Conclusions and Recommendations
Our policy report highlights how central office administrators took advantage of a new state law to create opportunities for more teachers to lead their own learning. The story of PUSD and its focus on cultivating leadership from the classroom for the benefit of its students comes at a time when research on strong links between teacher collaboration and student achievement is growing; new technologies and tools make it more possible for those who teach to also spread their expertise, and there is growing knowledge to create the enabling conditions for teacher-led learning and leadership to flourish.
Co-teaching is an example of teacher-led learning that is emerging in the district that allows for everyday opportunities for teachers to mentor one another, offer just-in-time feedback, collaborate on common strategies for instruction or engagement, and support strategies for struggling students. PBIS teacher coaches have emerged as brokers of knowledge and translators for demystifying many of the big ideas around more whole-learning classroom strategies grounded in the efforts of schools themselves, which have their own unique attributes.
PUSD’s recent shift to building expertise from within a system illustrates what Fullan (2007) argues is required for sustainable change in schools. As he describes, external approaches to instructional improvement are rarely “powerful enough, specific enough, or sustained enough to alter the culture of the classroom and school.” The district continues to rely on a great number of different programs from outside vendors; however, the Office of Equity and Professional Learning has orchestrated a variety of strategies aligned to the superintendent’s vision in the strategic plan.
The success of LCFF and the statewide system of support for schools struggling to improve learning for key student groups will continue to hinge upon the ability of educators to spread their expertise with the support of school site administrators, district central offices, and a policy landscape that enables and sustains teacher-led learning and leadership. Unfortunately, it is difficult to identify which schools have the enabling conditions for teacher-led learning and leadership—including shared vision and strategy; supportive administrators and working relationships; adequate resources (including time); and the collective embrace of shared influence, joint inquiry, and risk-taking (Eckert & Daughtrey, 2019; Berry, 2019).
District Policy and Practice Recommendations
- Gather more detailed data on what teachers want and need to be successful. Districts often jump into designing professional learning strategies without taking inventory of current strategies by surveying teachers. Design a process and tools to assemble evidence on teachers’ professional learning profiles and needs and establish an array of tools and processes (e.g., virtual learning communities, professional learning modules, and micro-credentials) that accelerate outcomes.
- Identify exemplar professional learning schools and turn them into learning labs. Models of quality professional learning are sometimes isolated within a department or school site. Invest more deeply in these exemplars, like Armstrong Elementary and Cortez Magnet, so they can have more time and resources to serve as laboratories of inspiration and learning with other district educators.
- Carefully identify the root problems that get in the way of teachers spreading their expertise. Each school operates in a different context (student and community needs, teacher experiences, culture, etc.) and should engage in a learning process to become ready for teacher leadership and to help every educator learn in ways that suit their needs and those of their school.
- Cultivate administrators who have the know-how to foster stronger teacher collaboration. A key ingredient in the emerging PUSD professional learning model is a cohort of site principals who enable expert teachers to share best practices and coach their peers in real time. These principals not only allow teacher leaders to be instructional leaders but they also proactively look for ways to tap these teachers to help drive learning experiences for all students across school sites. They know how to utilize the talents of their teams, and they learn alongside their teaching colleagues. Revisit and redesign administrator training for teacher leadership.
State Policy Recommendations
- Support statewide, annual surveys about professional learning experiences to guide improvement. The ambitious goals of LCFF and a statewide system of support require exceptional coordination among educators, school sites, districts, and counties. However, there are very few formal channels for state policy to be informed by the perspectives of LCFF implementers: teachers. Funding under Title II and Title IV of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) can be used to develop feedback mechanisms to improve teaching and learning conditions, including school readiness for teacher leadership informed by recent research and innovative tools that can be used to measure progress.
- Elevate promising models of teacher-led learning across the state under the statewide system of support. California has developed a robust statewide model of continuous improvement and efforts geared toward improving student learning in schools where students have historically struggled academically.1 However, nowhere in the levels of support is teacher-led learning identified as a promising model for improving student learning. It is implied that technical assistance for schools is necessary from outside the school system or from the district central office, but not from within the school system itself. Highlighting more examples of implementation strategies of teacher-led learning models like those emerging in PUSD could help improve the efficacy of the system of support and also ensure its sustainability for professional learning is not dependent on the expertise of outside entities.
- Strengthen ideas of shared leadership and teacher-led learning in the California Administrator Performance Expectations (CAPE)2 and California Teaching Performance Expectations (CTPE)3 that identify a variety of roles for expert educators who can serve in more hybrid roles of leadership. Ideas around leadership are often narrowly tied to school site administrators and features of instructional leadership, management and learning environments, family and community engagement, ethics and integrity, and policy. Many teacher leaders already have strong influence around these areas of work, but they are not often recognized for both teaching and leading. The California Commission in Teacher Credentialing should explore innovative ways to recognize teachers who lead without leaving the classroom.
- Expand California’s Instructional Leadership Corps (ILC) with a virtual learning community component. The ILC is a partnership between the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE), National Board Resource Center, and the California Teachers Association (CTA). This “teachers teaching teachers” model trains teacher leaders to lead ongoing professional learning around the state’s new math, science, and ELA standards within their own districts. A virtual learning component could assist districts like PUSD to spread teaching expertise and serve the unique professional learning needs of teachers.
In closing, California serves more than six million students in more than 1,000 districts and over 11,000 schools. The state has some of the most significant challenges in educating highly diverse students, who come to school profoundly impacted by the effects of poverty and inequality.
Under LCFF, school districts in California have many options and more flexibility in finding and using professional development resources to fuel school improvement compared to the past. There are many vendors, with a myriad of programs, vying for the attention of districts and administrators eager for immediate change in student performance. The idea of teacher-led learning presents a necessary but labor-intensive approach, yet as our policy report reveals, districts have the potential to ignite change from inside their systems. This approach will build the internal capacity of the district and the educators who serve children every day. Over 20 years ago, Elmore (1996) concluded that scaling up ambitious curriculum reforms required teachers “increasingly to think of themselves as operating in a web of professional relations that influence their daily decisions, rather than as solo practitioners.” And more recently, Hough, et al. (2017) pointed out that continuous improvement ideas in California are “unlikely to lead to success in schools where the context presents substantial challenges to regular and substantial teacher collaboration unless there is a deep district commitment to supporting those schools and overcoming the contextual barriers” (Gallagher, et al., 2019). PUSD has demonstrated how to begin to create opportunities for teachers to do so. Now is the time to take bolder action in policy and practice to turn their innovative pilot efforts into a system of professional learning that students deserve in PUSD and across the Golden State.
- More information about California’s system of support can be found here: https://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/sw/t1/csss.asp
- More information about the California Administrator Performance Expectations can be found at https://www.ctcexams.nesinc.com/content/docs/CAPE_Placemat.pdf
- More information about the California Teaching Performance Expectations can be found at https://www.ctc.ca.gov/docs/default-source/educator-prep/standards/adopted-tpes-2013.pdf