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“It is increasing implausible that we could improve the performance of schools…without promoting leadership in teaching by teachers” (Judith Warren Little, 1988). The seeds Judith Little planted over 30 years ago in her call for teachers to lead school reform has new models of teacher leadership and “collaborative visioning” budding, emerging from the soil to change the foundation of which the distribution of power and authority within schools is established. “The top-down, fix-the-teacher education reforms of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are losing favor” (Berry, 2019).
The long-standing hierarchical leadership structures that characterize public education are finally at a crossroad where administrators and educators are ready to make necessary changes. Principals are increasingly recognizing their inability to provide enough leadership needed for their schools, overwhelmed with their highly complex positions. At the same stroke, teachers are eager to contribute and extremely intent on leading (and teaching) in hybrid roles. Teacher leaders are redesigning schools with effective digital technologies utilization, learning from and connecting with each other in a multitude of ways, providing them the strength to clarify their identities as “agents of change” (Cheung et.
“Teacher collaboration matters for student learning, and it matters for how teachers learn to lead” (Berry, 2019). This isn’t a few teachers as instructional coaches: it’s a group process developing and growing over time. Teachers’ improvement takes place when they serve each other: sharing resources and taking ownership of their professional development. “The most powerful professional learning tends to be shared among colleagues, not vested in one person who is high up in the hierarchy” (York-Barr & Duke, 2004).
As teachers advance in effectiveness, they improve their practice and become better leaders in vaster proportions when their school is an environment with higher quality, structured collaboration and feedback, providing more opportunities for reflection on their mastery. Being able to take risks and embrace their deficiencies and weaknesses with the support of colleagues and supervisors is the door to success for greater teacher leadership, thus increased student achievements.
Support for rising teacher leadership is growing almost daily. Programs are being created by state education agencies such as redesigned teaching evaluations that help teachers cultivate their practice, formal teacher leader programs, the Teacher Powered School (TPS) movement, the National Education Agency launching a variety of programs including the Teacher Leadership Institute, and the dramatic rise in teacher networks tearing down the ancient walls that isolated educators and smothered educational advancements accomplishable through teacher collaboration and leadership. Increasing numbers of teachers are participating in at least one of the vast array of teacher networks such as those hosted by EdCamp, the National Blogging Collaborative, National Geographic Society, National Network of Sate Teachers of the Year, Teach Plus, Hope Street, Teaching Partners, Teachers Guild, and the Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ)
“Teachers are more likely to make instructional shifts and improve student learning when they have indirect exposure to new ideas through collegial interactions” (Daly et al., 2014; Peneul et al., 2012). “While the strength and depth of teachers’ learning networks tend to vary considerably, the most productive networks ‘almost always stretch beyond grade-level groups to include others inside and outside the school’ (Coburn & Russell, 2008)”.
“The prospects for teacher leadership will remain dim if no one can distinguish the gains made for students when large numbers of teachers devote their collective attention to curriculum and instruction” (Little, 1988). The overwhelming evidence showing the connection between teacher leadership and positive effects on student achievement has local and state policies establishing and recognizing this new “collaborative visioning”. Teacher leaders are sharing their knowledge through digital media and, in doing so, are becoming increasingly proficient in educational technology usage. These discoveries have caused researchers to increase their knowledge and of how teachers learn to effectively lead. This is more than enough evidence that teacher leadership is a long overdue, necessary reform.
The nourishment and growth of teacher leadership has been slowly but progressively blooming since 1988, with extensive research being provided on the effectiveness of collaboration over isolation, teachers’ proven capacity to lead (especially with effective educational technology use), and servant leaders sharing their expertise with each other through ever-increasing teacher networks that allow greater knowledge and understanding on so many levels. Unsatisfied with centralized reforms for over a quarter of a century, teachers are no longer waiting for things to change. They are taking ownership of change, improving schools and education through their “collaborative visioning” and a new foundation that begins in the classroom, not the boardroom.
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