coaching roles also must be a priority.

6. Standards for Professional Learning evolve to drive progress Revised professional learning standards are resonating with educators and leaders eager to dig into what’s new.

5. The Learning Professional‘s top 10 articles of 2022 Learning Forward’s flagship publication revealed its 2022 articles that resonated most with readers.

4. Here’s what The Learning Professional will focus on in 2023 The Learning Professional 2023 themes speak to urgent issues facing the education field at large, homing in on how professional learning can help educators at every level meet those big challenges.

3. What professional learning leaders can learn from Disney Disney staffers are renown for creating a fun culture that helps people thrive.

2. Learning teams that really improve student outcomes Learning teams can be a part of a holistic, proactive approach to accelerating learning.

1. Coaching with compassion starts with relationships The best way to make progress in any coaching relationship is by dialing into the personal first.

This Blog Post was published on Learning

Gail Paul

Gail Paul is Learning Forward’s content marketing specialist, where she helps learning Forward expand our outreach and supports our growing communications needs. Before joining Learning Forward, Gail was a communications consultant and freelance journalist, committed to helping organizations and their leadership teams create and measure clear communication that informs, persuades, and inspires action, advocacy, and alignment. She previously served as vice president of communications & marketing for the port authority in Cincinnati, Ohio, and has led several teams in communications strategy, editorial voice and storytelling, and production of high-quality content across various channels and platforms. Gail holds a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from The Ohio State University, with focused study in Economics.



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Connections with Learning Forward: Articles

Learning Forward Kansas is an affiliate of Learning Forward with a focus on improving educator effectiveness and learning for ALL students.

Learning Forward has a vast library of published articles written by fellow educators and well-known leaders in the education/leadership field. Select articles are shared below.

October 2021: What it Takes to Become a Learning System

August 2021: What Should SEL Look Like this Fall

April 2021: How Principals Implement Change Effectively

February 2021: How to Foster Hope in Tough Times


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What Should SEL Look Like This Fall?

The Learning Professional
•September, 2021•

The COVID 19 Pandemic has caused enormous stress and trauma for students and educators, exacerbating existing needs for mental health support and underscoring the importance of social and emotional learning. With the new school year on the horizon, it is vital for educators to consider the social and emotional needs of students and staff as some of them return to school buildings for the first time in more than a year, some continue to cope with trauma, and many experience anxiety and uncertainty.

The Learning Professional asked teachers, students, administrators, SEL leaders and our online community: How should schools address students’ social and emotional needs and foster resilience in the coming school year? Here are their responses, which have been edited for length. Click here to continue reading

From The Learning Professional August 2021

This is just one of the articles that can be found in The Learning Professional published by Learning Forward. To read additional articles, CLICK HERE.

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Learning Forward Colorado Invites You….

Frederick Brown

Spring Learning Institute
•April 2, 2020•

Learning Forward Colorado’s upcoming institute features Fred Brown, Deputy Executive Director of Learning Forward. Teacher leaders, coaches, district leaders, principals, and system leaders will benefit from attending. The event is titled “Becoming a Learning System.”  Click here to learn more about this opportunity being held at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. 


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Let’s Make the Most of Teachers’ Time Together

Stephanie Hirsh

Stephanie Hirsh
•May, 2018•

Research has shown that effective collaboration results in higher levels of learning and performance by educators and students. Yet we also know that merely setting aside time and room for teams to work together does not guarantee these benefits.

So what are the essential elements of effective collaboration? Many of the answers lie in the culture of the organization responsible for supporting collective learning. Here are five things I have seen consistently in cultures that support effective collaboration.

  1. Clarity of purpose. Leaders support collaboration because they believe it is a key component of the vision for the school and/or school system. In many cases, that vision emphasizes a commitment to great teaching and learning for every student. As a result, these leaders are invested in collaborative professionalism to ensure learning for all adults and children. When leaders commit to authentic collaboration, they can promise all parents that the teacher responsible for their child is just one of many who are committed to the success of their children.
  2. Norms of collaboration. Norms describe the rules that a group is committed to following to ensure a respectful and productive working environment. Norms of school teams typically will address respect for the schedule (starting and ending on time); the speaker (respectful listening; no interrupting); and the agenda (limited birdwalking and hijacking).  Other norms may address roles and responsibilities of leaders as well as confidentiality, respect, and trust.
  3. Resource allocation. Teams need adequate time to accomplish the tasks they undertake and comfortable, safe spaces in which to do them. They need to trust that they will be able to get additional help if they require external expertise or other resources. Not having to worry about fighting for resources enables teams to focus on what is most important to them.
  4. Facilitation and support. Skillful facilitation can accelerate progress within teams. Knowledgeable facilitators and team members ensure that members engage in work that will lead to desired outcomes. Such facilitation ensures that teams have the data and evidence required to inform their decisions, the designs essential to guide their learning, and the support required to implement changes in practice.
  5. Accountability for results. A commitment to better outcomes is a foundation for collaboration. In education, when few decisions have exact answers, having multiple perspectives and areas of expertise contributes to the best decisions and best outcomes. Teachers are advocates for collaboration because, no matter what accountability system guides their states and school systems, they are accountable to their students and their families.

To what degree do you see these elements represented in your teams, PLCs, school leadership councils, or task forces? If your groups are floundering, are any of these elements missing? If they are successful, which are most present and what else have you seen contributing to their impact?

If you are familiar with Learning Forward’s Standards for Professional Learning, I challenge you to find all seven standards represented in the five elements, once again highlighting that better outcomes for students and staff require attention to standards-based professional learning.

This column appears in the December 2017 issue of The Learning Professional.

Stephanie Hirsh is executive director of Learning Forward.

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Learning Forward Nebraska Plants Seeds of Learning

Jill Lachenmayr
•March, 2018•

Spring. A time of transformation and growth. It renews our spirit with the anticipation of spring flowers and new possibilities. It’s a time when many eagerly look forward to planting gardens, knowing that with a little care and attention, the fruits of their labor will emerge. Beautiful, bountiful and satisfying.

Learning Forward Nebraska, a state affiliate of Learning Forward, can relate well to the excitement and anticipation of planting something new, nurturing it and watching it grow. As the recipient of the Learning Forward Foundation Affiliate Grant, the affiliate is at the midway point of a three-year plan to grow the capacity of professional learning within the state. Learning Forward Nebraska has focused attention in three key areas: expanding the Learning Forward Executive Leadership Program across the state, developing the website to support rigorous education designs of professional learning, and building the capacity within the board for advocating and supporting high-quality professional learning.

Learning Forward Nebraska has had many successes along the journey. Relationships have been nurtured, programs expanded, and the impact of the work is growing. It’s exciting to see transformation in action! Any successful initiative begins with creating a strong plan. The affiliate was able to utilize grant funds to hold a retreat to gather ideas and create a strategic plan for accomplishing the goals. The impact of this planning has been demonstrated in the expansion of the Executive Leadership Program from one site to four, with a total of 60 participants across two cohorts. The affiliate has fine-tuned its approach by shortening webinars, improving the quality of materials and synthesizing the highlights to ensure that the program is broadly accessible. Success in advocacy is also evident as affiliate leaders work to get the professional learning standards adopted in Nebraska.

“From a small seed, a mighty trunk may grow.” (Aeschylus) We all know that change takes time. Starting something new is exciting when you think about the possibilities that await you at the end of the journey. You plant the idea, nurture it, protect it from weeds.

Satisfaction comes when progress towards goals are made. Plans don’t always go as anticipated and that’s okay. It’s the learning journey that matters. Time, attention and continuous progress transforms a budding idea into a strong, mature tree.

Congratulations to Learning Forward Nebraska as they build the capacity of professional learning within their state. The Learning Forward Foundation grant has “energized the passion” for professional learning in Nebraska. May your own personal learning journey be rewarding and satisfying as you make progress towards your goals. The Foundation can be a source of financial support and a thinking partner.

Please visit our website for more information about the Learning Forward Foundation or to Apply for Scholarships and Grants. Want to learn more? Check out our past Learning Forward Foundation Blogs.

Jill Lachenmayr serves as the Assistant Superintendent of Academic Affairs for Andover Public Schools. She is treasurer of the Learning Forward Kansas Affiliate and a board member of the Learning Forward Foundation.


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The Learning Professional’s Debut Issue: Professional Learning for STEM

The Learning Professional Is Here
•February, 2016•
We have great news to share. Learning Forward’s journal, JSD, has changed its name to The Learning Professional. The bimonthly magazine is still the same well-respected journal of professional learning, but with an updated look and member focus.

We’re excited to help you explore the February issue. Previously, each issue was devoted to one theme. In The Learning Professional, we still take a deep dive into one topic (within our section “Focus”), and this time it’s professional learning in STEM. At Learning Forward, we believe that remarkable professional learning begins with ambitious goals for students, and such rigor is often part of STEM instruction.

Here you’ll read about:

* Teachers teaming with scientists to enrich STEM content and instruction;
* How underwater robotics brought STEM to life for teachers in Guam; and
* New Mexico teachers collaborating to explore student learning in math.

In The Learning Professional, we have a wider range of feature-length articles in our new “Ideas” section, as well as a greater focus on telling members’ stories in our new “Voices” section. All that, plus the same great research reviews and practitioner tools you’ve come to expect in Learning Forward’s journal.

A few highlights we thought you, with your perspective as an independent or external provider, might enjoy:

* Professional learning in Canada: Learning Forward releases a landmark study and call to action, making the case for a culture of collaborative professionalism for educators. (This article is available upon joining Learning Forward)
* Training the trainers: Learning to be a principal supervisor

We look forward to hearing your feedback on the new magazine. You can read it online now at

This full online archive is an exclusive benefit of membership in Learning Forward.

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Discover the Possibilities

By Eric Celeste
•April 15, 2016•

Eric Celeste
Eric Celeste

In 2011, Learning Forward revealed its third iteration of Standards for Professional Learning — seven characteristics of professional learning that lead to effective teaching practices, supportive leadership, and improved student results. The 2011 standards (see p. 11), built on those issued in 1994 and revised in 2001, combine decades of research, lessons learned, and input from 40 professional education organizations.

Undergirding all seven standards is this fundamental premise: The purpose of professional learning is for educators to develop the knowledge, skills, practices, and dispositions they need to help students perform at higher levels. The standards are not a prescription for how education leaders and public officials should address all the challenges related to improving the performance of educators and their students. The standards focus on one critical issue — professional learning.

The seven standards focus attention on educator learning that relates to successful student learning, and it is vital that we support all educators in doing the same. Every educator requires professional learning that is interactive, relevant, sustained, and embedded in everyday practice. Only by achieving such a vision for professional learning is equity of access to high-quality education for every student possible. 

It is not a simple matter to connect the dots between high quality professional learning and student outcomes. However, the theory of action that drives the standards, and indeed much of Learning Forward’s work, is a continuous model of improvement: Standards-based professional learning leads to greater overall educator expertise, which causes changes in educator practice that results in better student outcomes (see “Relationship between professional learning and student results”). There is much embedded in each of those four circles, and the aim of this issue of JSD is to encourage readers to explore the ideas behind the standards in depth through a range of lenses and consider next actions.

The quality of professional learning that occurs when the Standards for Professional Learning are fully implemented enrolls educators as active partners in determining the focus of their learning, how their learning occurs, and how they evaluate its effectiveness. These educators are part of a team, a school, and a school system that conceive, implement, and evaluate carefully aligned professional learning that responds to individual, team, schoolwide, and systemwide goals for student achievement. The standards give educators the information they need to take leadership roles as advocates for and facilitators of effective professional learning and the conditions required for its success. 

Why is this critical? Placing the emphasis on professional learning reminds all education stakeholders that educators’ continuous improvement affects student learning. Increasing the effectiveness of professional learning is the leverage point with the greatest potential for strengthening and refining the day-to-day performance of educators. 

For most educators working in schools, professional learning is the singular most accessible means they have to develop the new knowledge, skills, and practices necessary to better meet students’ learning needs. If educators are not engaged throughout their careers in new learning experiences that enable them to better serve their students, both educators and students suffer.

And if those educators are not learning collaboratively in the context of a systemwide plan for coherent learning tied to a set of goals aligned from classroom to school to school system, their professional learning is less likely to produce its intended results.

This is not theory: We’ve seen it in practice. In the five years since Learning Forward issued the Standards for Professional Learning, there has been widespread adoption of its core tenets throughout 39 states and several municipalities. (See “Why adoption of standards matters” on p. 60.) Policymakers have used them to help form law and inform conversations about the value of professional learning to teachers, students, districts, and communities. They have proven to be a vital tool, necessary when incorporating high-quality professional learning practices into a school system.

Why then revisit them now, and in such depth? Three reasons: 

Teacher turnover: Although a 2015 comprehensive National Center for Education Statistics study (NCES, 2015) proved that many reports of teacher turnover were overstated, it showed a 30% turnover rate every five years, on average. That means there are nearly one million new full-time teachers, public and private, since 2011, when we first examined the standards at great depth. We know also that Learning Forward’s membership shifts and grows, with many educators taking
on new learning leadership roles in their schools and school districts. 

A new landscape: With the adoption of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), we see the continuation of a sea change in public education. As ESSA is interpreted state by state, efforts that revolved around measuring and improving teacher accountability and effectiveness— and tying those measures to student outcomes — will be adjusted and implemented. A discussion about the necessity of effective professional learning to those efforts is crucial. As well, ESSA offers many opportunities to rethink in depth how funds for professional learning are best invested. Absent attention to the standards, those investments are unlikely to bear the returns students, communities, and educators demand. 

Increasing relevance: Five years is a long time in education. It’s vital the standards not be stagnant, but that they are viewed and re-viewed through a critical lens. We felt it important for the continuing examination of these standards to come from experts outside Learning Forward, from researchers and thought leaders also on the front lines of shaping the professional learning conversation. They can help educators more fully understand what the standards are and the myriad ways thought leaders with a range of perspectives consider their meaning and use. They can take their knowledge and relevant research to explain and give examples of how each of these elements function individually and in synergy to enable educators to increase their effectiveness and student learning. 

This is why we created a book series with Corwin — to invite the authors featured in this issue of JSD to explore these standards in depth. The seven-book series — one for each standard— was conceived to deepen learning leaders’ understanding of the standards. Each volume opens with a thought leader essay exploring the themes in the standards. These essays are not identical to what Learning Forward would write — we invited these particular authors because of their expertise. We knew they would approach the standards from a unique angle that would encourage learning and reflection.

Each volume in the Reach the Highest Standard series continues with a section geared toward practitioner implementation of the standards, complete with protocols and educator considerations. Finally, each volume concludes with a case example of a school system that has used the concepts in the standard to improve results. The cases highlight the real-world successes and challenges of improving professional learning through sustained effort, offering context information and inspiration.

We appreciate the partnership with Corwin on the series and their support of this issue of JSD. We hope that this issue helps educators begin to imagine and plan how to reshape the professional learning for which they are responsible — now and in the future.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2015). Public school teacher attrition and mobility in the first five years: Results from the first through fifth waves of the 2007-08 beginning teacher longitudinal study. Washington, DC: Author.

Eric Celeste ( is Learning Forward’s associate director of publications and editor of JSD.

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Changing One’s Own Practice is a Great First Step!

By Frederick Brown
•February 18, 2016•

Frederick Brown
Frederick Brown

Truly changing one’s own practice takes a focused commitment, and the support of a coach can significantly increase the likelihood of success. That’s one of the big takeaways from Learning Forward’s experience facilitating 33 Academy cohorts. For those who are unaware, the Learning Forward Academy is an extended learning experience that immerses members in a model of inquiry- and problem-based learning. Throughout the experience, participants receive support from an experienced coach who is also an Academy graduate.

As we reviewed the survey data from our most recent graduates, we were pleased to read that close to 90% of them reported their practice becoming more effective as a result of the Academy experience. This number is significant to us for several reasons. Often after a learning experience, participants are asked how much they enjoyed the learning or what did they learn. While these questions can be useful, the more important question is, “what changed as a result of your learning?”

Regardless of the learning experience, it’s crucial to see how participants connect their learning to improvements in student performance. Within the first 2 ½ years, 60% of Academy graduates observed improvements in student performance directly connected to their Academy experience. This is significant because there are many steps in a system’s change process before a participant’s learning impacts students. For example, those who are principals often begin by changing their own practice before they can start creating the conditions that lead to improvements in teaching and learning. For Academy participants in central office positions, there are often even more steps between their practice and results for students. And regardless of position, all this change takes time. We are encouraged by our 60%, but we look forward to seeing even more gains from our participants’ students that might come as a result of their Academy experience.

The infographic below highlights some of the other data we’ve gathered from our survey. For more information about the Learning Forward Academy, please visit our website:


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Why Teachers Make Good Learning Leaders

Brian Edwards
Brian Edwards
Jesse Hinueber
Jesse Hinueber

By Brian Edwards and Jesse Hinueber of Partners in Schools
•December 29, 2015•

“Somebody asked me recently what pushes me as a professional,” says Becky Jensen, an elementary school teacher in San Jose, California. “It started when a new principal came in several years ago and let me try new strategies. But he also set up a structure to help me think through what worked and what didn’t, and then he gave me the space to lead.” 

A principal’s support helped Jensen become more reflective and intentional about her teaching, which in turn led her to want to help other teachers. She began by co-facilitating her grade-level team despite being among the least experienced staff members at her school. In that role, she emphasized depth over breadth: “Rather than coming up with a whole list of strategies for teachers to try, I engaged my colleagues in the specifics of one strategy. We planned lessons, gathered materials, and modeled instruction for one another so that we had everything we needed to implement the strategy the next day.” 

Jensen exemplifies the fact that teachers at all career stages, if given the proper support, can design and lead effective professional learning. When teachers who deeply understand the needs of their students and colleagues lead professional learning in their schools, everyone benefits. Teacher leaders get to engage with their work in new ways. Their colleagues receive relevant, actionable professional learning. Principals leverage the benefits of teacher collaboration in leading instruction at their schools. District officials see the pipeline of school and district leaders expand.

Ultimately, and most importantly, students benefit. For example, students at Jensen’s school achieved great gains on the California Standards Tests as the school developed its professional learning systems between 2010 and 2013. In English language arts, the percentage of students achieving proficiency grew from 32% to 53%, and in math, the percentage increased from 50% to 72%.

Jensen is one of five educators whose perspectives on teacher leadership are featured here. These educators have all taught low-income urban children in elementary grades for several years, but in different parts of the United States. They hold similar views on how schools can foster the development of teacher leaders, some key ways that teachers can lead professional learning for their colleagues, and the benefits and challenges of teacher leadership. The discussion of these topics below is informed greatly by their voices.

The educators we spoke with represent a range of personalities — from relatively shy to naturally outspoken, and in between. However, they have in common a desire to share their expertise with their colleagues and make an impact beyond the classroom. They also agree on the conditions that help teachers emerge as leaders in their schools:
Shared vision: School staff must share a vision of the type of school they are trying to create so that instructional leaders are taking staff and students in the same general direction. “You have to be on the same page and want the same thing,” says Peggy Candelaria, a principal in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “You always want to come back to your vision as a school and a community so that you know why you’re doing what you’re doing.”
Culture of trust: Maintaining a culture of mutual respect and trust is vital. Teachers need to be able to trust that their leaders will represent their interests; school administrators must have confidence that teacher leaders will implement initiatives with fidelity; and teacher leaders need to trust that the administration will support them, even when they encounter initial resistance. Katie Smith, a literacy coach at a pre-K-2 school in Chicago, Illinois, puts it this way: “If teacher leaders are not feeling trusted or are always doing the heavy lifting in the face of pushback, they’re not going to want to be leaders anymore because they’ll be frustrated.”
Opportunities to lead professional learning: For teachers to become leaders of professional learning, a school must set aside time for such learning. Protecting time for teachers to hone their craft as they try to improve the school’s instructional program signals that the school values professional learning and that there will be a substantial chance of making progress for students. Without such protected time, teachers will have few opportunities to practice being leaders.

Sometimes, aspiring teacher leaders create their own opportunities to practice. For example, Smith volunteered to help facilitate her school’s instructional leadership team while she was a kindergarten and special education teacher. The literacy coach who facilitated the team took Smith under her wing, walked through the steps of facilitating the group, and asked Smith to help plan and run meetings. Smith’s initiative led to her being encouraged to apply for the coaching role when the previous coach retired.
Encouragement to lead: Other teachers need substantial encouragement to assume a leadership role. The three teachers interviewed for this article did not enter the education profession with the intention of becoming school leaders. For example, Lindsey Walden, who teaches in Battle Creek, Michigan, became a grade-level coordinator and instructional leadership team member after eight years of focusing on her own classroom instruction.

Two years ago, her professional growth plan included the concept of becoming more of a leader at her school. Encouragement from coaches and administrators gave her the push she needed. “I was more the type of teacher who sat back and listened and took everything in,” says Walden. “I didn’t realize that I had the potential to become a leader until I really worked with my principal and gained a little more confidence.”
Support and training: Aspiring teacher leaders also need support and training. For example, they often need training in how to facilitate groups, which entails planning meetings, asking questions that will elicit participation, documenting decisions, and forming action plans.

Another area where coaching can be helpful is in having difficult conversations with peers. Teacher leaders may need to explain unpopular administrative decisions to their colleagues or give constructive feedback on another teacher’s instruction. It is an area with which some teacher leaders struggle. For example, Walden noted, “I recently told my instructional coach that I’m interested in expanding my leadership role, but my biggest weakness is having difficult conversations because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.” The coach’s response was just what Walden needed: an offer to role-play and think through a variety of potentially tense discussions.

With these conditions in place, teachers at various stages of their career can step up as leaders. Smith has found this to be true at her school in Chicago. She works with veteran teachers who enjoy teaming up with their colleagues, providing mentorship, and lending their expertise for the benefit of the entire school. “We have teachers who’ve been teaching for 15 to 20 years who are phenomenal teacher leaders because they see the benefits of analyzing data and always trying to improve,” says Smith.

Newer teachers also make strong instructional leaders, she says, because working closely with other staff members comes naturally to them, reflecting the current professional emphasis on collaboration. However, they may need to work especially hard to establish their credibility with their more seasoned counterparts. Smith would tell a new educator who wants to become a leader, “You need at least two or three years to hone your practice as a teacher, try different strategies, achieve success in different areas, and have a body of work to reflect upon. You’ll use all of that to lead other teachers and communicate with them in meaningful ways.”

Two common roles that teachers engage in to develop as school leaders are facilitating professional learning communities and participating in instructional leadership teams.

Facilitating professional learning communities
Professional learning communities in the form of grade-level teams or subject-matter departments allow educators to work together in a wide variety of ways — for example, peer coaching, constructing and scoring assessments, lesson planning, data analysis, and lesson study.

To be as effective as possible, a professional learning community should embody Learning Forward’s Standards for Professional Learning, which include several criteria. It should be committed to high expectations, continuous improvement, and collective responsibility. In addition, a professional learning community needs to incorporate several design elements (e.g. active engagement, modeling, reflection, feedback, and ongoing support) and use the element that is most appropriate to the goals and learning styles of the participants and the topic under discussion.

Professional learning community members should analyze student outcome data to monitor instruction and the learning community itself. In addition, the group’s goals should align with those of the school and district. Finally, members must make efficient use of the human, fiscal, and technological resources needed for professional learning.

For those expectations to be met, a professional learning community must have effective facilitation. A strong facilitator generally sets the agenda for meetings, keeps sessions moving and on point, and ensures that all voices are heard. Smith, the literacy coach in Chicago, sees grade-level facilitation as a good entry point for teachers looking to have an impact beyond their own classroom: “It’s a nonintimidating way to move into a teacher leadership role. Teachers are with their peers, and their peers know them and respect them, and the teachers identify with each other and each other’s challenges.”

Facilitators gain experience in team building and navigating adult dynamics while keeping their lesson planning and data analysis skills sharp. Walden in Battle Creek believes that facilitating her grade-level team has improved her own teaching: “It’s pushed me to learn about best practices and share what I’ve learned with my colleagues, which has allowed me to take a look at myself as a teacher, to become a better teacher.”

According to Walden, the school also benefits when professional learning is facilitated by one of its teachers rather than someone from outside the school: “If your colleagues see you delivering the information and know that you’re implementing it in the classroom next door, they’re more apt to be on board than if the information comes top-down.”

In sum, when a teacher facilitates a professional learning community, the facilitator acquires or sharpens valuable skills and fellow teachers tend to engage more than they would if someone else led the work. Participating teachers also gain support and mutual accountability.

Participating in an instructional leadership team
Joining a school’s instructional leadership team is another pathway to teacher leadership. An instructional leadership team generally consists of the principal, instructional coaches, and teachers from each grade or grade span. Often, the grade-level representatives on the instructional leadership team are the facilitators of grade-level teams.

The instructional leadership team works on schoolwide issues such as developing or sustaining a schoolwide vision, setting goals, and planning strategies for reaching those goals. In addition, instructional leadership teams often assist the principal with operational issues — for example, revising the process for evaluating students for special education or ensuring that each classroom constitutes a cross-section of the school’s students.

When teachers join an instructional leadership team, they gain opportunities to make an impact beyond their own classroom and influence the policies and strategies of the whole school. In addition, if a teacher is considering pursuing a coaching role or principalship, taking part in an instructional leadership team will give the teacher a small sense of the responsibilities of those positions. Smith’s instructional leadership team in Chicago works explicitly on general leadership skills, discussing what it means to be a leader and reflecting each week on challenges and successes they experienced as a leader.

The rest of the school also benefits from having an instructional leadership team with robust participation by teachers. The principal gains thought partners on challenging issues, and some of the principal’s heavy workload can be delegated to instructional leadership team members. In addition, teachers not on the instructional leadership team gain representation in school-level decisions, and instructional leadership team members can act as mediators if difficult issues arise between administrators and staff.

Sarah Bitner, a 2nd-grade teacher on the instructional council of Candelaria’s school in Albuquerque, describes the situation at her school this way: “My colleagues know that when we have something to take to the principal, it makes sense for me to be that person because I have a good relationship with her and know how to talk to her.”

When a team of administrators and teachers work in unison to realize a vision, students win. For example, in Smith’s school in Chicago, reading scores increased markedly as a high-functioning instructional leadership team led the implementation of Common Core standards and created units of study in literacy. In 2011-12, before the instructional leadership team hit its stride, 27% of 2nd graders were reading on grade level. Just two years later, 42% were.

However, participating in an instructional leadership team comes with challenges. For example, the work of the instructional leadership team will not always be appreciated by nonmembers. Smith, the literacy coach in Chicago, believes that part of her role as the facilitator of her school’s instructional leadership team is to make sure that the team members know how important their work is. She offers, “They might not hear it from anyone else, and they need to hear it from someone.”

A related challenge for instructional leadership team members in some schools is finding successors. Ideally, new members would join from time to time as long-serving members rotated out so that a broad cross-section of staff gets to play a part in leading the school, and a few teachers do not feel that the long-term success of the school depends solely on them.

Instructional leadership activities often occur outside the regular school day so teacher leaders must adopt a flexible schedule, using time typically spent preparing for their own classes to support the learning of their peers. In addition, they may receive minimal or no compensation for the extra work. Bitner in New Mexico puts it succinctly: “You have to really want to be a leader. There’s no pay for it.” However, the fact that Bitner has volunteered repeatedly for the extra responsibilities indicates that the professional growth and fulfillment that come with being a teacher leader make the sacrifices worthwhile for her.

The teacher leaders discussed here see themselves and their career possibilities differently now that they have grown into new roles. They find leading professional learning very rewarding and, though they would miss working directly with students, are considering becoming full-time instructional coaches.

Interestingly, these teachers recognize that becoming a principal involves a different mindset and set of skills, and they expressed little interest in going down that path. For now, they are enjoying being able to use their energy and knowledge to raise the achievement of not only their own classrooms, but those of other teachers as well.

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