01 SES 12 C, Professional Learning Cultures and Practices: Supporting teacher leadership
This paper explores a teacher leadership development program initiated by a university-based educational innovation center that convened 40 teacher leaders from 22 different school districts across Florida for an 18-month professional learning experience. This initiative employed a theory of teacher leadership development (Poekert, Alexandrou, & Shannon, 2016) and sought to develop a culture of professional learning at individual teacher, school and district level that would combat The Phantom Menace of professional learning, or senior leadership ambivalence at the school and district level that negated the efforts of teacher leaders to improve the professional knowledge and skill of colleagues. Otherwise translated as being handicapped by the Dark Side of teacher leadership. The program included statewide and regional institutes, virtual sessions, and opportunities to connect with teacher leaders in other contexts via Teacher Leadership conferences in Boston and Miami. Throughout the program, Fellows developed, implemented, and researched a leadership project aimed at improving the quality of teaching or professional learning within their schools or districts. An external evaluation team engaged with program staff to explore firstly, the impact of the Fellowship on participants’ personal and professional learning. Secondly, researchers explored the impact of professional learning initiatives the Fellows implemented and their interactions with senior leaders at school and district level. Findings indicated that the license allowed by participation in a university-sponsored program as well as the collaboration that developed among teachers facilitated the enactment of teacher leadership. Further, the researchers pointed to a series of specific strategies utilized by program staff to create a climate in which the Fellows explored new areas of learning. However, Fellows also encountered The Phantom Menace of professional learning because of the obstacles put in their way by fellow teachers as well as senior leaders at both school and district level. Despite the seeming success of the program and continued interest in participation among new Teacher Leaders, the funding for the program was discontinued as the philanthropy that supported it changed strategy. Thus, this paper explores not only the conditions and practices that shaped the program, but it also points to the larger contextual factors that determine when, how, and if teacher leaders are able to implement leadership. The experiences documented within this paper beg the essential question: if teacher leadership is most successful when facilitated and funded by external entities, what hope do we have of institutionalizing teacher leadership within the practices of schools and districts?
Poekert, P., Alexandrou, A., & Shannon, D. (2016). How teachers become leaders: An internationally validated theoretical model of teacher leadership development. Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 21(4), 307-329.
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