On its surface, a new state law that creates a teacher leader endorsement to the instructional certificate may not seem like a big deal. But to a profession beleaguered by a misguided accountability movement and victimized by corporate education reform, New Jersey P.L.2015, c.111. could be a very, very big deal. In fact, it is a critical step toward returning teachers to an exalted position in our schools.
The law’s potential exists within the 11-member advisory board it created. By the start of the 2016-17 school year, the board must recommend the program of study for the teacher leader endorsement. That recommendation will then be crafted into regulations to be adopted by the State Board of Education. Within five years, the board must also identify the non-supervisory positions that should have the endorsement. All of these proposals must be aligned with the national teacher leader model standards.
If the advisory board completes this work with purpose and vision, the law will provide teachers with exciting career path opportunities that were previously unavailable to them. At the same time, New Jersey’s schools will feature greater collective leadership than ever before.
The crux of teacher leadership is to allow teachers to lead from their classrooms. Teacher leaders are not doing the job of administrators. They will serve in positions where they help improve teacher practice and create a collaborative culture where decisions about schools and learning can be made with teachers, not above them.
The composition of the advisory board gives us reason to expect these goals will be met. NJEA will have four representatives and the N.J. Association of School Administrators and the N.J. Principals and Supervisors Association will each have two. The N.J. Department of Education, the American Federation of Teachers-NJ, the N.J. School Boards Association, and the N.J. Association of Colleges for Teacher Education will each have one representative.
NJEA earned its four seats by being the driving force behind this legislation for the past four years. When new regulations governing professional development and teacher evaluation demonstrated a troubling erosion of respect for the work that educators do, NJEA leaders and staff set out to reverse this trend. They met with other stakeholder groups and they identified promising approaches. Eventually, NJEA’s lobbyists were working with legislators to draft a bill, find sponsors and push the concept of teacher leadership into law.
This work takes time, of course, and change of this size and scope requires broad support. The proposed teacher leader legislation got a huge boost last fall when the Garden State Alliance for Strengthening Education (GSASE), a new coalition of stakeholder groups that includes NJEA, called on policymakers to turn away from accountability measures focused primarily on student test scores. At an aptly named event called “Taking Back the Profession,” GSASE released a report that called for the creation of a professional continuum for teachers. This continuum includes teacher leadership because it “capitalizes on and shares teachers’ instructional expertise in a variety of ways, while also re-energizing seasoned professionals.”
GSASE recognizes, however, that being a great teacher and being a great teacher leader are not one and the same. So, to be effective in these new roles, teacher leaders will need an endorsement to their certificate that demonstrates the knowledge and skills needed to engage their colleagues collaboratively.
Another key GSASE recommendation exists in the new teacher leader law. The collective bargaining process will determine whether those engaged in teacher leader responsibilities will receive additional compensation and/or release time.
New York City teacher and edweek.org blogger John Troutman McCrann wrote about teacher leadership recently, calling it “the new hot topic in ed policy circles.” In a post titled “Two Things Policymakers Should Know About Teacher Leadership,” the high school math teacher explained that teacher leadership is not about doing the chores that administrators don’t want to do. Nor is it “a back door to merit pay,” he argued.
“The guiding principle behind teacher leadership is that teachers have special knowledge about their students and community because of the day-to-day work we do,” wrote Troutman McCrann.
For too long, that “special knowledge” has been dismissed by policymakers. The passage of the teacher leader law demonstrates a return to the truth that it is the work of great teachers and great teacher leaders that will truly transform our schools