Teaching Career Pathways: Leadership Certification
Note: In 2012, Accomplished California Teachers published Quality Teaching in Every Classroom: New Approaches to Compensation and Career Pathways. Our team of teacher leaders from diverse regions and types of schools recommended that California policy makers should pursue means to give talented and motivated teachers expanded, formal opportunities to contribute to school improvement. We advised policy makers to consider a higher level license or certification for teachers who demonstrate teaching excellence and the skills and desire to lead. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson convened an Educator Excellence Task Force last year as well; their comprehensive report Greatness by Design cited the ACT report in making similar recommendations about the trajectory California should follow to strengthen the teaching profession. This blog post is the fifth in a series of posts highlighting examples of innovative approaches to teacher leadership.
Later this evening at the Riverside County Office of Education (RCOE), California teacher leadership will take an important step forwards: a two-year process of leadership training and certification ends tonight for the first ever cohort to complete the county’s Teacher Leader Certification Academy (TLCA). This approach to expanding the skills and responsibilities of teacher leaders will likely improve our profession, and the quality of teaching and learning in California’s schools.
The Teacher Leader Certification Academy was developed by Lanelle Gordin and Wendy Kerr. I visited Riverside earlier this spring to learn more about the program’s history, purpose, and activities. I met Lanelle and Wendy for a few hours in the afternoon, and had a chance to observe the TLCA participants working together that evening. Overall, I found the Teacher Leadership Certification Academy to be a comprehensive way to build system capacity to address real needs in schools and improve teaching.
Many schools in Riverside County, like their counterparts around the country, have moved in recent years to make effective use of professional learning communities (PLCs), and at the county level, they realized teacher leadership was integral to PLC success. However, adult learning in the workplace differs significantly from children’s learning in a classroom; we can’t assume that skillful classroom teachers are also ready and able to facilitate their peers’ learning. The TLCA was created to ensure that teacher leaders in Riverside County had common, high quality preparation for their expanded roles, brining the complete package of theory, skill, and practice to their work with colleagues.
I mention theory because there’s a considerable body of knowledge informing the TLCA. Lanelle and Wendy between them have years of doctoral research, study of organizational management, teacher support and teaching experience. My conversation with them centered around the needs of teachers in schools, but the suggestions and strategies came from authors and researchers in a variety of fields. I think that’s helpful not only because an interdisciplinary approach is robust and likely to produce better results, but also because it puts educators on common ground discussing our work with our community. There’s also a set of national Teacher Leader Standards, recently published by ETS, and formulated by a team of teachers and education leaders from around the country. (I’m sure many teachers, like me, hear about these efforts and are skeptical about the aims and results based on who was at the table doing the work. While I would have liked to see more teachers in this effort, the team did include a number of teachers, and several of the non-teachers were education leaders whose body of work I respect, and who are in constant contact with teacher leaders).
Teachers going through the TLCA have been on quite a journey, going back over two years. Their applications required multiple recommendations from peers and administrators. They’ve met with many of those administrators in a workshop setting that allowed both sides to explore new thinking and learning about school leadership. They’ve attended monthly meetings for two years, and in between meetings they’ve done readings, worked on projects, and engaged in online discussions about their leadership curriculum. Some of their experience has been shared in the TLCA blog Encouraging the Heart of the Teacher Leader, which is where I found the video below.
When I observed the second year group at their April meeting, I was impressed by the rapport they’ve established. Coming from different schools around Riverside County, they’ve forged a good working relationship that allows them to challenge each other, to serve as critical friends whose observations and questions about each other’s work can form the basis for future improvements. (You can see pictures from their meeting in the slideshow below).
Each teacher leader has been working on a capstone project to be presented tonight. Those projects vary quite a bit, resulting as they do from the creativity of each individual teacher; still, the projects have been coordinated with school administrators to ensure that each project meets a student or community need. I hope this blog post can be followed by posts that detail some of the capstone projects.
I’m sure that as this first cohort completes the TLCA, there will be learning and adjustments. One characteristic I look for in leaders, and in teachers, is a degree of introspection and honesty, a willingness to admit challenges and seek constant improvement. Wendy and Lanelle never tried to impress me with how they’ve figured everything out. A new project like this will inevitably meet obstacles, and of course, there’s a huge question mark looming ahead. For all the good intentions and smart decisions in the design of the TLCA, will it truly improve teaching and learning in Riverside County? I expect it will, but it would be naïve to expect dramatic and unambiguous evidence proving the efficacy of certified teacher leaders beyond all doubt.
Of course, evidence of success is important. There will likely be evidence of both success and maybe some failures, which, if evaluated thoughtfully, could be put to use to keep this project alive and improving for many years. Riverside County is pushing school leadership in the right direction, and hopes are high around the state among other teacher leaders that we can all learn something beneficial and applicable to strengthening teaching in California public schools.
Teacher Leader Certification Academy, Riverside County Office of Education, 4/15/13
(photos by the author)
For additional examples of innovative teacher leadership in California public schools, see other blog posts in the series CA Teacher Leader Profiles.