Over the last three years, Schools That Lead has worked with educators across the state of Delaware, focusing our efforts on what we call "advancing powerful student learning." We do that by honoring the desire of teachers to learn from one another about what they care about most: their students' needs. Key to this work is engaging classroom teachers to study and reflect on self-identified areas of interest about the students in their own classrooms. Typically teachers know where some, most or all of their students are successful and where they are not -- and are eager to learn more about what makes their students tick. Our Teacher Leadership Initiative (TLI) engages teachers in an iterative process of gathering evidence about student learning, reflecting on the evidence, and identifying and trying out new or alternative instructional approaches.
We developed this model from our own experiences in the role of teacher, principal and superintendent and our bias for teachers to be the true instructional leaders, rather than have their expertise undermined and/or dismissed by external forces. With each new experience with our TLI participants, we adapt and refine the work, learning from current practice. We draw heavily from research about effective teaching and school culture from the likes of John Hattie, Ron Ferguson, Ron Edmunds, Susan Rosenholtz, Susan Moore Johnson, and Linda Darling-Hammond.
Recently in the Huffington Post, Darling-Hammond wrote that effective practice is "job-embedded...collaborative, focused on the content and students teachers are seeking to teach, and conducted over a sustained period of time." Our TLI is that. Teachers in TLI spend two-years studying their classrooms, working with peers in their schools, and scaling the work as far as it will go with who they call "like-minded" teachers in their schools.
Principals are helping to grow this work in their own two year experience, the Principal Leadership Initiative. Drawing from and relying on their daily practice, principals learn, as Darling-Hammond says, "how to create collegial workplaces that support teachers’ abilities to better understand their students’ learning needs and adjust their teaching." In PLI, principals come to rely on and trust the expertise of their teachers' collective and individual expertise, leverage their leadership, and grow school cultures based in trust, mutual respect, collaboration, and an unrelenting focus on powerful student learning.