Teacher Leadership in the Spotlight

By: Lynette Guastaferro Posted: Thursday, July 9, 2015 - 12:28pm

This is the hour of "teacher leadership." It's one we don't want to waste.

Nationwide, the idea is gaining traction as a school improvement strategy. It's being endorsed by unions, ed reformers, front-line educators, researchers, and policymakers alike.

While we have this powerful consensus, we all must thoughtfully shepherd meaningful opportunities for teachers to take on leadership roles that support their colleagues and improve their schools. That's why we've devoted our most recent issue of our magazine, Points of Practice, to the topic.

There is a push at city, state and federal policy levels to hone role definitions and clarify the conditions necessary for teacher leaders to optimally impact student learning, and we are fully on board with this process.

Teacher leadership has the potential to be a different type of school improvement strategy. Rather than top-down change led by policy makers, teacher leadership is a practitioner-led innovation. We simply can't impose or execute reforms on or for teachers—they must be committed co-creators.


Who is Formative Assessment Really For?

By: Sharon Rubinstein Posted: Friday, May 22, 2015 - 9:33am

By Nick Siewert

My first post on the Teaching Matters Mastery Connect pilot this year was cheekily entitled, “It's 9 AM, do you know where your students are?”

In case you missed the allusion, it paraphrases the long-running slogan of New York City's WNYW TV station, frequently recited by celebrities at the opening of the 10pm news broadcast. On its face, it served to remind parents that they needed to keep track of their children. Subliminally, it tapped into society’s broader fear that perhaps our kids were up to no good. It seems not a huge leap to equate those concerns with the concern of teachers wondering about the relative progress of their students. We’re all a little freaked out.

But perhaps we should consider rephrasing the question. Try this on: It's 10 PM, do your children know where they are? With the advent of the Common Core standards and their promise to steer students towards college and career readiness, much lip service has been paid to developing autonomous, self-directed learners: students who know where they are, know where they need to go, and know the steps they need to take to get there. Descriptions of associated student behaviors...

Teaching Matters Celebrates 20 Years, and Honors Our Founder

By: Sharon Rubinstein Posted: Friday, May 8, 2015 - 1:03pm

Teaching Matters put on its party shoes and celebrated its 20th anniversary last night with friends and supporters. We honored founder and Chairman Emerita, Elizabeth Rohatyn, a champion of public education and the woman who made it all possible. Tweed Courthouse, headquarters of New York City’s Department of Education, was the lovely site for the festivities.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña paid tribute to Teaching Matters’ long-standing role in supporting teachers throughout New York City, and her personal experience when a superintendent with Teaching Matters’ exceptional quality support. “We know our partnership will continue.”

Chairman of the Board Olga Votis kicked off the evening with a warm welcome to all and a special tribute to Mrs. Rohatyn, whose daughter Nina Griscom spoke on behalf of her mother. Lynette Guastaferro, our Executive Director, gave heartfelt thanks to Mrs. Rohatyn for her personal mentorship, and visionary leadership.

Lynette continued with a reflection about her own years teaching in Baltimore, and both the daunting and gratifying responsibility for students’ education.

She laid out some numbers, too. In our work to increase teacher effectiveness and help close the achievement gap, we’ve touched the lives of over 500,...

Teacher Leaders: Planting a flag – or foot – in the classroom

By: Sharon Rubinstein Posted: Friday, April 24, 2015 - 8:57am

Jose Vilson has been a math teacher in Manhattan for about a decade. He’s part of the new crop of “Teacher Leaders” with one foot in the classroom, and another on a career ladder up.

When he first began expanding his duties, it was to coach other teachers in math instruction. Now, he’s an advocate and author too, and a board member of the Center for Teacher Quality, one of the supporters of the federal Teach to Lead initiative. He says he has no plans to leave his school anytime soon.

Just what - and who - are teacher leaders? Why does the role exist? And who chooses them?

A key feature of teacher leadership as it is evolving now is greater precision about qualifications, selection, tasks, and rewards.

Professor Susan Moore Johnson, who has been advocating for a more differentiated teacher corps since the 1980s, says the teacher leader role responds to a relatively flat teaching profession that has characterized American public education. By recognizing teachers for their expertise and providing them increased responsibilities, the teacher leader position creates some “elevation,” she says, and can stem the fast-swinging revolving door of teachers that creates instability in the workforce, and problems for schools that have to cope with...

Creating Teacher Leadership Targets - and Hitting Them - with Micro-Credentials

By: Sharon Rubinstein Posted: Thursday, April 9, 2015 - 7:39pm

By Leonard Sparks

As middle school English Language Arts (ELA) teacher Marlena Salubro grows, so do her students.

What began as an exercise she was assigned to in the researcher module for Teaching Matters’ new micro-credentialing program, led to her finding an article outlining successful reading and writing strategies for students. And it has already paid dividends.

“It took this article and the whole research module to make us realize okay, maybe we should just abandon this and try some of the other ideas that the article suggested did work,” she said. “We just did a benchmark recently, and actually the reading already went up.”

Salubro is part of a group of New York City teachers pursuing micro-credentials in the pilot program Teaching Matters is running. Those teachers can earn micro-credentials in 18 competencies built on a national model of teacher-leader standards.

Earning those credentials, or digital badges, requires meeting rigorous assessments, including observations of team meetings, and evidence of impact on classroom practice.

But the potential payoffs are numerous: recognition of teachers committed to improving their craft; improved...

Teacher Leadership By Any Other Name: Distributing the Load at Tompkins Square Middle School

By: Sharon Rubinstein Posted: Monday, March 30, 2015 - 3:11pm

Stacey Fell says she realized she was in a school that valued teacher input from the first minutes of her job interview. “I knew that this was different,” she remembers. “It was a room full of other teachers and the toughest questions came from the people who were going to be my colleagues.”

Tompkins Square Middle School (TSMS), located in the East Village section of Manhattan, is a very participatory place. Their principal of seven years, Sonhando Estwick, believes in trusting his staff to make good decisions. It’s a culture of direct democracy – or in education parlance,“distributed leadership.”

Just how does that play out? In this small community of about 380 6th – 8th grade students and 28 teachers, decision-making by consensus is the rule. Principal Estwick is committed to collaboration, and the structures that make it possible.

He explains that important choices – such as those about curricula, assessments, and schedule – are made by a 2/3 staff vote. And he scoffs at the notion that he’s taking a risk. “They care about kids…They’re just not going to come up with anything crazy…Principals walk around thinking…teachers are dreaming of some terrible things for kids or something. They’re just not.”

In fact, Estwick emphasizes, teachers in the...

Teacher Leadership Helps Schools Start Students on the Right Foot

By: Sharon Rubinstein Posted: Thursday, March 12, 2015 - 1:19pm

By Michelle Macchia

As a former third grade teacher in a suburban school district, and a K-5 literacy coach in a high-needs, urban district, I understand the complexities inherent to teaching reading. In my first and second years, I would spend countless hours planning lessons, only to be left with a half-empty feeling at the close of class. I would ask myself, “Why do I always think my students can do better, even if I’m teaching as hard as I can?” I was sure that I had missed something. Even though I had attended every professional development workshop offered and read numerous books, I still felt that I could do more.

In retrospect, I realize that while I was looking in some of the most logical places, I had neglected to use an abundant (and often overlooked) resource that was right before my very eyes: my teaching colleagues. Sadly, that approach wasn't promoted in my school. It just wasn't a part of the school culture.

Today, after nearly 15 years of classroom teaching and five years of providing professional development to elementary teachers, I subscribe to the knowledge-of-practice conception of professional learning. This means I believe that...

Harnessing Teacher Talent for Leadership: The Feds Invest in Spreading the Idea

By: Sharon Rubinstein Posted: Thursday, February 26, 2015 - 11:40am

By Leonard Sparks

It's a lesson plan teachers have long clamored to see implemented, and the feds have now gotten behind peer-to-peer support and teacher leadership in a big way.

Hundreds of teacher-leaders have gathered at three regional summits organized under the banner of "Teach to Lead," a one-year-old initiative of the U.S. Department of Education and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Nearly 70 organizations, including Teaching Matters, have declared their support for the initiative, which was created to raise to a national level the movement to retain good teachers by involving them as equal partners in education reform.

While some states and individual districts have taken up the torch, Teach to Lead and the organizations supporting it represent growing momentum to remedy an alarming disunity: education reform without the input of educators.

It is a reality that has led talented educators to give up teaching altogether or leave the classroom for administrative...

It’s 9 am. Do You Know Where Your Students Are?

By: Sharon Rubinstein Posted: Thursday, February 5, 2015 - 1:39pm

By Nick Siewert

It’s the question every teacher most wants to answer. How can I tell how well my students are doing? How do I know who is progressing and who is stuck? The question stretches back to the one room school house and beyond. It’s why Socrates kept asking so many pesky questions. A sound assessment of where each student is in her or his learning progression on any given day provides the key to unlocking a variety of instructional moves we prize at Teaching Matters: genuine student-centered instruction, precise differentiation, effective intervention and enrichment and most importantly, meaningful collaboration among teachers to improve practice. If you don’t know where your students are, your individual and team efforts to bring them to the next level will be scattershot at best.

The growth of high stakes testing and accountability has only added weight to the need to monitor student progress with accuracy. These days, we count the state among the parties interested in how your students are progressing - deeply interested. Two and a half years into adoption of the Common Core Standards in New York, teachers know that their ability to track student progress on mastery of the standards has become a professional imperative. At the same time, innovation in the...

Poor NY Schools are Being Shorted

By: Lynette Guastaferro Posted: Monday, January 26, 2015 - 11:41am

By Lynette Guastaferro and Sharon Rubinstein

How much money gets spent on which kids is roiling New York’s state capital again, with no definitive answers yet.

On January 20th in Albany, there was eager anticipation for what Governor Cuomo would say about education and how to improve the fortunes of school children across New York State. He promised an additional increase of $1.1 billion if his education platform is adopted, but he didn't say anything about how that money should be spread among districts. Instead, he said “Money without reform only grows the bureaucracy.” Maybe, but…

In another Albany chamber that same morning, a court prepared to hear the opening argument in a long-running education finance case, Maisto v. New York, that contends students from poorer communities are getting much less in per pupil spending – several thousands less – than their wealthier peers.

Although the state sends more money to higher need school districts it doesn't make up the gulf created by a blatantly unequal system substantially funded through local property taxes. Furthermore, since the Great Recession New York has dramatically cut education aid, leaving poor...