A Teacher Leader Ladder

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The dearth of career advancement options for teachers has been long opined, and yet the field remains largely short on fully implemented solutions. It often feels like progress on this front must come from district or state policy, however an Education Week article got us thinking that teachers and ed schools could be powerful pressure points as well.

According to the article, there are now more than sixty teacher leadership programs offered by ed schools across the country, a rapid emergence indicative of a professional hunger for training geared towards school-based, non-administrative leadership roles. Available to certified teachers who already have classroom experience, graduates of these programs go on to "become department chairs or grade-level team leaders, or move into hybrid positions in which they both teach and take on instructional-leadership responsibilities."

Teacher leadership degrees can raise the esteem given to the concrete skills these roles require---project management, data analysis, conducting observations, mentoring---skills not necessarily covered in teacher training or district-run PD sessions. However, the universe of these programs is so new, no expert consensus has been reached on what those concrete skills actually are. Without professional standards, the field lacks coordination and prospective students will find it hard to compare the efficacy and value of seemingly similar programs (as aspiring teachers now struggle with teacher prep). Moreover, the lack of standards makes it impossible for educators to police their own ranks, basically a requisite for professionalization.

We've been critical of masters degree programs in the past because they haven't been shown to increase student achievement. Teachers spend thousands of dollars on these degrees and districts spend even more on pay increases after the degrees are conferred. But there is a place for teacher leadership training. It is inspiring to see so many educators asking more of their profession by pursuing these programs, we hope that as supply catches up to demand teachers and teacher educators continue to push the envelope by ensuring the programs are worth teachers' time.