Are Teacher-led Schools Viable?

The October edition of Educational Leadership focused on leveraging teacher leadership.  This is a topic near and dear to my heart.  I am convinced that growing teacher leadership is the key to raising the level of instruction in our nation’s schools.  I also believe that principals are responsible for making this happen.  I was, therefore, intrigued with Lori Nazareno’s article titled, Portrait of a Teacher-Led School.

In her article, Nazareno describes the teacher-led school she opened in Denver, Colorado.  According to her, “(they) have consciously created an environment that requires all teachers to lead in a climate in which everyone owns student learning.”  The school reports that is uses teacher teams as well as peer observation and evaluation to guide instruction.

The article gives a balanced view of the innovation that can be fostered in a teacher-led school, while also outlining the challenges of leadership in a “flat” organization.  Nazareno isn’t suggesting that all schools can make do without a principal.

New ideas in teaching and school leadership are needed and should be welcomed.  If a teacher-led school model fosters increased academic achievement, then we should embrace it.  Nazareno, however, doesn’t offer any data to tout her school’s success.  It would be interesting to see a longitudinal study conducted on the efficacy of teacher-led schools.  Of course, there is more to a school’s success than student performance data.

After reading the article, I still feel strongly that teacher leadership should be able to thrive regardless of whether a school is led by a principal or by a lead-teacher.  In fact, a strong, collaborative principal can foster a level of leadership that empowers teachers to make the same instructional decisions that are made in teacher-led schools.  Principals are also skilled at protecting teachers from administrative tasks that can sidetrack their instructional focus.

Frankly, the concept of teacher-led schools also makes me a little sad.  Has the state of education reached such a low point that principals are now seen as obstacles to the learning process?  I also find it a little ironic that when you visit the website for Nazareno’s school*, the Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy, they list a principal and a lead teacher as staff members.  This would suggest that maybe the packaging was changed, but the contents are the same.

Perhaps the biggest contribution of the teacher-led movement is that the term lead-learner has become popular.  If a principal sees himself or herself as the lead learner, then it won’t matter what other titles he or she may hold.  Teacher-led schools are unlikely to replace principal-led schools, but maybe their ideology can influence school leaders to be more collaborative and team-centered.

* As noted in the article, Nazareno left the Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy for a position as a teacher-in-residence with the Center for Teaching Quality in Conifer, Colorado.

ASCD members and EL subscribers can access Nazareno’s article at the following link:

http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/oct13/vol71/num02/Portrait_of_a_Teacher-Led_School.aspx

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