Deeper Dialogue On Teacher Leader Certification
Two weeks ago I posted a poll about the idea of certifying teacher leaders through formal programs at the state or district level. At this point, a majority of people responding to the poll agreed that “States should develop formal/official pathways to leadership certification.” A distant second in the poll was “While we need teacher leadership, we don’t need formal certification of teacher leaders.” Still further behind, surprisingly to me, was “Any leadership certification program should be developed at the local level.” I would have expected a little less interest in the state-level option and a more desire to see innovations led at the local level – as Riverside County has done. Maybe it depends how much faith or trust you have in your county or district, or whether you even thought a local educational agency could develop such a program at all.
There have been a few comments on the poll, but not as many as I’d hoped. I think this is a topic where we can and should have a genuine dialogue. I know there are strong arguments all around, and educators with similar goals who disagree about how to achieve success. I’m copying some of the exchanges below, and hoping to spark more. If you didn’t cast your vote in the original poll, or if you’d like some links to read more on this topic before voting or commenting, you can use either of the links above as your starting point.
I guess I get a little worried about any kind of certification process because, by definition, it has to standardize the process, right? Yes, we can base it on something as successful as [National Board Certification], but won’t it make quantitative the contributions that a person gives to educational leadership? … I like the idea of different recognized gradations of teachers and teacher quality, but I would fear adding one more hoop that can be hopped by anyone who simply goes through the process.
I understand your concerns, and whatever we come up with, there will be some “head-scratchers” in the final outcome. There will always be some who slip through who leave you wondering how that happened. Whether it’s a driver’s license, college admission, or someone hired for almost any job, or who receives some certification or recognition… I think about it this way: if we create this new pathway, on balance, will it advance the goals of improving teaching and learning, and improving the profession? I think if it’s designed well, such a program would address the needs of teachers we know well, who are looking for that extra opportunity and still motivated to stay in the classroom. My biggest concern is how “thin” and uninspired the design might be if it’s all run at the state level. In my dream world, I think it would be locally designed and run, but with some way to make the program align to some state standards, and therefore make the certification meaningful around the state, and relevant in state policies and statewide opportunities for teachers.
This is a really interesting premise. I tend to prefer the idea of empowering people to be leaders, as opposed to certifying them to become leaders. I’m not opposed to the certification, but I think the “needs” for leadership roles differ so greatly from context to context–even within the same district.
I know what you mean about variations within districts. We have a lot of that in Palo Alto. I think some of that variability is inevitable, and some is cultivated, and I think it plays out as both a strength and a challenge. So, knowing what we know about variability, are there commonalities around which we could, and should, formalize pathways to leadership roles, and expectations regarding how the jobs are filled, what the expectations are, responsibilities, pay, etc.? As you’ve probably inferred, I’m inclined to say yes, though I would be very cautious about how it’s done so that it avoids some predictable traps:
- appearance of favoritism, excess subjectivity
- too easy or too hard to attain
- hoop-jumping exercise, checklist-o-rama that lacks substance
- diminished focus on classroom practice and student learning
- more work without real responsibility, or without appropriate compensation
Much of what I say and write on this topic comes from the ACT report on teacher compensation and career pathways – learn more here.
What do you think? Is teacher leader certification an idea whose time has come, a fad or diversion? Share your thoughts and experiences.