Prepping Teacher Prep for Teacher Leadership

This post is co-written by Mike Paul, a pre-service Middle School Mathematics Teacher finishing his degree in December 2014.  He blogs about educational technology topics over at Pike Mall Tech. This summer, he’ll be launching a training site for teachers to help them learn to integrate technology and flip their classrooms at TeachFlip.

As a profession, our definition of teacher leadership is changing.  A decade ago, any demonstrated leadership capacity ultimately placed teachers on an administrative track.  Although administration is one possible articulation of leadership, many in the teaching field now realize that administration is not a form of teacher leadership.  

Do a keyword search of “Teacher Leadership” and you will find a wealth of information–from blogs to formal standards.  In her Aspen Institute report, Finding a New Way: Leveraging Teacher Leadership to Meet Unprecedented Demands, Rachel Curtis defines teacher leadership as the specific roles and responsibilities that recognize the talents of the most effective teachers.  As Curtis details, it is essential that the roles, responsibilities and talents of teacher leaders are deployed in service of student learning, adult learning, collaboration as well as school and system improvement.    

In light of these new realities, how can we insure that teacher preparatory programs give new teacher candidates an accurate picture of the complexities of the profession as well as clear models and standards for elevating the profession and deeply impacting student learning experiences?

As teacher leaders pioneer the new roles and responsibilities that serve to reshape and elevate our profession, we must turn our attention toward teacher prep programs.

As it currently stands, most of our teacher prep programs, in Kentucky, focus on teaching methods centered on inquiry-based learning and creating student centered classrooms.  Special focus is also given to ensure new teachers are masters of their content area.  Both of these pursuits are terribly valid and speak to the need to develop highly effective teachers.  

However, highly effective teacher candidates must also be aware of opportunities to be highly effective outside of their own classroom as well. These opportunities include, but are certainly not limited to:

  • Participating in Twitter Ed Chats based on geography and interest

  • Submitting proposals to present at conferences

  • Composing blogs that chronicle different aspects of the profession

  • Collaborating with mentor teachers on teacher leadership efforts

  • Creating a teacher candidate network

  • Engaging in virtual community discussions with master teachers

  • Consulting with private sector companies that serve public education

  • Joining organizations that value teacher voice

By engaging with other educators early and often, teacher candidates are able to stay current on teacher leadership opportunities and research, project possible leadership roles and responsibilities to work towards and stay current on topics that may affect their teaching career, such as educational policy changes.

Why don’t we see more teacher candidates engaging in this type of work in our state?  What barriers exist that keep teacher candidates from engaging in teacher leadership opportunities early and often?

The environment of a new teacher training program must foster creativity and leadership skills, both of which are amplified in a student-centered teacher prep program.  In the realities of the classroom, ‘student-centered’ means promoting a growth mindset and a culture that places high-value on continuous growth.  By expecting and modeling constant professional growth, teachers and teacher candidates earn the credibility to demand the same level of growth from their prospective students.  In this way, engaging in teacher leadership opportunities early and often, and the corresponding growth culture created in the classroom, can be thought of as a fractal:  growth is mirrored at every level; from student to teacher to building administrator to district administrator.   

New teachers must be encouraged to go on their own journey of discovery and mature into the teaching professionals we need in our classrooms, taking the lessons learned through experience to their students.  Without these experiences, we are merely pouring new wine in old wineskins, thrusting new pedagogical methods and strategies, new teacher roles and responsibilities, new leadership dispositions and talents into isolated classrooms that cause new teachers to burn out at unsustainable rates.   

As teachers like Brison Harvey have demonstrated, teacher leadership is not the sole property of 20 year veterans. Mr. Harvey has been teaching for only two years, yet he has all of the dispositions and talents of a teacher leader.  He deeply impacts student and peer learning through his work with the Center for Teaching Quality’s Kentucky Lab and the Common Assignment collaboration among Colorado and Kentucky teachers.

Teacher training programs must be the “beta testing”  laboratories for these paradigm-shifting ideas; ideas to be encouraged by the staff and faculty of the training programs, the districts that hire the new teachers, as well as by the licensing board.  In essence, teacher prep needs to create more Brison Harveys.

We have Districts of Innovation in the Kentucky public school system that offer new and exciting pathways to graduation for our next generation.  Why can’t we also have Teacher Training Programs of Innovation that can both recognize and build the capacity of prospective teacher leaders?  It is time that we place a high priority and value on the fresh ideas and innovations that can completely change the landscape of education.  We must also work to create systems that allow these new, innovative teacher leaders the freedom to contribute to the direction of our schools, scaling and implementing their new ideas as efficiently as possible.

Teachers, we hope that there are examples in Kentucky that would prove our assumptions faulty (and we welcome those examples…please share!).  Assuming our assessment is correct, how can we change teacher prep while guarding against the trap of the status quo:  the hollow impression that innovative teacher leaders can only be effective in their classrooms?

  • ScottEDiamond

    Why does teacher prep not already prep for leadership?

    You both wrote: “By engaging with other educators early and often, teacher candidates are able to stay current on teacher leadership opportunities….Why don’t we see more teacher candidates engaging in this type of work in our state?

    The problem may be a rigid separation of teacher prep from teaching. As discussed early in the essay, the typical careerpath is teacher -> administrator -> education professor. The limited role of active teachers have little role in teacher prep is thhe problem.

    Solutions must be structural – I would propose half-time positions for teachers as teacher educators and for teacher educators as teachers. A la MD PhD in med school.

  • bradclark

    Practioner-led Learning

    So what are the characteristics of the MD PhD Model?  What concepts, defining elements and structures are transferrable?

  • ScottEDiamond

    MD PhD Model

    MD PhDs are educator/researcher/practitioners. They spend equal time doing research, educating trainees, and being medical practitioners. They serve as the living link between practice, research, and training and keep all “honest.”

    The MD PhD was created intentionally to address faults with medical education early in the 20th century, I believe. Practice became detached from research, and training from practice.

    It would be directly transferable were we to have a willingness on institutional stakeholders’ parts to “share” appointments.

    It’s by no means a cure-all, and has its own share of career hurdles. And medicine is by no means a pefect profession. But it has moved forward MUCH more quickly in the past century than has K-12 education.

    • LaurenHill

      Seems like a good start to me

      I just read this today, and wanted to share it.  I often hear these career comparisons, and wondered if the comparison was helpful.  My cousin left private practice because he had to see too many patience in too little time, preventing him from giving each the time they deserved.  Sound familiar? This article looks at this and other ways these comparisons are accurate in unexpected ways.

    • Gerry Swan


      Scott, I would be interested in an example of a breakdown in the link between research, training and practice. I’m not saying that I disagree, but so much of the discussion/debate around teacher preparation is vague and difficult to pin down. I’m also curious where you got the typical career trajectory to be teacher -> administrator -> education faculty. 

  • bradclark

    great article

    That article was fabulous.  The hyper links alone, make that a must read for anyone concerned with redesigning teacher career pathways.

    Okay, so how are the issues in these higher prestige professions different from ours?

    I totally understand that physicians feel lower in status than plastic surgeons, but physicians’ lofty status is far and away higher than even the “most-master” teacher any of us know.

    Their entry-level compensation is well-above our middle of career positions.  Show me the money…no really.  I am tired of having to give 147% of myself to a profession that does not monetarily value my expertise, skill set or impact on community-level economic development/workforce development.  It is beyond bogus…

    As Randy and I pointed out here, teachers have significantly more frequent contact with our clients than either doctors or lawyers, therefore it is that much more important that society places a higher value on the work of teaching.  I am know I am preaching to tthe choir here, so I will stop ranting.  I am impatient.  This future shift (which I truly believe will come) needed to happen yesterday.

    If we, as a profession are going to elevate the profession with any manner of authenticity, then we have to demand more of teacher training.  We are an unnecessarily bloated field.  The ranks of teachers in our state and in every state must advocate for a more rigorous teacher prep process as an integral component of the Teacher Leadership movement.

    • mikepaul

      Board Certification
      This article brought up something Brad and I discussed while crafting our post, national board certification for teachers. While there is a board certification, it’s not required for teachers to obtain in order to teach.

      Is it time we changed that requirement? I’ll be the first to sign on the dotted line to make it happen…

      • LaurenHill

        We need different models

        National Board certification is accurately intended for an experienced teacher to demonstrate excellence.  What would a similar “board exam” or certificaton process look like for a new teacher?  We have a few out there now – EdTPA primary among them.  ETS is working to modify the Praxis to examine a broader still set.  What should a teacher be able to know and do at different points in their career? 

    • Gerry Swan

      What if

      In the couple of posts I’ve seen on this site about teacher prep, there seems to be a total absence about the role that teachers currently play in certifying teachers. Pre-service teachers don’t get certified unless they complete student teaching. They don’t complete student teaching without the blessing of a mentor teacher. What if teachers stopped signing off on ill prepared teachers?

      • mikepaul

        Let’s go a bit further…

        What if we stopped letting people into student teaching that didn’t have what it takes?  What if our standards in teacher prep programs were higher than what they currently are?  Again, I’m speaking from a very biased position as a pre-service teacher in a prep program right now, but here is the question that I ask myself on almost a daily basis: Would I want Person A or Person B teaching my 2-year old daughter when the time came?

        Sadly, I have to say a resounding “no” in many cases.  I am, by no means, a judge of teaching quality, but I’m a pretty decent judge of people and their work ethic and their ability to provide value and be a productive team member, having been a manager for over 10 years in another profession. Whether in teaching or in business, or any occupation, leadership traits are evident even before mastery of a skill is achieved.

        I think part of the problem is that we are sending people that are either not ready or do not have the traits necessary to become teachers, teacher leaders, principals, teacherpreneurs, or whatever other title you’d like to place on an educational leader.  I think that our teacher prep programs, generally speaking, are far too quick to award good grades simply to refill the ranks of teachers that leave before their first five years.

        Am I alone in this thought?

        • Gerry Swan

          Who would you vote off the island?

          OK, let’s talk specifics. Of the people in your teacher prep program cohort, how many of them should not be there? What makes you think that?

          • mikepaul

            Here we go…

            Of the 12 that started when I did, one left after the first semester because the mentor teacher we had at the time suggested very emphatically that this person choose another career path due to a lack of content knowledge and abilities to do the work that was given.  There are 2 more in the cohort that I believe should not be in the program for the following reasons:

            • Refusal to collaborate in meaningful ways with the rest of their team (something that is required on a daily basis as a teacher)
            • Lack of content mastery
            • Refusal to follow directions and expectations of the program (Basically they didn’t like what they had to do so either didn’t do it or submitted very late)
            • Lack of professionalism in conduct (nothing inappropriate, but simply not being a professional in their attitudes and interactions with other students, mentor teachers, and cooperating teachers in the schools)

            So, of the 12 that I started with, a quarter of them really shouldn’t be in the program. And these thoughts are crafted after spending 3 semesters with them.

            Example: You don’t show up to teach 10 minutes before your class starts in clothes that look like you pulled them out of the bottom of the dirty laundry hamper.  You don’t rely on your cohort members to do 3/4 of the work on a major project and then when you are confronted about it, try to use every excuse in the book to make it look ok.  You don’t show up 45 minutes late for a class when the professor from the main campus is coming to your regional location and just think that everything is going to be OK.  You don’t miss multiple meetings with your other team members to plan and work on your culminating project and then when you do show up, you don’t have anything of value to contribute at all.

            I know I’m ranting a bit here, but I get extremely angry and disgusted when I have and continue to go above and beyond what has been asked of me in my program to only see people that do not have the same drive and motivation to be the best teacher they can be continue to be allowed to participate in the program. And I’m sure I’m not the only one that feels this way.

            Time to step down off my soapbox…

      • bradclark

        Speaking to GS’ Original Response

        The responsibility to change teacher prep is on us as a profession.  We have to hold each other to higher standards and stop pushing folks through the same broken system that gave us a rubber stamp.  Terribly valid point.

        So perhaps, since this has touched a nerve and since you work in teacher prep*, would you be interested in co-blogging about the complexities facing the redesign of teacher prep, or perhaps doing an asynchronous call and response discussion?  That would be rad.

        *And for those of you that don’t know, Gerry is a terribly dynamic profesor at UK and has by far the best 80s and 90s social references in his tweets:

  • bradclark

    Just found this article

    Are there any Collaboratory members that have participated in the formation of the new federal Teacher Prep evaluation/requirements?

    Does anyone think it will in fact be tied to the Higher Education Act reauthroization?

    How would that impact teacher prep?

  • LaurenHill

    A bit of caution

    I love your list of things new teachers ought to engage with, especially the virtual community part :). I think we need to be careful that we present these goals in a scaffolded way – that we do what we can, when we can.  I spent most of my first year locked in a bathroom stall trying to stop crying before my next class, feeling scared and overwhelmed. Teacher prep should also help pre-service prioritize what sorts of teacher leadership activities would benefit them: their strengths, imagined futures and immediate needs.

    • bradclark

      terribly valid point

      Yes scaffolding leadership opportunities is essential.  Learning how to truly lead your students is tantamount.  Period. 

      Other leadership opportunities (that the Jedi’s have mastered:) should be available, or perhaps accessible is the more acrruate term.  Leadership cannot be a sort of lofty inaccessible goal reserved for the Yoda’s of our profession; models (and mentors) must be in constant contact with teacher candidates.


      • KellyStidham


        I think this distinction is important.  What does it mean to “lead” in our profession?  To me, great leaders are those that make their learning public.  Is there a moment when suddenly we are ready to lead?  Certainly, growing as a leader never stops along your career path; isn’t this at the core in elevating the profession?

    • mikepaul

      Imagined Futures
      First of all, I hope that I don’t have the bathroom stall experience during my first year. Yikes! 🙂

      Secondly, I wonder how teacher prep programs can help pre-service teachers experience those “imagined futures” in a way that doesn’t scare off those that feel overwhelmed by the work they do just to get their teaching certificate. I agree completely that we need to expose new teachers to the opportunities that are available and that fit with their strengths, but I also know that not every person that comes into a teaching program is ready to blaze new paths and tackle obstacles that may make their teacher training seem like a leisurely stroll through Happytown.

      How can we introduce these roles in that scaffolded way so that we don’t clear out the ranks of new teachers?

  • AngelaRiggs

    I love the concept of

    I love the concept of offering pre-service teachers guidance into leadership pathways! I graduated with my Elementary Ed degree last May; looking at where I am right now as a teacher, I really wish I’d had some courses or PD to help me develop leadership abilities.

    I do think creating mentor relationships with veteran educators should be part of the teacher prep process – I had some fantastic professors, but many of them hadn’t taught an elementary classroom in years. The professors that I learned the most from were adjuncts, who were current elementary teachers that taught night classes. They were able to bring in their current knowledge and practices, and share their methods and experiences with us.

    I also see the fantastic things being done by teacher-leaders, especially here at CTQ! I would love to gear myself towards becoming part of these programs and initiatives, but I don’t really think that I currently have a solid foundation for being a positive contributor. I’m not quite at Lauren’s bathroom stall stage (anymore 😉 ), but I am focusing my efforts and energies on creating the type of classroom that I want to be a part of. I agree with her view that there should be a way to prioritize which leadership activities to concentrate on; I think a connection to that would be a mentor or program to help pre-service teachers figure out where they think they’d like to focus.

  • bradclark

    AR: no handbook for TL


    Thanks for being here.  I must say, there is not secret handbook for doing teacher leadership work.  There is simply doing teacher leadership work.  We are building the plane while we fly it:)  Some folks here have been doing this for decades, so their plane me look a bit more complete than ours. 

    I am thankful there is no set way to be a Teacher Leader.  There may be a set of dispositions that are constant throughout the broader movement, but the way TL is articulated completely depends on the interests of the TL and the needs of the TL’s local context.  In that way it is magical and organic.  It respects individuality yet prizes the tribe.  There is no hierarchy. 

    Not to sound to Tao of Clark/zen-master-ish, but you have already contributed to the community simply by pursuing your interests and participating in this thread.  in order to catch the grasshopper you must find deeper ways of engaging…<<<bonggg>>>soon you will find yourself sprtizing bonsai trees, raking sand, stacking smooth river stones and pouring lotus flower tea into a thimble at your feet…

    • mikepaul

      Couldn’t agree more
      As in many other professions, the leaders are very often the first ones that decided they were going to do something different than what everyone else was trying. When I started blogging about EdTech topics about a year ago, I did so with, as I like to tell other people, not really knowing any better and throwing to the wind the notion that because I wasn’t in my own classroom yet that I couldn’t be a leader.

      Angela, as Brad noted, merely stepping out and adding your thoughts here is something a leader would do. Contributing your voice to any platform, even if you think you might be wrong, is a leadership action that many will never attempt.

      I applaud every teacher involved at CTQ for taking action and being “master of their own destiny”, oftentimes in spite of what may be going on around them in education.

  • SusanGraham

    The disconnect starts early

    Take a look at university schools of education program and course catalogs. The term, Education Leadership, is used to categorize the courses and advanced degrees designed to convert classroom teachers into school administrators. Too often, when teacher canididates are encouraged to address reforms in practice and policy, they will directed to university research, school administrators, or government agencies. It is rare that they are encouraged to seek out practicing teachers as authorities and resources.

    In her blog, Lauren Hill wrote: Until working with CTQ on the Implementing the Common Core Standards team, it never occurred to me that this drive toward leadership could and should be a natural part of a teachers’ professional trajectory. Teachers are not encouraged to advocate for themselves and their work. When we try, others see us as upstart children rather than professionals, and we settle for precociousness. Also, I think we fear that any aggressive attempt at self-advocacy will suggest that we love ourselves more than we love our kids.

    The classroom is not simply the starting gate for education leadership, it is the origin of real education leadership.

    • bradclark

      yes. yes. yes.

      And it is high time that Teacher Leaders/pracitoners in classrooms drive teacher prep.  They can have Education Leadership, but I want us to build new definitions for Teacher Leadership and Instructional Leadership.  Principals and Admins that can be qualified as true Instructional Leaders are outliers.  I have yet to meet one with more instructional expertise than the best classroom teacher in a grade level, or in a content/subject area or working with a particular subsection of student populations. 

      Susan, you raise a valid point, there is no expert quite like a Teacher Leader, but what qualifies them or gives their expertise credibility?

  • Kathy Noble

    Teacher Leadership

    Several states are now participating in the Teacher Leadership Initiative, a collaboration of the NEA, the National Ceritification Board, and CTQ.  We meet online bi-weekly and discuss leadership issues and challenges as well as successes and are in the process of developing a leadership project within our school or district.  If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend becoming a part of this initiative, led by teacher leaders who are passionate, yet recognize the time constraints we are all feeling.  They help us give voice to our leadership qualities to enact positive change.

  • KipHottman

    Can we approach Universities

    I love the ideas that you all are presenting about Teacher Leaders enacting positive change, fabulous!  Do you all think that teacher leaders working together could approach universities and create some positive change within teacher prep programs?  Is this happening or has this already happened?  What data/ideas would we need to bring to the conversation?