GUEST BLOGGER: Dr. Kim F. Ehrhardt
Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment
As you might imagine, the auditorium at Kennedy Elementary School was filled with lots of positive energy this past Monday, March 28, 2016, when over 120 local educators came together and shared the results of their Educator Leadership Development Institute (ELDI) projects. The genesis of this effort comes from the leadership of Dr. Karen Schulte, Superintendent, and Dr. Kim Ehrhardt, Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, who established the School District of Janesville Educational Leadership Development Institute in the fall of 2014. The overall goal of the initiative was to inspire and capitalize on teacher leadership in the School District of Janesville as a catalyst to address individual school improvement efforts.
The scope of the project topics ranged from promoting a positive school culture, addressing the achievement gap, implementing instructional rounds, and developing personalized learning pedagogy to the creation of a common grading policy at the high schools. Many of the ELDI projects received additional support from the Bright Spots Grant, established by Mr. Quint Studer in memory of outstanding leader and principal, Mrs. Lori Burns. This grant was designed to award professional development opportunities to schools that have identified improvement projects that are associated with innovative and creative solution paths for identified issues.
What is a Teacher Leader?
When Dr. Schulte and Dr. Ehrhardt first opened the institute in September of 2014, they sought to first answer the question -- What is teacher leadership? They told the ELDI teams (from each school in our district) to be a “teacher leader means to be a teacher who has the best interest of the students at the forefront of their teaching practices.” As part of this project the district was fortunate to secure the talents of Emeritus Professor of Education at Stanford University, Dr. Ann Lieberman, who went on to develop deeper notions of teacher leadership with the ELDI teams. “Teacher leaders know that improving student learning is at the heart of the most important decisions they make. They are teachers who work to identify the best teaching practices and then collaborate with others to implement those practices in their schools. They are supportive and know that the teacher (in isolation) is a thing of the past.” Working together and being supportive are the norms by which teacher leaders operate. They realize that to help students succeed means fostering teamwork to reach that goal. Teacher leaders are those who model these effective skills. These important principles became the norms for the individual team projects.
What Qualities to Teacher Leaders Possess?
Dr. Ehrhardt introduced ELDI members to the research on teacher leadership. He stated that, “Teacher leaders are constantly in search of what works to improve student learning, student motivation or a love of learning.” They in turn take on the mission to energetically spread that information. As such, teacher leaders are effective communicators. They accomplish this through learning-focused discussions or simply by expressing their enthusiasm for their discoveries. Not only can teacher leaders communicate effectively, but they are also good listeners. They are ready to give appropriate feedback or ask questions to get a better understanding of ideas or concepts. They accept diverse views as a way of learning more. Often the use of educational research and data-driven vocabulary are characteristics of teacher leaders. These teachers look for challenges and ways to improve themselves by being continuous learners.
Who Can Be a Teacher Leader?
Dr. Schulte shared her beliefs with institute members and challenged them by stating, “Teacher leaders are those teachers next door. Anyone with the desire can become a teacher leader.” If a teacher is enthusiastic about a learning style or teaching strategy, one that is inclusive of all learners, is equitable and is worthy of sharing, then just by informing others that teacher has become a leader. By collaborating with peers and promoting instructional strategies that ensure student learning, a teacher exemplifies the characteristics of a leader. A leader does not have to be someone who is always presenting to groups or who takes the lead in everything. Teacher leaders must know where their strengths lie. But they need to realize that they are responsible for engaging in dialogue with those who are also interested in increasing their knowledge of best practice teaching strategies that promote student achievement. Dr. Lieberman concluded the institute by reminding the group that, “Teacher leaders love teaching. They understand their craft and want to help others advance their skills by being supportive.” She went on to emphasize that they are goal driven and work passionately to achieve those goals. They also realize that they cannot reach most goals alone.” She added—Teacher leaders do not always have authoritative positions. But they are capable of modeling effective practices, being influential through their communicative skills and being collaborative as a way of reaching goals. Anyone who believes in these ideals can be a teacher leader.
Based on the outcomes of the ELDI meeting this past Monday, March 28, 2016, the School District of Janesville is solid with its efforts to promote student achievement based on the high quality leadership skills of its educators!
Dr. Ann Lieberman is an emeritus professor from Teachers College, Columbia University. She is now a Senior Scholar at The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and a Visiting Professor at Stanford University. She received her BA and Ed. D at UCLA. She got her Masters Degree at California State University at Northridge, where she also received an honorary degree.