In previous posts I have suggested specific CPD activities for teachers as individuals, such as learning a second language and keeping a daily journal. Here, I will discuss another avenue for CPD: within schools. Per the literature, teachers complain that most school-based professional development provides information too general for their daily lives as teachers. However, in “Effective Teacher Leadership: Using Research to Inform and Reform”, editors Melinda M. Mangin and Sara Ray Stoelinga share real-life examples of CPD offered within several US schools. The CPD was provided by “teacher leaders” who coached teachers in ways to improve their teaching and, therefore presumably, to increase their students’ achievements. The chapters show teachers leaders succeeding but also conditions which can impede their success.
For those new to this type of CPD, the book smartly begins with a general definition of “teacher leaders”. Actually, James Taylor prefers the term “instructional coaching” which he defines as “nonsupervisory / nonevaluative individualized guidance and support that takes place directly within the instructional setting” (p. 12). Unlike other school-based CPD, coaching is popular because it provides more specific CPD. Also, it is meant to make up for the teacher’s inadequate pre-service training. Finally, instructional coaching attempts to spread out the responsibilities of school leadership across individuals.
Chapter 2 refers to “guidance and support” and Chapter 4 (by Lord, Cress, and Miller) provide examples of delivery methods of this guidance and support from a research study. These methods included observation, co-teaching, show-and-tell, and one-on-one feedback. So, regarding chapter order, it would be helpful to follow chapter 2 with chapter 4.
In Chapter 3, Manno and Firestone discuss a specific aspect of the teacher leader background that appears important: the level of expertise of the teacher leader in the teacher’s subject area. Through their research study on 8 teacher leaders, the authors concluded that teacher leaders who were experts in the teacher’s subject area more frequently and easily caught teacher mistakes.
Chapters 5 and 7 both focus on district-level actions about teacher leaders so I suggest they follow each other sequentially. In Mangin’s research study (chapter 5), districts differed in how they distributed teacher leaders and some districts spent money on the CPD of math teacher leaders. In Chapter 7, Camburn, Kimball, and Lowehaupt discuss the district wide implementation of literacy coaches. The negative aspects of the implementation overrode any benefits: few coaches, principals using coaches for administrative issues, and teachers complaining that coaches spent too much time out of school for their own CPD.
I like the editors inclusion of chapters 8 and 9 because these chapters show how staff already working within schools can act as teacher leaders. In Chapter 8, Supovitz concluded that teachers in his study of high schools mostly sought each other’s advice. One point of confusion for me: Supovitz states that the high schools were chosen in consultation with external support providers. However, why were the high schools using external providers? Were the providers working in the schools as teacher leaders? Halverson and Thomas’ case study in chapter 9 demonstrates how “student services personnel” became teacher leaders based on the needs of the organization. In 1997, the individual with disabilities education act required educators to create annual goals for each child. Since student services personnel had practice in analyzing student data they were the logical choice to help teachers. Data could help teachers see where students needed improving.
Chapter 6 should definitely be last. By placing this chapter last, the book progresses from the individual (teacher and teacher leader) to the organizational (school) level. In this chapter, Stoelinga considers the organizational factors of schools that affect the implementation of teacher leader positions, such as time schedules, grade level arrangements, and physical plant. Also, informal teacher leaders can have a great influence on the acceptance of teacher leaders in a school setting. For example, in 1 of the 3 schools she studied, central staff were the informal leaders and were protective of teacher autonomy, teacher seniority, and union issues. The literacy coordinator for this school had difficulty gaining access to classrooms because this position contrasted with teacher autonomy. Stoelinga clearly cautions the reader that the organizational culture of a school with its specific norms, values, and ideals are an important part in the process of integrating, or not, the teacher leaders and their attempts to assist teachers, and ultimately, the students. Stoelinga effectively supports her conclusions with 3 case studies of 3 literacy coordinators in 3 Chicago public schools. For me, this chapter resonated with me the most based on my sociology training.
Mangin and Stoelinga comprehensively explore the position of teacher leaders at the individual school, district, and organizational levels. As such, the editors paint a broad picture of teacher leaders so that the reader can see the complexity inherent in this role and its (sometimes difficult) application in schools.
(Note: Sara Ray Stoelinga directs the Urban Education Institute at the University of Chicago where I am on staff).