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Supporting the Teacher Leader Role

By Sue Easton
Supporting the Teacher Leader Role

During the first six months in my new role as Director of the Teacher Training Center, I have spent a lot of time seeking to understand the needs of the international schools that we support, and the courses that we are currently offering. I was particularly interested in the role of the teacher leader, since I have led teacher leader teams in three international schools, with committed, enthusiastic educators, who often had no leadership training.
In December, I sent out a survey on PTCNet and was fascinated by the responses:
46% of respondents identified their teacher leaders as currently in a coaching role
28% of respondents identified their teacher leaders as currently in a supervisory role
26% of respondents identified their teacher leaders as currently doing a combination of the two or something altogether different
This data didn’t really surprise me. Different schools approach the teacher leader role in different ways. At the TTC, we have been trying to support these current models through our Teacher Leader Institutes. We believe that all teacher leaders need basic training in organizational structures, communication, change processes, and facilitation. The “Leadership Tools for International Teacher Leaders” was created for this reason.
We believe that all school leadership inherently includes the need for skill in recognizing effective teaching to support evidence-based accountability processes. Supervision is not just the role of the principal. In fact, in some schools, it is nearly impossible for the principal to collect meaningful data, including class observations, analysis of planning documents, and review of student work, and individual, class and course data. Teacher leaders could and should play an important role in supervising and collecting this important information. For these reasons, we created the “Supervision Tools for International Teacher Leaders” course, to help teacher leaders develop the skills that they need to support the school-wide supervision and evaluation process. We understand that this is challenging for teachers. We also know that teachers are looking for meaningful feedback. A department head or grade level leader, trained to give this evaluative feedback with the authority to ensure change, is vital in our schools.
We also believe, however, that continuous growth and improvement should be the focus of every school. We are a global learning community. For this reason, this year we will offer the “Coaching Skills for International Teacher Leaders” course. Forty-six percent of survey respondents said that this is the current teacher leader role in their schools, but 85 percent said that this is the role that they would like their teacher leaders to have. Whether the role is an instructional coach, a literacy coach, a grade level leader, or a department head, if the focus is on continuous improvement, teacher leaders need skills to work with individuals or teams. We understand that teacher leaders need to develop skills in collaborative goal setting, peer observations, analyzing data, providing descriptive feedback, and creating professional development opportunities. A teacher leader with these skills is vital in our schools.
Many of the survey respondents commented that the second approach, the coaching approach, was the RIGHT approach to teacher leadership. We don’t agree. We know that in our international school context, we have different roles, responsibilities, and organizational structures. As a result, we believe that a supervisory AND coaching approach is needed in every school. We also believe that teacher leaders need to be trained to do either or both effectively to ensure accountability and growth, for all of our teachers.
Thank you to all who responded to the PTCNet survey. Some of you asked about teacher leader job descriptions and stipends. Please feel free to send me your samples at [email protected]. I will share all that I receive.

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