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Pros and Cons of Using Teacher Leaders

author: Ramesh Gangolli
presented at: Lessons Learned
published: 06/15/2000
posted to site: 06/15/2000

Notes for a presentation at the Lessons Learned Conference

"Pros and Cons of Using Teacher Leaders"

Presented by: Ramesh Gangolli
Project: Creating a Community of Mathematics Learners. (Seattle, WA)


  1. Our model is not a "teacher leader" model in the commonly understood sense of that term: namely a model in which the core staff prepares a cadre of teacher leaders who in turn are the principal providers of professional development.

  2. Nevertheless, our project activities involve teachers in various ways both in the design and implementation of the professional development activities that we undertake. Teachers collaborate in three distinct roles:
    • District representatives who generally have responsibility for curriculum implementation in their districts. All of them have extensive classroom experience.
    • Teachers who have played leadership roles in professional development in a variety of ways (e.g. exemplary curriculum implementation), who act as co-facilitators with Project Staff. District representatives might sometimes double in this role also.
    • Classroom teachers who teach mathematics at the grade levels concerned.

  3. The design of the activities has typically taken place as follows: content areas are identified by means of input (of various types) from teachers in all the categories mentioned above. The core staff then proposes a conceptual structure and a preliminary implementation plan for the activities in the summer institutes or the academic year workshops. Comments from the district representatives and teacher-facilitators are used to produce a detailed plan of activities, including detailed facilitator guides/notes. Teacher-facilitators are involved on a continuing basis in this process. The degree of involvement might vary depending on the precise nature of the activity being planned, but the above description is accurate in the main.

  4. The implementation of the activities is conducted by teams consisting of Core Staff, teacher-facilitators, and graduate student trainees. A facilitators' meeting is held prior to the actual activity (summer institute or academic year workshop), to go over the fine details of any implementation issues that remain.

  5. Although the project does not use a conventional "Teacher Leader" model, a considerable amount of attention has been paid to leadership issues, especially in the middle school phase of the project. The model that has been implicit is a shared leadership model in which building leaders emerge from local learning communities that are nurtured and supported by the project staff to the extent possible.

  6. We have found that collaboration with teachers in this way has been a tremendous asset to the project for a number of reasons:
    • The feedback in the process of design and implementation has helped to keep the project activities focused on relevant areas.
    • The involvement of teachers as co-facilitators has helped to take down perceptual barriers ("us and them") that often dog projects in which university personnel are the sole implementers.
    • The wealth of classroom experience and "smarts" that the teacher-facilitators bring has helped to make activities more engaging and the delivery brisk.
    • The continuing process of consultation, feedback, and revision has led to good working relationships within between the core staff, district representatives and teacher-facilitators, and more generally with some parts of the administrative structures in the districts involved.

  7. Some barriers that we have experienced:
    • High turnover among participating teachers; changes in assignment, resignations, moves to other school districts, etc. all have played a role in this.
    • Frequent changes of district administrative officers who have supervisory responsibility for the district's participation in the project have meant that the project is not uppermost in the minds of the district administration (even when the avowed goals of the district explicitly call for mathematics as a target area.) Theresult is that core staff has had to "re-educate" or "re-recruit" the administrative officer(s) from time to time.
    • The pressures created by state mandated testing have set off some conflicts between short term and long term strategies. Teachers often are torn between a feeling that the strategies implicit in the project are good in the long term, and the feeling that they are under pressure to deliver better performance by their students in the short term.
    • There seems to be a lack of buy-in from the high school teachers. The reasons are varied. One of the main reasons seems to be an inadequate appreciation that high school mathematics is not just for those students who are oriented towards college level Science, Mathematics, or Engineering. Another is the tremendous pressures of time under which teachers are forced to operate. My comments in this regard are yet tentative, because we are still relatively early in the high school phase of our project, and also because we are actively pursuing changing strategies that may change our perception over the next two years.
    • Political funding decisions (by legislators as well as voters) have not generally promoted a hopeful perception by teachers of the extent to which education is valued by society.