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Professional Opinion

Teach Forward: The key to a pay for performance plan

How teacher leaders boost their peers and improve student outcomes
Andre Spencer is the superintendent, Rupak Gandhi is the research, data, and accountability officer, and Laurie Eastup is the RDA Coordinator at Harrison School District Two in Colorado Springs.
Andre Spencer is the superintendent, Rupak Gandhi is the research, data, and accountability officer, and Laurie Eastup is the RDA Coordinator at Harrison School District Two in Colorado Springs.

In the 2010-11 school year, the Harrison School District Two in Colorado Springs began one of the most rigorous pay-for-performance plans in the nation: Called “Effectiveness and Results,” this overhaul of the human capital management system was a risk worth taking because the status quo failed to adequately serve students.

We tied the evaluation and compensation system to what the organization values most: effective classroom instruction tied to student achievement results. We replaced the traditional salary schedule with nine effectiveness levels. Each effectiveness level is earned by an equal weight of educator performance and their students’ academic achievement.

Educators receive the salary associated with the relevant effectiveness level. Key to the plan is our Teach Forward program.

Why we need teacher leaders

Teach Forward will target the most impactful data-driven need: increasing the amount of effective teachers across all content areas. We want our effective teachers to continue providing direct instruction to students, but we also know that, through leadership, they have the potential to increase the effectiveness of their peers.

The Teach Forward program provides time and opportunity for effective teachers to lead, mentor and coach peer teachers without leaving the classroom. Being formally recognized as a teacher leader leads to higher job satisfaction and retention.

The next step to build upon the Effectiveness and Results system was to incorporate a program that would develop school-based teacher leaders.

The Teach Forward program is based on best practices from Joellen Killion, who leads Learning Forward. The program increases educator effectiveness by having teachers take on a role that encompasses the responsibilities of a resource provider, data coach, curriculum and  instructional specialist, mentor, classroom supporter, school leader, change catalyst, and learner.

Gauging success

When they apply to Teach Forward, teachers must provide a principal recommendation and commit to at least two years of the program. The first year, called the Fellowship Year, is dedicated to training teacher leaders to effectively lead peers at their campus. Building the leadership capacity of teacher leaders builds the capacity of the entire educator force in the schools in which they work.

From the beginning, teacher leaders are evaluated on their effectiveness—including their success with peer teachers and their impact on how those teachers’ students are performing. We evaluate the program using the following benchmarks:

  • Student achievement: Are system changes increasing performance
  • Teacher impact: Is the program improving employee retention, leadership and instruction practices?
  • Implementation fidelity:  Did the program follow the proposed plan?
  • Satisfaction: Gauge the opinions teachers, teacher leaders, administrators, students, community members and other stakeholders.

Equity increases

We need effective teachers in every classroom to provide equitable access to quality instruction for all students. Teach Forward develops effective teachers across all content areas.

When outcomes impact compensation for teacher leaders, it heightens the importance of the support and training designed to produce the desired results. Teach Forward boosts student achievement and teacher efficacy by providing all teachers an opportunity to teach today, lead today and, ultimately, achieve today. 


Andre Spencer is the superintendent, Rupak Gandhi is the research, data, and accountability officer, and Laurie Eastup is the RDA Coordinator at Harrison School District Two in Colorado Springs.