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: