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Discussion: Lead Teachers and Teacher Leadership

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posted by: Scott Hays on November 11, 1998 at 7:23AM
subject: Teacher Leaders
LASERS (Language Acquisition through Science Education in Rural
Schools) is located in the Monterey Bay area (Salinas & Pajaro River
basins) and serves seven districts spread over three counties. The
core of our work centers around one or two Resource Teachers at each
site. We prefer that each site have two RTs, but this is not always
the case. We similarly prefer that these RTs be self-selected and that
they serve for the duration of the project, but this, too, is not
always the case. We further have gradually brought schools into the
project over time, thus we have RTs who represent and work in either
Phase I (schools in the Project for three years), Phase II and now
Phase III schools. Training, duties and support for these Resource
Teachers obviously differ based upon many factors (including the fact
that some RTs from Phase I schools are brand new, though the school,
and many of its LASERS teachers, have been in the Project for three

At each site, Resource Teachers are practicing classroom teachers.
They organize and facilitate regular meetings of other teachers on site
who have volunteered to participate in the LASERS Project. This group
is collectively referred to as a Core Team. Meetings of the Core Team
are recommended to take place once a month, usually after school, but
variations on this model occur regularly. Core Team members (including
the RTs) are entitled to attend pull-out, two- or three-day workshop
series during the course of the year -- LASERS funds release time for
the subs and its staff organizes, presents and conducts follow-up with
the Core Team teachers. These workshops cover an array of topics and
issues related to practice (issues of effective science and making the
science content accessible to all students, inquiry science at two
levels, peer coaching at two levels, assessment, etc.), and generally
involve some type of homework assignment between workshop sessions to
encourage practice and discussion on site. Furthermore, these
workshops are staggered in such a way that conversations between Core
Team members on site have practical impact on classroom practice.

Practice on-site, then, is encouraged through participation in the
workshops. Reflection about practice becomes a key focus of Core Team
meetings. Support of that practice is provided by RTs through
peer-coaching, if desired. Often, an individual teacher's practice (or
questions about the practice) is featured at a Core Team meeting -- a
format for the "feature teacher" presentation is provided, though RTs
are free to select their own procedures.

Another area in which RTs provide leadership affects the entire school
community. In implementing a science program on-site, even if the
focus is on only a few teachers, RTs often find themselves responsible
for materials support -- either conducting needs-surveys, locating and
setting up a materials center, supervising or creating a check-out and
resupply system, as well as all the other tedious work that goes into
the nuts and bolts of providing the material support necessary to teach
science. In many schools, a parent coordinator takes on this
responsibility. The Parent Coordinator also is contacted (cajoled,
pleaded with, talked into, convinced, recruited -- take your pick),
directed and supervised by the RTs on site. They and the RT work
together to help develop a school garden center and to coordinate the
development and support of community involvement. Finally (maybe), RTs
work with Staff Developers to provide inservice of varying forms to the
entire staff on site.

Resource Teachers, in turn, receive additional support in order to help
them as teacher-leaders on-site or within their districts. They attend
a week-long summer institute which focuses on issues related to
curriculum implementation, peer-coaching and facilitation skills, and
leadership. The Institute is held concurrently with the LASERS Summer
Academy where the reflection model of the "core team" (actually, grade
level teams teaching the same material to their summer school classes)
is practiced on a regular basis. Resource Teachers meet regularly
during the school year -- in one or more of either regularly scheduled
district RT meetings, in three "Network Days" (where all RTs come
together to share successes, roadblocks and discuss strategies), or in
monthly meetings of the newest RTs (Phase III) where their own
classroom practice takes on the key focus. Finally, Staff Developers
from LASERS are each assigned 1-2 districts and make regular
site-visits to the LASERS schools in those districts. The site-visits
have regular functions and activities, but are also designed to be
flexible in order to meet the individual needs of RTs or Core Team
members at each site. Additional release time is provided by LASERS or
the school for some of those site-visits to take place during the
school day (providing for on-site long-range planning, collaboration
between teachers, and the like).

Of course, the degree to which this model is carried out in real life
is dependent upon many factors, most of which act as obstacles to clean
implementation rather than as supporting factors. The key lies in the
skills, knowledge and character of the individual teachers who take on
the task of RT. All are moving from one set of understandings (role,
practice, leadership, content, etc.) to a different level, and our task
is to move them forward. We do not always succeed, or sometimes the
success is not readily apparent. The goal is to create a leadership
base within the seven districts that can function and continue to lead
after funding for LASERS expires. Leadership in an elementary school
setting often takes on peculiar expressions (sometimes even in a
totally different content areas, we find, as teachers are asked to take
on expanding roles once they demonstrate the ability -- or willingness
-- to take on any role or, as is often the case, their interests change
and grow).

One notable outgrowth of our model is especially promising. After
three years of participation at the RT level, we found several of our
teacher-leaders were ready to assume a greater role. We have therefore
created a new position which we call the Leadership Cadre. We have
found 1-2 RTs within each of the seven districts willing to step into
this role. They have remained in the classroom, but have given up
their RT position (and the responsibilities it entails). Instead, they
are serving as a district-wide resource to other RTs, to Core Teams, to
teachers not on a core team, to each other, and across the LASERS
Project. The role they perform varies from district to district, but
generally has been defined by them in meetings with the other RTs, the
Staff Developer and site- or district administrators. They have
presented at regional, state and national conferences. And they are
now taking on a larger role in the Summer Academy -- attending a series
of Saturday seminars designed to increase their science content
knowledge in the area that will be the content focus of the summer
school so they can better train the Summer Academy teachers in the use
of instructional materials which teach that content.
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