A Nation of Teacher Leaders

A Nation of Teacher Leaders

Katherine BassettBy: Katherine Bassett


Today, the United States Education Department announced its next step in implementing its Teach to Lead initiative, the hosting of three, regional summits led by various supporter organizations. The National Network of State Teachers of the Year is honored to be a Teach to Lead partner organization.

An organization of teachers leading in policy, practice, and advocacy, NNSTOY has worked assiduously to further the growth of teacher leadership nationwide. We have outlined a clear vision for our view of a transformed teaching profession, one in which distributed leadership models that utilize the talents of teacher leaders in supporting and growing colleagues is the norm, and not the exception.

Not content to advocate for such transformative changes, we have engaged in research to examine how such models of career advancement with differentiated staffing roles look in industry, and to then examine the few that currently exist in teaching. Our findings tell us that while there are few such sustainable models in place, there is a growing hunger for them, and, that without them, we will continue to lose our most experienced teachers.

In examining the research of Susan Moore Johnson on what beginning teachers seek from our profession and Ellen Sherratt and Jane Coggshall on Generation Y teachers, we find common threads of dissatisfaction with our current profession. One of these threads is the lack of leadership opportunities without completely leaving the classroom.

Within the past three years, this dissatisfaction, and its resultant increase in our excellent teachers leaving the profession has resulted in action. At the Federal level, we have seen not only Teach to Lead but the RESPECT act come to the fore; while not funded, these actions bring validity to what teachers themselves have been saying – we need teacher leader options.

In our continuums study, we found that almost every state has begun at least thinking about what differentiated staffing models, tiered licensure models, and/or roles for teacher leaders might look like. Some states have done much more than think about these things. In Arizona, a thriving career ladder model was recently unfunded by the Arizona legislature; prior to this occurring, the model had shown great promise, creating meaningful roles for teacher leaders and support for beginning and career teachers, as well as something to which to aspire.

Iowa has recently launched its teacher leadership and compensation system, and while it is overcoming the typical struggles of any beginning program, it shows much promise. Georgia is launching a five-stage career advancement model, the top two stages of which will be for teacher leaders. Kansas has established a teacher leader endorsement and developed its own state teacher leader standards. New Jersey’s state legislature is pondering a bill that would help to create formal roles for teacher leaders.

NNSTOY members have been actively engaged in many of these state-based and Federal initiatives. In addition, to these, organizations like ours are creating resources to assist in growing teacher leaders. Our own position is that teacher leaders are not created by what researcher Mark Smylie calls the anoint and appoint model; they must be trained in constructs like adult learning, facilitation, research, building communities of collaborative practice amongst adults, policy, and advocacy. In short, we believe in the implementation of the Teacher Leader Model Standards, (TLMS) developed by a consortium of over thirty organizations and individuals, including five State Teachers of the Year (STOYs).

In a recent study led by NNSTOY and the Center for Great Teachers and Leaders at AIR, along with five other partner organizations, we found that the supports that most helped STOYs to develop expertise in practice are those in which they actively engaged with colleagues, particularly with colleagues who knew and understood how to work with adult learners. At the teacher leader stage, STOYs told us that the activities that most helped them grow are those in which they are working to develop the skills of their colleagues.

So what do teacher leaders do? To start, look at page 22 of our Good to Great study. In addition, we have begun development of a library of video exemplars of teacher leadership through the lens of the TLMS. But allow me to provide a few specific examples here:

  • Christopher Poulos, CT STOY 2007. serves in a hybrid role, half-time in his high school Spanish classroom mentoring a beginning teacher and half-time at the Connecticut Department of Education, working to build his state’s teacher leader program;
  • Jay Hoffman, VT STOY 2013, is a full-time technology teacher in his Vermont school, but is also leading an effort to bring the InTASC Learning Progressions to his state, creating a career continuum;
  • Joshua Parker, MD STOY 2012, is working as a compliance specialist in his Title I school, supporting colleagues in building their skills and advancing student learning;
  • Tim Dove, OH STOY 2012 and colleagues started a teacher-led school within a school in his Ohio community;
  • Lee-Ann Stephens, MN STOY 2007, is working in a high-needs Minnesota school as an advocate for students who struggle to learn, assisting colleagues in understanding better how to meet the needs of these students;
  • Lynn Gaddis, IL STOY 1995, is working with NNSTOY to develop an IL NNSTOY chapter, and is our lead teacher-researcher on the continuums study;
  • David Bosso, CT STOY 2012, just earned his doctoral degree and is working with NNSTOY to conduct the next phase of our Good to Great study, as is Derek Olson, MN STOY 2009.


These are but a few examples of what STOY teacher leaders are doing. As an organization, we are offering training to grow teacher leaders through a series of modules based on the TLMS, among the other work described above.

The Teach to Lead initiative is being co-led by NE STOY 2007 Maddie Fennell, who is serving as a Teacher Ambassador Fellow while still in the classroom. This initiative strives to build a nation of teacher leaders, through meaningful learning activities and policy work. NNSTOY could not be more excited or honored to join 29 other organizations, USED, and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards in this work. Only by establishing a national network of teacher leaders will we truly be able to transform our profession.

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