teacher leadership

Q&A with Instructional Specialist Michelle Morrow

Michelle Morrow is the Instructional Specialist at North Godwin Elementary School in Grand Rapids, MI and part of the 2017 Leading Educators Grand Rapids cohort.  She attended the Leading Educators Institute (LEI) with her team in June.  Michelle spoke with us about her biggest takeaways from the week of learning and her vision for school transformation this year.

LE: What are the most urgent student needs in your school building?

MM:  Amid the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) several years ago, we have experienced growing pains at North Godwin around aligning instructional approaches to the shifts.  Given that we work with an at-risk population, the CCSS required us to significantly shift our instructional strategies in order to ensure that our students were mastering content and on track for college and career readiness.  This came with difficult transitions that we are still trying to work our way through today, particularly meeting new ideas and shifts in our teaching approaches with openness and a desire to learn.  At a time when test scores can seem heavily weighted, we are finding it difficult to frame the opportunities that come from more rigorous teaching and learning for teachers and students.  While this is a challenge, we have gradually seen our staff embrace personal development and dip their toes into the water.  Our students are collaborating more than they ever have, and they are engaging in deep, meaningful dialogue with each other, which is incredibly exciting!

LE: What do opportunities do you see to build on these successes?

MM: Students in our school need to be exposed to a curriculum and teaching practices that are directly aligned to the standards.  I feel that the focused content learning at LEI opened my team's eyes to how to make rigorous content accessible to our students.  We have learned how to create a more equitable environment for our students.

LE: Looking specifically at teacher practice, how has your thinking or approach to professional learning for teachers shifted as a result of LEI?

MM: There is so much I am excited about!  In particular, I think about finally using data to drive meaningful instructional shifts rather than getting stuck in our old pattern of looking at data, making adjustments, and never returning back to a connected plan to see if those changes actually had an impact on students.  I am excited about the laser focus of the Cycle of Professional Learning (CPL) structure and the way in which it connects professional learning aims.  Through the Leading Educator experience so far, I have learned that we have missed a large component of professional learning in the past that is needed to truly shift our practice and our thinking as adult learners.  Seeing ourselves as learners in this process is key in creating significant impact for our students.  

LE: How can we best provide support for the student and teacher goals your team is prioritizing? What do you hope to gain from being in the Leading Educators program?

MM: Leading Educators has already reignited passion for improving instructional practices among my team of teachers that attended LEI!  The learning experience was intense, but we are excited to bring the CPL process to our entire staff and use it as a tool for school transformation.  My team chose to seek out Leading Educators in the hopes of sparking new thinking and deepening our understanding of current education trends. We all have a passion for the education field and in particular urban education.  Through Leading Educators we are looking for our thinking and approaches to be challenged so we can continue to grow and impact the students we teach.

LE: What would you like others to know about your experience at LEI?

MM: LEI was one of the most intense and rewarding professional opportunities in my career thus far.  This work is not for the faint of heart!  Through the LEI experience I have realized what an incredibly challenging and difficult line of work we are in, and it has inspired me to continue to dig in and challenge myself both in content knowledge and instructional practice.

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Leading Educators May Newsletter

Dear Friends of Leading Educators:

Last week was national "Teacher Appreciation Week." At Leading Educators, we have the opportunity to see the amazing things teacher leaders are doing every week to develop and support their colleagues and their students. We deeply appreciate this hard work and the critical, exponential impact it is having on student learning. As you'll see throughout this list of our latest accomplishments and developments, Leading Educators has been working hard to ensure that more teacher leaders have the opportunities and skills to make the impact they seek:

  • During Teacher Appreciation Week, our Chief Program Officer, Chong-Hao Fu, and I wrote about teacher leadership as a force to improve schools for all students; how three types of teacher leadership roles are busting cages to improve student learning; the untold story of New Orleans' big education export; a DC superintendent's perspective on teacher leadership; and thebridges that are key to effective teacher-leader roles.
  • Leading Educators has released our 2014 Annual Report, which features some of our Fellows' impact on teachers they lead, principals they support, and students they serve. Check it out on our website here:www.leadingeducators.org/impact
  • Our latest white paper, Building Bridges: Connecting Teacher Leadership and Student Success, focuses on roles that make teacher leadership successful.
  • In the last two months, we did strategic consulting work with Hiawatha Academies in Minneapolis and provided training for Teach For America alumni in Connecticut. We are also finalizing contracts with the New York City Department of Education, the Michigan Department of Education, and DC Public Schools. 
  • The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is now supporting our work as we take on the important tasks of developing teacher leaders and their teams in high-needs schools. 
  • The Carnegie Corporation of New York is supporting our development and launch of online classes that we will be offering to teacher leaders across the country for the first time this fall. These classes will focus on coaching others, leading teams, student culture, performance management, and Common Core State Standards in Literacy and Math. 
  • Leading Educators continues to be at the forefront of the national discussion of the teacher leadership movement. In the last few months, Chong-Hao and I have presented at conferences hosted by the Council of Chief State School Officers, National Board of Professional Teaching Standards' Teaching and Learning, Iowa State Administrators, Teach For America, Educators 4 Excellence, National Network of State Teachers of the Year, Teach to Lead, ECET2 Kentucky, Massachusetts and New York City Departments of Education, Denver Public Schools, and Urban School Human Capital Academy.

Leading Educators has worked with over 700 teacher leaders so far this year. I am honored to be a part of this growing movement. I hope you will share any feedback or questions you have for me or our team, and that you'll join me in celebrating teachers for all that they do year-round!

Best regards,

Jonas Chartock

Leading Educators’ Boston School Visits

DC Fellow Edwin Dela Torre wrote this reflection after the School Visits Trip to Boston in November. As potential Fellows consider applying for the program, we encourage them to see the insights shared in our current participants' blog posts. 

by Edwin Dela Torre, Leading Educators Fellow in Washington,D.C., Cohort 2013

The saying goes that “it takes a village to educate a child.” And this is even more applicable in today’s world, what with the globalization trend and the world becoming smaller and smaller, that is, getting more and more connected. Connections and networking comprise another trend that affects all sectors of our world, including education. Getting to visit and learn from schools and districts in another city like Boston was s a great opportunity for us Fellows of Leading Educators to connect with our colleagues in that part of the country. And this visit proved to be just that, an awesome learning experience that will strengthen our resolve and re-ignite our passion to make a difference in the lives of our students back here in DC.

It was a mere two and a half days of debriefing (Nov. 13-15, 2013), but I felt like the education situation in Boston (which, I believe, represents the whole country like a microcosm) was presented to us from different angles and perspectives. The Leading Educators’ organizers arranged it so well that we were able to observe a whole gamut of different setups of how education is in Boston, and, by extension, how it is in the whole country. At the time of the actual visits, our small groups saw this angle or that perspective, this style or that emphasis, these grade levels or that special group of students. But during later debriefing and bigger group sharing, we saw the whole picture in its different pieces of the puzzle, like a collage forming a greater canvas.

Finally, with the use of seven different levers for visiting schools, which have also been used in the process of observation itself, we were able to integrate what we learned in small pieces. A great tool indeed, much like a pair of eyeglasses that can help one focus on particular aspects, eliminating other distractors, or putting those “distractors” in their possible frame of integration into the bigger picture.

Moving forward, we are now equipped with such a rich arsenal of experiences, compressed in such a short period of time, but still very useful, if we are able to digest these experiences, and make them our own. And we can eclectically choose what may or may not be applicable to our setting here in the schools and districts in or around our nation’s capital.

Stepping Back to Move Forward

by Jeff Fouquet, Leading Educators Fellow in Kansas City, Cohort 2012

As the chair of my district’s secondary English Language Arts department, there was a time when my team’s lack of progress caused me great frustration. Try as I might, I could not convince my colleagues to try new teaching strategies, collect and analyze data, or discuss rigorous and aligned interims as a basis for increasing collaboration. Research endorsed these as “best practice” and I was supercharged to keep pushing toward educational excellence!

But it felt like nobody wanted to come with me.

For more than three years, I struggled with the disconnect between our students’ needs and my team’s indifference – at times, it felt like outright resistance – to instructional improvement. The harder I worked and the louder I pleaded, the more frustrated I became with our stagnation. Why didn’t anybody see things my way?

My involvement in Leading Educators gave me clarity, and I began to see that I was the one who needed perspective. Through a series of self-assessments, reflections, and readings completed during Summer Intensive, a week of professional development sessions, leadership began to take a new shape. For the first time, being a leader wasn’t about what I thought needed to be done, but about finding the keys to invest every member of my team in a shared vision so we could find appropriate solutions. Summer Intensive revealed leadership as a form of social and emotional intelligence, but the style of leadership I had been using put getting results before valuing people. It was humbling to see studies that perfectly described what I had been doing as ineffective leadership; it was also an incredible breakthrough.   

Since that first Summer Intensive, my emotional intelligence and self-awareness have grown immeasurably. Instead of pushing members of my department to accomplish my vision, I have spent several months cultivating trust, discovering our shared goals and values, and working with the whole team to co-create a list of cultural behaviors that will demonstrate to one another (and to our students) that we are committed to excellence. Now when we discuss new initiatives or ways to move instruction forward, nobody feels accountable to me. Instead, we each feel increasingly accountable to our group’s vision and values. In other words, I’ve gotten better at encouraging team effort rather than demanding it.

It’s difficult to admit that I was ineffective as a leader. However, I now know what true leadership requires of me, and I appreciate the incremental gains I am making with my team. We’re nowhere near perfect, but we are much closer to being perfectly aligned in our purpose, and that’s how I know we’re moving in the right direction.

A Powerful Case Study on Teacher Leadership

How does developing teacher-leaders yield an “opportunity culture” and greater student success? Check out Public Impact’s case study on our Fellow, Anna Lavely, for answers:

Empowering Teacher-Leaders to Extend Reach by Leading Others

 “I set my expectations so high, but I always think there’s more that can be done,” Lavely says. “I can sometimes be a very black- and-white teacher. If I think something’s really important, teachers will say 80 percent is good. My goal? 100 percent. If you expect a lot, you get a lot."
And that led to what she calls her greatest success: a set of class – rooms proficient in both math and reading – including students in special education and English language learners.
Lavely could not have achieved this kind of result by teaching all the students herself all the time. Her secret was motivating her team members and helping them meet this high bar. The key is encouraging them, she says, and building a “we” culture. “If you walked into a team meeting, here’s what you’d see: It’s in my class-room, not a conference room. We sit in a circle or semicircle, to build that collaborative feel.

Click here to read more.

The case study is part of Public Impact's Opportunity Culture project. Bryan Hassel and Emily Ayscue Hassel explained further in their article, "How One Leading Educators Fellow Extends Her Reach" on


How can schools redesign jobs and use technology to reach more students with excellent teachers? And how can they offer teachers more pay, within budget? Public Impact’s Opportunity Culture project aims to answer both questions. As districts and schools around the country think about extending the reach of excellent teachers, they want real-life examples to show them how to tackle each of these challenges.
In a new case study, we profile Anna Lavely of Kansas, who is participating in a two-year fellowship aimed at developing the leadership of already-excellent teachers. Her story provides one example of how schools can reach more students with great teachers—and of how many programs to increase teachers’ impact still fall short on paying teachers their due, sustainably.

To read the full article, click here.

Reflections on Leading Educators’ Facilitator Induction: Harnessing the Power of TEAM

On March 9th, fourteen new and seven veteran Leading Educators Facilitators converged on the beautiful campus of Tulane University. We came together not only to learn how to deliver high quality seminars and ground in the Leading Educators culture but, perhaps more importantly, to make these powerful decisions: Who can we be and what can we accomplish together? Our answers to these questions give life, give a spirit to our work. It strikes me that these are the kind of decisions that drive the life of our schools daily, and the answers that the teacher-leaders with whom we work will learn to bring to the foreground in their school communities.

As a facilitator body, we live all over the United States: Colorado, Missouri, Texas, Louisiana, North Carolina, and New York. We have different roles in the landscape of educational transformation: some of us are program directors or administrators working inside public districts, some of us are independent educational consultants and trainers, some of are retired leaders whose spark for impacting the lives of kids and teachers has only gotten brighter over the years. We each bring different strengths and experiences.

As we shared our backgrounds and engaged in hearty dialogue and practice, I realized that our differences converge, like the instruments in a symphony, in a powerful mission and vision:

  1. Our Mission: Re-imagining and delivering a robust, consistent, and sustainably impactful core Leading Educators curriculum
  2. Our Vision: every teacher and every student achieves extraordinary success through strong, impassioned, visionary teacher-leaders.

I am looking forward to what unfolds as we continue to harness the power of team, among our facilitator body and extending into the teams our teacher-leaders create in their schools.

Dawnelle J. Hyland, Transformational Leadership Trainer and Consultant

Dawnelle Hyland’s background spans both educational and corporate domains, where her career has been focused on building impactful, visionary leaders.

She is deeply passionate about supporting teachers in developing their leadership talents, and supporting school administrators in creating thriving, leadership-based school cultures.