Connecting Teacher Leadership and Professional Learning in D.C. Public Schools

How can we best connect teacher leadership to professional learning? What do schools sometimes get wrong - despite their best intentions - and how can we help more schools get it right? With the publication of Igniting the Learning Engine: How School Systems Accelerate Teacher Effectiveness and Student Growth Through ‘Connected Professional Learning', the nonprofit organization Education Resource Strategies highlights promising practices at four leading school systems. They offer examples of what it looks like to deeply connect professional learning to the everyday work of teachers and teacher leaders and to a coordinated, system-wide strategy for student success. They also explore how these systems organize resources like people, time, and money to make this happen.

As a national organization focused on the development of teacher leaders, we at Leading Educators are acutely aware of both the challenge and promise of connected professional learning. With regular opportunities to collaborate and deepen instructional expertise, teacher leaders can play a key role in improving student learning. At the same time, we know that teacher leaders are part of a larger connected system within schools, and their success often depends on the presence of content experts, access to high quality instructional materials, and the necessary time to work with colleagues.

Since 2012, Leading Educators has served as a key strategic partner to DC Public Schools (DCPS), one of four systems profiled in the ERS paper. At the beginning of the partnership, DCPS had just received a federal grant through the Teacher Incentive Fund to increase opportunities for teacher leadership, building on the district’s previous work on teacher evaluation and compensation. Leading Educators partnered with DCPS to provide technical assistance, drawing on our long-standing work with teacher leadership programs in New Orleans and Kansas City, Missouri.

Leading Educators worked with DCPS to launch the Teacher Leadership Innovation (TLI) program at a pilot group of seven schools. In the early years of the program, schools had great latitude in creating teacher leader roles. This meant that school leaders were highly engaged in the process but also that roles varied widely. While these roles added capacity for school leaders, they were not exclusively focused on examining student work or building teacher skills. For many teacher leaders who were new to leadership positions, coaching their former peers created challenging dynamics. Additionally, some schools struggled to protect release time that had been allocated for teacher leader functions when staff turnover occurred and emergencies arose.

As TLI expanded, structures, systems, and training were gradually put in place to address many of the lessons learned from the first cohort of schools. Over time, new teacher leader roles became more narrowly focused on what the paper refers to as “content-focused, expert-led collaboration” instead of tackling both administrative and learning functions. This ensured that principals aligned the roles to the key instructional priorities of their schools. To support TLI participants’ transition into new leadership roles, the program content focused heavily on developing both hard and soft leadership skills. DCPS also focused on helping new teacher leaders develop adult leadership skills. Leading Educators partnered with the district to provide sessions focused on relationship management, addressing topics such as difficult conversations, team dynamics, influence with and without authority, and conversations about difference. This content translated leadership best practices into normed processes and tools.

In addition, Leading Educators worked with DCPS to create systems and structures to support principals in becoming stronger distributive leaders. These included how to strongly connect school priorities to teacher leadership roles - the School Theory of Action - and how to regularly and rigorously analyze formative leadership, teacher practice, and student data - the Quarterly Data Review. Maggie Slye, the Managing Director for Leading Educators’ LEAP team, explains how these structures function in practice:

 

"The Theory of Action serves to anchor the school in its priorities, not just for students and teachers, but also anchors the leadership team in the commitments they’ve made to teachers. By establishing these priorities and commitments collaboratively, the Theory of Action supports alignment and a shared understanding of priorities. Each quarter, a Leading Educators Leadership Coach leads the leadership team to analyze student and/or teacher data to assess what has been accomplished and what may need to be revised. This data cycle - setting goals, assessing progress, and course-correcting - is something many schools do for students. It’s far less frequent to see schools doing this type of analysis for teacher goals and for leadership goals. Our schools emerge from Quarterly Data Reviews not only clearer on the next quarter’s goals for students, but also goals for teacher instructional practice and the leader actions they will take to support teacher development in those instructional practices."

 

Finally, the DCPS central office team, in partnership with school leaders, began to research, create, and share innovative scheduling approaches that would create more release time cost neutrally. With coaching, school leadership teams developed contingency plans so that they could provide sufficient time for productive collaboration even when unforeseen challenges emerged.

Leading Educators has had the honor of learning alongside outstanding DCPS school and central office leaders. Principal Art Mola from Bancroft Elementary shares, “It is hard to think of Bancroft and Leading Educators as a partnership. The amazing team at LE has become an intricate part of the Bancroft family in such a way that we do not view them as an external entity, rather a member of our leadership team. And as a result, Bancroft LEAP Leads continue to celebrate the amazing job our LE coach has done with each one of them, and with the whole team. I can confidently say that the quality of our Quarterly Data Reviews has improved exponentially, as we are firmly grounded in our commitment to the Theory of Action, and are already looking forward to next year as we get ready to roll out a more improved version than even now.”

These efforts laid a strong foundation for LEAP. With LEAP, DCPS is leveraging distributive leadership to improve instructional practice in content-specific and job-embedded teams. LEAP has ignited the learning engine by empowering principals and teacher leaders with the structures and tools to drive continuous improvement.

Cohort 2015 Spotlight: Dean Gancarz-Davies

School: FirstLine Schools

Hometown: My early years were in Severna Park, Maryland. Then my high school years were in Brooklyn, New York.

What made you want to become a teacher?

I was a psychology major in college (at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota) and as junior and senior, I had an internship as a Developmental Therapist with autistic preschoolers. I loved it and completely grooved on it and thought "I want to do this for the rest of my life." I talked with my program, and they said I had to go into the public schools to do that. So I had various teacher aides positions in public schools and then when I moved to New Orleans...I did a program called Pathways to Teaching at Tulane where I took classes and taught in New Orleans public schools. Now I've been teaching for over 20 years since.

What brought you to your current position as Athletic Director?

I taught 4th grade, 6th grade, gifted resource, and 2nd grade. And I figured out that I was so busy that I was never able to exercise. To feel good, I need to exercise. So I thought, how can I make exercise part of my job? I have to be a PE teacher! So I went back to UNO and got my Master's Degree in PE and Health in 2005. And since then, I've been teaching PE and then became an athletic director.

Can you explain your inspiration for your CPL and Impact Initiative?

When I was a fourth-grade teacher, I was at a brainstorming session around what can we do to improve test scores. Well, my fourth graders were having a hard time sitting still, and I thought if we had an intense physical activity portion at the start of the day, my test scores would improve. I was laughed out of the room. I read a book called "Spark" after that. The first part was how in Illinois, a heavy fitness program at the beginning of the school day really advanced test scores in a huge way. When I read this in the book, I thought "That's what I was saying!" Later, when I was pushed to doing the Impact Initiative (with Leading Educators), I thought this was something I really believed in - if we can get kids to be more physically active that their academics will improve. So that is what I am trying to do, with all my PE teachers and specifically with kids who are really struggling, getting some of that exercise-induced focus back into the classroom.

What is one lesson you learned last year that you would share with a first year LE Fellow?

Make your Leading Educators time a priority. There will be a lot of pulls on your time and it would be easy to put LE stuff on the back burner, but it's equally as important if not more important than all the other stuff you have to do. It's a development of our craft that can really make significant strides with our students more so than other things we may be required to do.

Champion Spotlight - Jonas Chartock

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What do Lady Gaga, two former U.S. presidents, the Duke of York, the “Oracle of Omaha” and Oprah all have in common? They have all been named as the top influential do-gooders in the world, right alongside Leading Educators’ Chief Executive Officer, Jonas Chartock.

Digital media platform Richtopia released its list of the Top 200 Most Influential Do-Gooders in the World. Richtopia, which espouses equity-driven business practices and environmentally conscious endeavors, based their selections on social capital and influence, not merely net worth. Weighing metrics from sources such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, LinkedIn and Instagram, plus their own “secret sauce,” candidates are chosen for their continual drive to leverage social media for social good.

Chartock is taking the praise with his usual humility, both surprised and honored to be included, but observing that he was slotted at #153 - placing him just behind World Wrestling Entertainment’s (WWE) Stephanie McMahon. Call us optimists, but we can’t help but note that’s also one slot *above* one of the biggest names in online marketing, Seth Godwin.  

You can find him at all hours on his twitter feed here.

Congratulations, Jonas!

Champion Spotlight: Dr. Pamela Puryear

At Leading Educators, we celebrate the outstanding achievements of those in our community.  We are delighted to see that Black Enterprise agrees and has named Dr. Pamela Puryear as one of the Most Powerful Women in Business for 2017.

Dr. Puryear has been a member of Leading Educators’ Board of Directors since 2015, bringing a wealth of professional experience and visionary excellence to our organization.  Last December, Dr. Puryear was also named Trailblazer of the Year by the National Association of African-Americans in Human Resources (NAAAHR) to celebrate her extraordinary commitment and contributions to the human resources field.

We salute Dr. Puryear’s accomplishments and are proud to call her part of the Leading Educators’ family.

CONGRATULATIONS, DR. PURYEAR!

Tragedy Strikes FirstLine Schools Community

Dear Friends of Leading Educators:

In the early hours of Friday, March 10th, our community experienced a devastating tragedy. It was discovered that New Orleans Kindergartner Jumyrin Smith and his brother Justin Simms (5th grade) had been fatally wounded along with their mother, Monique Smith. Sister A'Miya Smith (7th grade) survived the shooting, but remains in critical condition.

All three children were students at Samuel J. Green Charter School, which is one of many partner schools in our New Orleans / Baton Rouge teacher leadership cohort.

FirstLine Schools CEO and Leading Educators Board Member Jay Altman announced a fund established for the Smith Family in their time of crisis. Donations may also be made in person at any Capital One Bank. Please donate and share with your networks.

As Gentilly grapples with this tremendous loss, our hearts go out to the classmates of A’Miya, Justin and Jumyrin, as well as the teachers who provide safety and stability for the children of Samuel J. Green.

A Classroom Without a Woman?

We at Leading Educators are bound by the core belief that all children deserve a high quality education. We believe that through investments in teacher leadership based on rigorous content, anti-bias education and a strong culture of learning, we can create equitable schools that yield students who are college and career ready.

Central to preparing young people for successful lives and careers is the role of the teacher. Knowing how critical teachers are to our society and to the life prospects of our students, we believe it is important to take time to recognize the historical and current role of women in cultivating and leading the future of our country. Across the world earlier this week, communities recognized International Women’s Day and participated in A Day Without A Woman - a movement encouraging women and their allies to mark the day by uniting in economic protest, wearing red, refraining from making purchases (except from small, minority or women-owned businesses) and in some cases, staying home from their jobs. Organizers sought to draw attention to the essential role of women in the workforce, as well as important policies such as equal pay and paid family leave, inciting global grassroots gains towards justice and human rights.

Teaching, like nursing, social work, and many service industries, is largely a female-dominated profession. According to 2012 statistics, nearly 76% of all teachers in this country are female; however, it is worth noting that women are drastically underrepresented in leadership roles - occupying a mere 27% of district superintendent slots.

Many of these teachers - like women across the country and across the globe - marked "A Day Without A Woman" by staying out of schools and classrooms. Some criticism was leveled against the observance, as some school districts closed in anticipation of insufficient staff to cover such significant absences. This raises a tension that is particularly relevant to our work. Leading Educators partners with some of the most underserved, high-risk student populations, and we are acutely aware of the loss of valuable learning time. We also believe that students learn a great deal by watching how adults in their lives model the values they espouse.  

At Leading Educators, equity and community are among our core values. We invest our energies in fighting systemic injustice through community engagement. With a staff that is nearly two-thirds female, the long- and short-term impact of “A Day Without a Woman” is at the forefront of our minds. In a letter to our staff, CEO Jonas Chartock said, “Whether [Leading Educators’ employees] should choose to take the day off in protest, wear red, or abstain altogether, we recognize that we would not be the organization we are without the labor and leadership of women.”

On International Women’s Day and all days, Leading Educators recognizes and appreciates the essential labor and leadership of women, and salutes their essential role in building the leaders of tomorrow.