Monday, February 29, 2016

Teacher Leadership at Benton Community

Benton Community is rounding out its second year of Iowa's Teacher Leadership and Compensation (TLC) implementation.  Over the past few years, our district has gone through a great transition.  Before TLC, our district had teachers from our various buildings take part in our District Leadership Team and help design and carry out professional development.  These teacher leaders were also in the classroom full time.

Since we were awarded the TLC grant and have been fully implemented, we have the opportunity to have five full-release teacher leaders.  Two have dual titles as Curriculum/PD Leader and Instructional Coach.  The other three full-release positions are Instructional Coaches.  We also have the opportunity to have 17 teachers across our four attendance centers act as Model Teachers while still serving as full-time teachers.  We have learned a great deal on our teacher leadership journey, and we continue to modify as our district's needs grow and change. Next year, in year three of implementation, the Model Teacher role will change to a Data Team Facilitator role.  These teacher leaders will take a more active role in our beginning stages of the data team process and collaborate with building Instructional Coaches and administration to help design professional learning to best fit teacher needs.

Our district chose the New Teacher Center to give us a strong foundation in Instructional Coaching throughout our first year.  We attended eight workshops at Grant Wood AEA to grow our knowledge base to understand our new roles and meet teachers' needs.  Throughout our second year, we have taken our Instructional Coaching learning a layer deeper by attending High Impact Instruction training with Jim Knight and Ann Hoffman.   We have also been fortunate to be in the great state of Iowa where we have the opportunity to attend conferences to learn from great educators such as Doug Fisher, Pete Hall, Elena Agular, Steve Ventura, Ken O'Connor, Robert Marzano, and Rick Wormeli.  It was also our pleasure to host Brad Buck, the former Director of the Iowa Department of Education and the Governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad our first year of implementation.   Ryan Wise, current Director of the Iowa Department of Education, has also visited Benton Community on three different occasions for question and answer sessions and to participate in professional learning with our staff.

Last June, we hosted our first ever #BCedCamp focused on Teacher Leadership.  Educators from across the state got together for a day of unconferenced learning.  We created a schedule at the beginning of the day based off of our needs.  You can read more about it here.  We are still looking for feedback whether districts would like us to host a learning similar to this again this summer.

We have found ourselves in discussions with districts new to Teacher Leadership. The following are themes which occur in those conversations.

1.) Be transparent with your staff in the rollout of your Teacher Leadership program.  Ensure the vision of the TLC grant stays at the forefront of decisions.  All stakeholders should have "one voice" when talking about key pieces of the district plan.

2.) Create a system for teachers to share their voice to teacher leaders.  At Benton Community, we do this through surveys to staff every 30 days.  These surveys allow staff to provide us with feedback allowing us to make data based decisions regarding needs of our district.  They also allow us to gauge teacher perception of our interactions.  These surveys also allow us to track participation in collaborative coaching conversations and cycles over time.

3.)  Start with building relationships.  This integral part of the system cannot be overlooked.  Teachers need to be able to trust the coaches and know that they (teachers) are allowed to share conversations, but the Instructional Coach keeps discussions confidential.  This helps a fine line be drawn between the collaborative coaching role and the administration evaluator role.  With a strong foundation of collaboration and trust, on-demand professional learning between teacher and Instructional Coach will help you district meet the needs of students and teachers alike.

Please reach out if you would like copies of any of our documents we have created so far.  I'd also love to hear what is working and what isn't at your district.  Districts should not have to start from ground zero.  We can learn together what works best for teachers in Iowa!

Find me on Twitter -- @TownsleyAJ