Greece School District: What happens when administrators and teachers lead together

If you’re looking for an authentic and bold brand of teacher leadership in America, look no further than Greece, New York. Greece School District’s visionary collaborative model of leadership for teachers and administrators is one that I hope many other districts will follow in the years to come.

If you’re looking for an authentic and bold brand of teacher leadership in America, look no further than Greece, New York. Last week I was in upstate New York with my CTQ colleagues Lori Nazareno and Kim Farris-Berg, working with a terrific group of engaged superintendents, principals, and teachers on activating teacher leadership with design thinking principles.

During our all-day design workshop session at the We Teach 2 Lead conference, I learned more about the role of top-level leadership in developing the skill and will of teachers leading reforms—not just being the targets of them. And now I cannot imagine a more effective district superintendent than Barbara Deane-Williams, who has set the stage for her district’s classroom experts to develop the skill and agency to drive teacher-led professional development that fuels improved student learning.

In less than four years, Barb has done a lot—with teachers and administrators, not to them. When she arrived, student achievement was stagnant, while district administration and the union were at odds with each other. Teachers had spreadsheets filled with reports of student test scores. And they had mentors—but few of them had time or training to support their colleagues. Professional development was experienced as an event.

After working quickly and collaboratively to create the Envision Greece 2017 Strategic Plan, Barb flattened the hierarchy and bureaucracy in the organization, made sure more of the district’s resources were reaching classrooms, and established the expectation that principals and teachers would learn from one another. Then, working with the Teacher Union Reform Network, Barb helped create strategies for training teachers and principal leaders together. She and union president Jason Cooney, with support from Teacher Leadership Development Director Christopher Marino, developed a cadre of teacher leaders who now serve in hybrid roles (teaching half time) and are developing their own strategies for improving teaching and learning.

When it comes to teacher leadership, Barb is tight on the “what” and loose on the “how.” Many superintendents across the United States often use some of Barb’s language in describing how they are utilizing teacher leaders. But Barb truly means it.

Let’s take a closer look at what some of Greece School District’s teacher leaders are accomplishing. Over 20 years ago, Sally Brothers began teaching high school English in the Greece Central School District. Over time, she’s developed expertise in Backwards Design and Common Core instructional shifts. In 2013, she earned National Board Certification and is now coaching future candidates.

As part of the district’s grassroots approach to teacher leadership, Sally is leading cohesive professional development strategy for not just her building but also its feeder middle school.  Sally made it clear that teacher leadership in Greece is not the “anoint and appoint” variety so common across the nation:

Just the other day, a colleague of mine who teaches biology came to me as I was walking down the hall and asked for some support. She was trying to figure out how to best incorporate literacy standards inside of her science classroom. And I had the time and the permission to help her.

Unlike instructional coaches in many (or most) school districts, Sally was not expected to lead or implement a program. She was not expected to supervise teachers and tell them what to do or not do. Instead, she had the backing to do the work that she thought needed to get done, and when. Sally and her other teacher leader colleagues are trusted peers, not bosses who will give them a poor APPR (evaluation) rating. As her colleague Gina Masters, who is also in a hybrid teaching-leading role, noted: “Wearing both hats has allowed me to continue to work with primary students, which has always been my first love, as well as work with teachers on their craft, which has been a pedagogical breath of fresh air.”

Greece School District is beginning to document the impact of teacher leaders’ work—and recognizing that asking teachers to lead in hybrid roles may be the quickest path to improving teachers’ effectiveness in the classroom. Greece’s visionary collaborative model of leadership for teachers and administrators is one that I hope many other districts will follow in the years to come.

Barnett Berry and Barbara Deane-Williams