One national program is revolutionizing teacher leaders in Arizona. In its second year, the Teacher Leadership Initiative (TLI) is moving participants through its curriculum, based on the Teacher Leadership Competencies, in hopes of strengthening the definition of “teacher leader.”Supported by the

Aug 09, 2015

One national program is revolutionizing teacher leaders in Arizona.

In its second year, the Teacher Leadership Initiative (TLI) is moving participants through its curriculum, based on the Teacher Leadership Competencies, in hopes of strengthening the definition of “teacher leader.”

Supported by the National Education Association (NEA), the Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ) and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), the initial goals of the three-year pilot program were to design accomplished-level teacher leadership competencies; foster relevant experiences to support teachers meeting set competencies; and to activate teachers to be leaders within the profession.

Initially, Arizona was chosen as one of the six states to participate in this untried endeavor. Andrew Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association (AEA), said he jumped at the chance to get his state organization involved.

“The Arizona Education Association has a reputation for being willing to try a lot of new things. The AEA suffered a series of legislative attacks at the hands of our legislature a few years ago, when we were leading the charge of education funding cuts. We won that battle in the courts, but it did take a toll. So we looked at how we could best do our work with a diminished capacity, focusing on the importance of developing educational leaders,” said Morrill, a former high school English teacher. “I think the NEA looked at our willingness to try new things, saw our situation, and understood we would continue to lift our heads, saying let’s work with this state.”

Currently, there are 13 sites participating in the multilayered program, which allows teachers to identify one of the three areas where they believe their leadership is strong—instructional, policy or association. From there, TLI participants work toward completing a capstone project in an area of which is not their strongest, learning what it means to leverage and grow in each of the three capacities.

The TLI has many moving parts. While participants work through the curriculum components, they are mentored by coaches, both virtually and in-person. The final piece of the puzzle is to complete a project that breaks down a challenge they would like to solve using their newly strengthened leadership skills.

“The first piece everyone completes is a teacher leadership course, which could be called Organization 101. In the early phase, we already want to start thinking about their capstone project, which is the final segment. They will receive formative feedback on their growth as a leader from the selected panel. But before that, there’s another curriculum strand broken into 12 weeks,” explained Jennifer Locke, Senior Policy Analyst for the NEA. “The second strand is mixed with people from across the country. Participants have the choice to complete a strand based on their interest—Common Core, teacher evaluation, school redesign, and social justice.”

Nancy Schwartz, Vice President of Outreach and Engagement for the NBPTS, says her organization was tasked to create the competencies.

With the standards to be set as the TLI’s core, the NBPTS called upon the help of the Arizona K12 Center to create and publish the Teacher Leadership Competencies. Two Arizona educators, August ‘Sandy’ Merz III and Cheryl Redfield, both National Board Certified Teachers, were instrumental in creating the 20-page document.

“The competencies we developed with the help of the Arizona K12 Center address the questions, ‘What does leadership look like? How might you introduce it and allow teachers to find where they currently are on the leadership spectrum? How might one advance their leadership during their career? How do the three forms of leadership intersect?’” explained Schwartz.

Since assisting with the competencies document, Merz says he has seen them utilized by his peers with his own eyes.

“In practical terms, teachers who are looking to work on their leadership skills can use the competencies to analyze where they’re at and how to target their learning. I’ve also seen teachers read through the competencies and be thrilled at how the document validates so much of their effort. They say things like, ‘I feel empowered to finally see what I’ve been doing recognized as integral to the profession,’” said Merz.

His contributions to the document aside, Merz says he’s been highly encouraged by the opportunity to participate in the TLI.

“It’s impossible to overstate how working with networks of solutions-oriented teacher leaders can help renew one’s drive for the profession. It’s nice to know that teachers beyond my school and around the country are just like me. The Teacher Leadership Initiative has given me the tools and the confidence to put myself on the line and stand up for the directions I think education can go,” he said.

Locke admits the program is truly a pilot — the TLI has been pieced together, bit-by-bit, throughout its experimental phase. Ultimately, she says she hopes participants are feeling enabled.

“The goal was for these people to be motivated to do something, taking ownership. Just the other day, I was told a group of teachers in Iowa went and spoke to their legislators. Three out of the four individuals were TLI participants. They may have never gone to do that had they not been a part of TLI. These are folks who never thought they would have the confidence to do that. In my mind, that’s the end goal to change self-perceptions about what they can impact. It’s about empowerment,” Locke said.

Locally, Morrill says the AEA looks to continue portions of the TLI within the state association.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever reach a time where every AEA member is a participant in this, but the TLI will be a part of our leadership efforts going forward,” Morrill attested. “This embedded leadership development shouldn’t just be for teachers, but should be opening the doors to education support professionals too.”

Still wondering if you’re a teacher leader? Watch this video about how teacher leaders set an example of excellence in the state.

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