Research shows that teachers learn best from each other, and that a school leadership model that leverages teacher leadership can positively impact instruction. Why not turn to teachers to help lead in the area they know best? School leadership should include teacher leaders as part of the solution to improving teaching and learning — giving space and time for collaboration, reflection, and observation, and improving their craft through meaningful teacher-to-teacher learning.
In the spirit of testing this theory, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in collaboration with The Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd (The Center), established the Teacher Practice Networks initiative (TPN). The initiative is designed to develop networks of teacher leaders, support their learning around Common Core State Standards (CCSS)-aligned resources, and position them to serve their colleagues and scale their reach through organizational partnerships. More than 35 teacher practice organizations have participated in this initiative and currently 13 organizations engage over 12,000 teachers in meaningful professional learning across the country.
TPN organizations are leaders in their field, addressing a breadth of content and pedagogical practices—English language learning, mathematics, social studies, science, literacy, and inquiry-based learning—while reaching teachers and students in rural and urban areas from New York to Illinois to California. All TPN organizations can demonstrate the impact of teacher leaders on improved instructional practices in their own classroom and in the classrooms of teachers with whom they work, making them valuable partners for other schools looking to leverage their own teachers as leaders in schoolwide instructional improvement efforts.
In spring 2017, The Center surveyed teacher leaders and the teachers they support who participate in the TPN initiative. They received responses from more than 500 teacher leaders and 2,600 teachers, who work directly with those teacher leaders. Key activities the teacher leaders undertake include engaging with a consistent core group of teachers over time, planning and facilitating professional learning, sharing pedagogy and high-quality materials aligned to standards, and coaching peers 1:1.
- 91% of teacher leaders feel more confident providing standards-aligned instruction.
- 93% know how to find high-quality instructional materials to support their standards-aligned instructional practices.
In a separate end-of-year survey of 1,921 teachers, the majority who responded rated the learning they experienced with the teacher leaders as valuable and beneficial: they learned about CCSS, acquired experience integrating standards-aligned materials into their instruction, gained access to high-quality materials, and developed confidence using the standards. Also, most of them collaborate more with their colleagues because of their experiences
The U.S. Department of Education identifies strong teacher leadership as a recommended strategy to provide a high-quality education for all students and encourages the use of Every Student Succeeds Act funds to bolster meaningful teacher leadership opportunities. We see the success of the TPN teacher leaders network as a model for teachers leading teachers in effective, collaborative opportunities to improve instruction.