Growing Sustainable Teacher Leadership

One of the biggest challenges principals have today is hiring, growing, and sustaining teacher leaders.  In his article for Phi Delta Kappan titled, Beginning Teacher Induction: What the Data Tell Us, Richard Ingersoll discusses teacher attrition.  He noted that, “…40% and 50% of new teachers leave within the first five years of entry into teaching.”  That statistic alone should give principals pause to reflect on their hiring practices, induction efforts, and school culture.  Teacher leadership is difficult to foster when teachers are fleeing the profession.

What can principals do to ensure that the teachers they hire are successful for years to come?  Principals must develop a comprehensive and inclusive approach to growing sustainable teacher leadership in their buildings.  If principals adopt consistent practices in four key areas:  hiring; induction/support; observation/evaluation; and professional development, they can improve teacher retention and focus their efforts on growing teacher leadership.

Hiring

Principals will tell you that growing sustainable leadership begins with the hiring process. Hire a poor candidate and you will spend a long time undoing your error.  Hire a great candidate and you can stand back with pride as they excel.  Simple enough, but how can you increase your chances of hiring a great teacher?  A few simple practices can dramatically increase the odds of hiring the next teacher of the year candidate:

▪ Hire by committee- Let your teachers help select their next colleague.  This immediately improves your new employee’s chances of being successful because their peers will be invested in their future.  New teachers who have colleagues looking out for them will find it hard to fail.

▪ Ask questions that are based on your school’s values- The questions don’t have to be lengthy, but they should be the same for every candidate to ensure fairness. The interview committee should get a sense of whether the candidate will fit in with the school’s culture.  Develop questions that evoke the responses you want (e.g. Give us an example of how you have collaborated with other teachers to meet the needs of your students).

▪ Call references- It is surprising how many principals skip this basic step.  Even if you already know who you want to hire, take the time to call their references.  It may take a little time, but it could save you from hiring the wrong person.

▪ Avoid hiring from desperation- Principals often end up advertising positions and interviewing at the last minute.  An unexpected retirement, a family crisis, and suddenly you are desperate to fill an opening.  This is the worst position to be in.  It’s like buying a car when yours has to be towed onto the lot.  Be patient.  Hire a long-term sub if you have to, but don’t hire someone just to check it off your “to do” list.

In her 2013 article, Teachers Hiring Teachers, Mary Clement noted that involving teachers in the hiring process strengthens teacher leadership.  She also found that when teachers are included in the selection process, schools are more likely to “make good matches.”

Induction/Support

​Once you have your new hire, you need to provide the support to get them off on the right foot.  It can be a very helpless feeling to walk into a building and not know who your resources are.  Planning for the induction and support process shows new employees they are valued and that you recognize their needs are different.

In their 2012 Teacher Induction Discussion Guide, The National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) provides suggestions for the scope and structure of teacher induction programs.  They suggest that comprehensive teacher induction programs include the following:

▪ multi-year support for new teachers for at least two years;
▪ high-quality mentoring utilizing carefully selected and well-prepared mentors;
▪ regularly scheduled common planning time with other teachers;
▪ ongoing professional development; and
▪ standards-based evaluation of new teachers throughout the process.

As we all know, relationships are key to the achievement of our students.  They are also the key to the success of our teachers.  The success of new teachers is highly dependent on the relationships they have with their colleagues, support personnel, and their principal.  Principals can strongly influence the progress of new teachers just by being available to them.  Schools that grow skilled teachers do so through comprehensive and highly supportive methods.  When teachers feel they are part of something bigger than themselves, they rise to the occasion and grow exponentially in their skills.

Observation/Evaluation

​The observation and evaluation process is a critical component in growing sustainable teacher leadership.  Principals who focus on using teacher observation and evaluation to improve instruction will have more success than those who use it as a punitive tool.  When observation and evaluation conferences include honest conversations about student performance, they are much more likely to lead to teacher growth.

​Charlotte Danielson is recognized as a leader in the teacher observation and evaluation field.  Many districts have adopted her approach when developing teacher and principal evaluation models.  Her Framework for Teaching: Evaluation Instrument synthesizes her previous work and responds to the instructional implications of the Common Core State Standards.  Danielson’s framework addresses four domains essential to the teacher observation and rating process:

1. Planning and Preparation
2. Classroom Environment
3. Instruction
4. Professional Responsibilities

Danielson’s framework is comprehensive and targets the skills and knowledge that teachers are expected to master.  Her framework is based on empirical studies that connectspecific teacher behaviors to student achievement.  Teachers are unlikely to feel threatened if observation and evaluation discussions are centered on student achievement.  In order to grow sustainable leadership in schools, teachers and principals must work collaboratively in the observation and evaluation process.

Professional Development

The state of professional development in education is rapidly changing.  Professional development models that rely heavily on the expertise of outside facilitators are passé.  Just like principals expect teachers to provide instruction to meet the needs of all learners, they mustprovide the same for the developmental needs of their teachers.  Professional development should be job-embedded and inclusive of the needs of individual teachers.

In 2012, the Annenberg Innovation Lab released a report titled, Designing with Teachers:  Participatory Approaches to Professional Development in Education.  The group that collaborated on the report included researchers, teachers, and school administrators from a variety of schools and states.  The group was seeking to construct a framework for participatory professional development.  They found that there are four core values associated with participatory PD:

1. Participation, not indoctrination- collective intelligence, everyone (teachers included) has a role in PD.
2. Exploration, not prescription- teachers have a say in the scope of PD which should be individualized for their content area.
3. Contextualization, no abstraction- PD is practical, meaningful, and immediately useful.
4. Iteration, not repetition- PD is evaluated as an iterative process and the selection of PD comes from the examination of data.​

Modern principals must be innovative in all aspects of their work.  Innovation in professional development is a necessity.  Thoughtfully designed professional development can sustain teachers throughout their career.  Principals who know the strengths of their staff and design PD that is specific to their needs create learning environments that are healthy for teachers and students.

It’s About School Culture

Ultimately, teacher retention and development are products of school culture.  A culture that values the contributions of everyone is able to thrive even when typical levels of teacher turnover occur.  Principals who hire effectively, support new teachers, foster the observation process, and provide innovative PD greatly increase the likelihood that teachers will remain in, and contribute to, the profession.

Teachers want to make a difference.  They want to be the best they can.  If schools thoughtfully support their professional needs, anything is possible.  The belief system in a school that values teacher retention and leadership is the same value system that will support student learning and growth.  That creates the ultimate win/win opportunity for schools.

This article, written by Christopher Wooleyhand, was published in the September/October 2014 issue of Principal magazine. Copyright 2014 National Association of Elementary School Principals. All Rights Reserved.

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