I see good things in education and teacher leadership for 2018. There are many reasons to believe I may be a bit naïve: a foreign policy world in “disarray” (see Richard Haass’ new book); deepening, long-standing divisions within American society (read here on Charlottesville and racial divide); as well as growing political efforts to make K-12 education a private commodity, not a public good. (Read here for an international perspective on the problems of public education privatization as well as here for why our nation needs to guarantee all students a right to public education.)
Yet as I think about CTQ’s past, present, and future, and our vision for an equitable and excellent public education for every student, I am hopeful.
It is not difficult to be a bit reflective about our almost two-decade history to advance teaching as a profession — the one that makes all others possible.
When we launched the CTQCollab in 2003 (then called the Teacher Leaders Network/TLN), I rarely heard the words “teacher” and “leader” spoken together by policy leaders or administrators. Granted, there was already a rich literature on teacher leadership — what it looks like in practice and the conditions that promote or undermine it. But all too often, school reformers, well-intended as they have been on improving outcomes for all students, were far more focused on fixing teachers, not on unleashing their potential as leaders.
In some ways, little has changed. Even when more school districts create teacher leader programs, administrators are more likely to either anoint or appoint classroom experts in a narrow leadership role. Few examples of teacherpreneurism (see our 2013 book) can be found — where practicing teachers, with more time and space, incubate and execute their own reform ideas for the good of public education.
But I am hopeful.
In early 2018, a handful of interlocking reasons come to mind:
- School reformers, once solely focused on disruptive changes from outside the system, are beginning to focus more on the need to cultivate teacher leadership to improve public education;
- Researchers are mounting evidence on the indelible link between teacher learning/leadership and student achievement — and these data are going to help make the case for new investments in education to parents who continue to give grades of A or B to their public schools;
- Education technologies, when implemented properly, can produce significant gains in student achievement and boost engagement, particularly among students most at risk — and these same tools are available to teachers who are now leading their own professional learning (see graphic);
- New learning coalitions are beginning to build — like the one being advanced by UCLA’s Center for Transformation of Schools — to network teachers and administrators from traditionally governed school districts and high-quality charters (with potential to close the dysfunctional divide between them); and
- Women’s movements — including 50/50by2020 and #TimesUp — are establishing a vision for “nationwide leadership that reflects the world in which we live” and in doing so, can bolster teacher leadership in a profession that historically has been held back by gender bias.
At CTQ, we sense a new set of emergent realities. Republicans and Democrats, as well as business leaders, states, districts, and school networks (including high quality charters) are turning to us to help them develop systems of teacher-led professional learning and systems of collective leadership.
- In South Carolina, we are working closely with the State Department of Education (SCDE), led by State Superintendent Molly Spearman, to launch a Collective Leadership Initiative pilot in 12 schools, which leverages personalized professional growth so educators can solve their problems of practice.
- Our work in South Carolina has led to a partnership with the University of South Carolina in an effort with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and its iLEAD initiative to “build a movement” to transform leadership development and preparation programs, using the tools of improvement science.
- CTQ has developed a set of micro-credentials and virtual communities of practices to transform professional development for teachers and principals alike. Now we are working with innovative superintendents and their teams — e.g., in the Jefferson County Public Schools (KY) and Pomona Unified School District (CA) as well as the State of Tennessee — to do so.
- We are working with the Next Generation Learning Challenge to build a virtual community of practice in support of their Assessment for Learning Project that will include teachers from Kentucky, Rhode Island, and Georgia. In collaboration with the Center for Collaborative Education, we will develop a policy framework for the redesign of professional learning and recognition for teachers spreading their expertise.
- CTQ is working closely with TeachingPartners, a for-profit start-up, to support their large, connected, national community of teachers who lead instruction to improve practice for deeper learning outcomes. TeachingPartners has asked us to prepare growing numbers of teachers to lead virtual communities of practice on their new platform. TeachingPartners will also be home for our CTQCollab, where we will work deeply with teachers and administrators to measure their impact as leaders and also telling their stories.
- We are partners with the National Education Association in their efforts to build, test, and pilot micro-credentials that will recognize teachers who demonstrate competencies tied to instructional, policy, and association leadership. These pilots will create more opportunities for teachers to learn from one another and be recognized in reinvented collective bargaining agreements.
Our nation’s founders — including Thomas Jefferson and John Adams — were clear that American democracy had to be grounded by the informed participation of all its citizens, and educational excellence for all children requires collectively supported public education.
If schools are to prepare young people for participatory democratic life, and to bring more harmony and order, not disarray, to our nation, then school governance must model democratic ideals. Now, more than ever, is the time to create systems of collective leadership for excellence and equity in public education. CTQ resolves to do its part.
 Childress, S., Samouha, A., Tavenner, D., & Wetzler, J. (2015, August 31). Dissatisfied yet optimistic: Moving faster toward new school models. New Schools Venture Fund. Retrieved from http://www.newschools.org/wp/wpcontent/uploads/DissatisfiedYetOptimisticMovingFasterTowardNewSchoolModels.pdf;
 Berry, B. (2016). Transforming professional learning: Why teachers’ learning must be individualized and how. Paper commissioned by the Pearson Corporation. Retrieved from https://www.teachingquality.org/transformingprofessionallearning
 Darling-Hammond, L., Zielezinski, M., & Goldman, S. (2014). Using technology to support at risk students’ learning. Stanford University: SCOPE. Retrieved from https://edpolicy.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/scope-pub-using-technology-report.pdf