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...


Create the Right Community Conditions

By: Sharon Rubinstein Posted: Thursday, January 8, 2015 - 5:12pm

Boosting teacher and principal performance in high-needs schools is a solution to the achievement gap that’s hard to fault. But many urge a broader view and more resources to attack the stresses that contribute to unequal education, and not incidentally make it harder to recruit and retain educators.

There are at least two approaches. One is to make sure that high-needs schools and their high-needs students get more of their needs met with a wraparound array of services. Or one can break up the kind of concentrated poverty that makes it so much harder to educate in a building.

Both methods are being tried.

New funding for community schools in New York City will tackle a host of issues closely associated with poverty. Fifty-two million dollars has been allocated to serve 45 schools at the outset, with the program launching early this year. At each location, there will be a resource coordinator. Support will span a variety of services such as early childhood education, health care, free meals, and truancy prevention. Mayor De Blasio has also designated $150 million over a three-year period for “...


Empower Principals and Their Teams

By: Sharon Rubinstein Posted: Thursday, December 18, 2014 - 11:43am

by Leonard Sparks and Sharon Rubinstein

Michael Wiltshire arrived at a school with a 63 percent graduation rate, a reputation for violence, and a cloud of apathy hanging over students and teachers when he became principal of Medgar Evers College Preparatory School nearly 15 years ago.

One of his first reforms: making daily visits to a nearby store and rounding up kids skipping school. Initially some resisted, but Wiltshire persisted. That persistence eventually convinced students that he cared, and they also began caring.

“We first have to have that vision, and that vision comes from our leader,” said Delroy Burnett, assistant principal for science at Medgar Evers Prep. “The principal of the school has to set the stage and say this is what we want. This is what we expect.” Teaching matters, but so does leadership.

There’s plenty of agreement that a principal’s role is absolutely vital. In fact, greater principal turnover has been correlated to lower student graduation rates. And Wiltshire’s accomplishments have been recognized - while he remains the head of Medgar Evers, he was...


Are Teachers Incentivized to Succeed?

By: Sharon Rubinstein Posted: Wednesday, December 10, 2014 - 5:14pm

There’s a debate about how much money matters in attracting and retaining the best teachers and administrators. The federal government has stepped in with a variety of programs, including the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF), to help draw teachers to the most struggling schools and communities. New York City’s new teacher contract allots more money for teachers going to hard-to-staff schools - $5,000 - and for those earning special designations (and effective or highly effective ratings) of model teacher, teacher ambassador ($7,500) or master teacher ($20,000).

Teaching children from wealthy backgrounds in a posh setting is greatly different from wading into a school dominated by children who live in concentrated poverty. Marguerite Roza, head of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University, thinks it’s a profound injustice that school districts often pay teachers more at prospering schools than the struggling ones within their own borders - let alone the disparities that exist between poorer and more affluent districts. She and Paul Hill have explained how averaging teacher salaries within districts disguises the often huge discrepancies between the most and least...