TLUK

Studying Teacher-Leadership with Leading Educators in Houston

Two principals from London joined the Greater New Orleans Fellowship's School Visits Trip (SVT) to Houston this fall. 

by Beth Kobel, Vice Principal, Preston Manor School, London, UK


This year I have had the opportunity to visit inner city American schools to gather good practice happening in effective schools. Our time in Houston allowed for an opportunity to join a Leading Educators School Visits Trip (SVT) designed for their Fellows. The experience was fantastic! From the very beginning, it was clear that this was going to be a highly organized and effective three days.

At each of the schools visited, we were able to experience a variety of events including: lesson observations, meetings with teaching staff and administration, learning about their induction programs and staff development opportunities, interviewing panels of students, observing student government classes, and visiting spirit assemblies. Every school was very welcoming, highly organized, provided extensive information and answered any questions.

What was an especially valued added bonus, was visiting these schools with highly professional and enthusiastic middle leaders from New Orleans. Seeing the schools through their eyes and listening to their high level of conversation was a fantastic opportunity to learn so much about what we were observing in the context of culture.

Leading Educators has designed the SVT exceptionally well. At the end of each day their are structured opportunities to share good practice, review the evidence gathered to demonstrate various 'levers', as well as begin planning for how this practice might impact on their home schools.

There were so many practical examples to influence our practice on both individual and whole school levels. One thing that I will take away from this visit is the positive impact they are having by dedicating a significant amount of time and resources to staff development. In every school the commitment to making this a priority was evident in its culture, consistency, structure and timetable. Thank you for this opportunity - It really was inspiring!

Reflections on Trends in Teacher Leadership

Leading Educators Advisory Board Retreat, New Orleans, February 2013

by Andrea Berkeley, Leadership Development Direct at Teaching Leaders UK and Leading Educators Advisory Board Member


Andrea Berkeley

Although the observations that follow are based mainly on UK experience, similar trends appear to be emerging across global education systems: increased public accountability in tandem with greater autonomy for schools; an urgent imperative to close the opportunity gap between affluent and poorer communities; national, public or state authority over schools being replaced by stakeholder communities or not-for-profit mission-driven organisations impatient with endemic failures of the status quo. In addition to global shifts in economic power, the nature of work itself is changing along with advances in technology.

The big question of the day seems to be whether our education systems are fit for purpose. Although successive government reforms in the UK have driven up standards overall in the last 10 years, the gap between the attainment of children from poor and affluent homes has remained roughly the same, in some areas it has widened, and there is a long tail of underachievement.

The legacy of the Charter School movement in the US - KIPP in particular - echoes through the rapid emergence of new kinds of school organisation in the UK – federations clustered around ‘Teaching Schools’ which, partnered with a university, provide professional development from initial teacher training to leadership and management across groups of schools; independent yet state-funded chains of academies and the new ‘Free Schools’.

These systemic changes afford more opportunities for collaboration and the kind of distributed leadership essential for building a self-sustaining system, where schools learn from and support each other. This ideal is easier said than done: for some sceptics the definition of ‘collaboration’ would seem to be ‘the suppression of mutual loathing in pursuit of government funding’, when faced with the reality of forced collaboration or reluctant leadership.

A McKinsey report on education standards published in the UK two years ago emphasised the importance of school leadership, citing research demonstrating that the quality of leadership is second only to classroom teaching in its impact on student achievement. The same report also published data showing that in-school variation – between subject departments and between individual teachers – is as big a driver of the opportunity gap as school-to-school variation.

Both the UK and the US have invested soundly in the development of school leadership in recent years, both as a strategic management tool and as a means of growing the leadership talent pipeline. But the focus has been mainly on senior leadership and not on those teachers who lead on the frontline of delivering improved standards.

The imperative to address the development needs of ‘first-line leaders’ – those middle ranking teachers who lead teams of teachers – was raised at an Education Summit held by Leading Educators US and Teaching Leaders UK in Washington DC in 2009. Little has been institutionalised in developed countries since then and the concept is almost virtually unknown in developing nations. Even in the UK and the US there is still a prevalence of ‘first among equals’ or ‘advocate’ culture rather than teacher-leaders who are accountable and who hold others to account.

The time for a collaborative, networked approach that includes support for individual teacher-leaders as well as advancing systemic change might just be right, as Generation Y, the ‘Me’ Generation is being replaced by the ‘C’ Generation, a psychographic group emerging on both sides of the Atlantic as highly connected, pluralistic, multi-cultural, media-savvy digital citizens with shared values and lifestyles.

Advisory Board Retreat: Creating Change

Our Advisory Board Retreat last month yielded many thought-provoking discussions for Leading Educators. The group considered how we should define ourselves as an organization and what specific goals we want to accomplish in the future. As a young but rapidly growing organization, we are excited by these challenging questions and privileged to have an Advisory Board to guide us through the crossroads. 

The retreat took place February 22-23, 2013 at Sci Academy in New Orleans East. In attendance were eight of the best and brightest minds in teacher-leadership today, from East and West Coasts, from de-centralized to large urban school districts, from charter organizations, to teacher unions, to public school systems. We are proud and appreciative of our diverse group of Advisory Board members. 

We were encouraged to learn that many of the topics discussed at the retreat were relevant to the Board members’ organizations. We found a universality among our goals and challenges, across the school districts represented at the meeting and even across the Atlantic, with one the Board member coming from our sister organization Teaching Leaders UK. We discussed on a broader scale how change happens: is change most accessible  on the fringes or, for teacher leadership to blossom, must it be addressed from the core of our systems?

We were reminded that systemic change — with whatever approach — is difficult to achieve. The Board encouraged us to identify our challenges specifically and then reach out to other institutions that are successfully handling similar situations. We can enrich our thinking by reaching out to multiple sectors — military, business, education, government, etc. — as their experience in developing middle leaders will likely be adaptable.

The group’s recommendations flowed with a sense of excitement about the potential of teacher-leadership in the U.S. Our advisory board is a valuable asset in our efforts to bring about student success through teacher leadership development.

Future posts will consider more specific topics discussed at the retreat—please stay tuned!