Blog: The Educated Reporter

Letting Teachers Lead Without Leaving the Classroom

Teachers at a Leading Educators D.C. training event.

By his third year of teaching, Jonas Chartock was overwhelmed, acting as a department head and taking on a variety of other roles at his school in addition to his regular duties at the front of the classroom.

“What I could tell you is I wasn’t being trained to do any of them,” Chartock said.

Those experiences helped drive Chartock’s decision to leave the classroom and to pursue a career in education leadership outside the school.

Chartock is now the chief executive officer of Leading Educators. The New Orleans-based organization hopes to start a new trend with a different approach when it comes to teaching teachers how to be leaders. 

Leading Educators published a paper with the Aspen Institute in October that recommends strategies and practices to educate teachers on becoming leaders without leaving the classroom entirely. It outlines a roadmap to increasing leadership by building capacity through observation, evaluation, professional development and intensive support. And, when districts can, paying for it.

Leading Educators Chief Program Officer Chong-Hao Fu cited Nashville as an example. Multi-classroom teachers in the school district earn $20,000 on top of their salaries, he explained during an EWA seminar in October on the teaching profession.

That’s a lot more than many leadership positions traditionally offer — such as a $1,000 yearly stipend for a teacher also acting as a department head.

The organization encourages financial incentives to keep teachers interested, and appropriately compensated, when taking on additional work and responsibilities.

Of course with that additional money comes a commitment to more work, which may include mentoring younger teachers, and evaluating and providing feedback to other instructors.

Also essential to the model is the training time spent away from the front of the classroom.

“This is something that is critical to successful teacher leadership,” Fu said at the Detroit seminar.

Chartock and Fu say developing these skills is essential in a society that is increasingly requiring time-consuming formal evaluations of each and every teacher. Many may see such evaluations as well warranted, but the process takes time rarely built into leaders’ schedules.

This type of formal training may allow principals to delegate certain responsibilities and will also be seen as human capital investment to school district human resources department, Fu said.

“Teacher leadership helps create professional opportunities attract, retain and develop high quality talent,” Fu said.

Fu said the way adults are developed in schools is often overlooked, yet critical to the profession.

Leading Educators is currently working with schools in Tennessee and the Denver area. In the Denver Public Schools, one lead teacher oversees six to eight teachers and can give weekly feedback, Fu said. (Leading Educators is partnering with the RAND Corp. for a longitudinal study of the organization’s work on teacher leadership.)

Fu said common missteps in implementing a leadership program include having a small group of like-minded people design the blueprint rather than using a more inclusive process that includes diverse views.

Sometimes developing a team means the gamble of taking talent out of the classroom, he said, describing one principal’s efforts.

“She took her five best teachers out of the classroom and moved them into the coaching role.” Fu said. “But it is a risk.”

Now they teach half the day and coach other teachers half the day.

One obstacle to implementing large-scale teacher leadership efforts will be working such development into union contracts at the agreement of both teachers and district administration, Fu said. 

A key goal, Chartock said, should be to build school environments where teachers – as well as their students – thrive in the classroom.

“Most teachers we talk to don’t want to become administrators, “ Chartock said. “They want to continue to do what they love, which is teaching.”