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Modernizing teaching in New York

Teacher leaders promote collaboration with the outside community
Learning to lead: Teachers met in New York City in June to build initiatives they designed to improve their schools.
Learning to lead: Teachers met in New York City in June to build initiatives they designed to improve their schools.

Teachers who have taken on school leadership roles across New York state gathered this past June for the first time to refine initiatives designed to improve their schools.

Twenty teacher teams participated in the inaugural New York Teacher Leadership Summit, which was hosted in New York City by Teach to Lead, a project of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, along with ASCD and the U.S. Department of Education.

The teachers’ initiatives had to promote collaboration with the outside community in solving a problem in their schools. They also had to be able to show measurable progress over time extending into the future.

Some 70 partner organizations—including America Achieves, the Literacy Design Collaborative and Discovery Education—trained teachers to better identify community resources and to present their initiatives to administrators and parents effectively. These groups will check in with the teachers after a month to help bring their initiatives to fruition.

“Schools have a fundamental structural problem—if teachers are not leading on practice or policy, we will have a cycle of forcing new initiatives on teachers and failing, because practitioners aren’t leading the work,” says Lynette Guastaferro, executive director of Teaching Matters, a nonprofit that offers professional learning to teachers and school leaders.

About a third of the projects that were presented at the summit proposed new PD structures. Other initiatives focused on training new teachers to co-lead special education classes and implement “restorative justice,” the less-punitive discipline method that emphasizes group problem-solving and reinforces positive behaviors.

Teacher leaders were encouraged to bring an administrator to the summit. “There’s so much that’s been put on administrators now, in terms of instructional leadership and promoting instruction quality,” Guastaferro says. Teachers who take on leadership roles can alleviate the burden on principals and superintendents, and increase student achievement, she adds.

More than 10 other states have held similar summits in recent years, Guastaferro says. “The idea of modernizing and elevating the teaching profession is catching fire,” she adds. “There is a consensus that this is a critical shift that has to happen in the profession if we’re going to make progress on student achievement.”