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Contributions of the CSMPs to Teacher Leaders

author: Inverness Research Associates
submitter: Mark St. John
description: This is one of three reports (Including The Contributions of Teacher Leaders and The Work of Teacher Leaders) wrriten by Inverness Associates on the California Subject Matter Projects (CSMP). "The CSMPs consist of nine Projects providing professional development in nine different 101 regional sites--all of which are designed to attract, develop, nurture, sustain, and promote teacher leadership."

This report examines the "ways in which the CSMPs provided a bridge between classroom practice and leadership activities."

published in: Inverness Research Associates
published: 1999
posted to site: 01/14/1999

I. Introduction

Teacher leadership and reform

This is a study of the California Subject Matter Projects (CSMPs) and their role in promoting teacher leadership. In fact, the raison d’etre of the California Subject Matter Projects (CSMPs) is the development and support of teacher leaders. Building on the successful model of the Writing Project, the CSMPs have argued that the best teacher of teachers is an accomplished teacher. Over the past ten years they have worked hard to establish a network of CSMP sites so that the most talented and experienced teachers in the state can be recruited into leadership roles and so that these teacher leaders can share their knowledge with their peers. Teacher leadership lies at the heart of the CSMPs, and it is teacher leadership such as this that supplies the "horsepower" for most local reform efforts. Indeed, it is hard to imagine any statewide reform effort succeeding without the work of thousands of skilled teacher leaders who are committed to the effort. 1

This study

This study complements and builds upon our earlier studies of teacher leadership.2 In this study, we sought to learn more about the connection between the leadership abilities of the CSMP teacher leaders and their classroom practices. More specifically, we studied the ways in which the CSMPs provided a bridge between classroom practices and leadership activities. In their responses to our detailed survey, hundreds of CSMP teacher leaders explained how, in a symbiotic fashion, their classroom practices contributed to their leadership skills and, in turn, how their leadership work contributed directly to the improvement of their classroom teaching.

The study also explored more broadly how CSMP teacher leaders assess the strengths and weaknesses of their own teaching, and what outside influences (including the CSMPs) most impact their effectiveness as teachers. In this light we studied carefully the role that assessment (both formal and informal) played in either helping or hindering their efforts to be good teachers. More specifically, we explored how the CSMPs helped teachers study and learn from their students, and how the state’s standardized tests contributed to the improvement of their teaching practice.

Our survey3 focused on four central questions:

  • In what ways are the CSMP teacher leaders, by their own judgment, most effective in their own classrooms? What do they feel enhances or hinders that effectiveness?
  • What evidence, or indicators, do the CSMP teacher leaders use to judge their own effectiveness as teachers?
  • In what ways do the CSMPs contribute to and draw upon their effective classroom practices?
  • How do the CSMPs contribute to the teacher leaders, both in terms of their own classroom practices and in terms of their leadership skills?

Survey respondents

A total of 402 teachers, representing 99 sites, returned surveys.4 In a very real sense our respondents represent a sample of some of the state’s best teachers.

The teachers who responded are evenly distributed across elementary, middle, and secondary levels, and represent all statewide Subject Matter Projects except Health/Physical Education. They average over 15 years’ teaching in their disciplines of specialty. They have taught a range of students, including substantial proportions of children with native languages other than English, children of color, and children of poverty. In their own racial/ethnic backgrounds, the teachers mirror the state’s teaching force. These teachers have been involved with their own CSMP sites for an average of nearly six years, with five of those years emphasizing leadership activity. Also, half of them been participants in other sites of their own or other Subject Matter Projects.

We asked the respondents to assess their overall efficacy as classroom teachers, both from their own perspective and as reflected by the regard they feel from their colleagues. In general, these teachers feel very effective in teaching their disciplines: 95% gave a 4 or 5 rating on a 1-5 scale, with 5 being "very effective as a teacher in the discipline." They feel somewhat less effective when assigned to subjects outside their specialty: 85% said they were more effective in their own subjects and 13% said they were equally effective in other subjects. In the body of this report, we show how these teachers assess their own ability to help students reach specific educational goals, and how they rate conditions which support and inhibit their effectiveness in the classroom. For those survey items, we asked the teachers to focus on the discipline represented by the CSMP site with which they were primarily affiliated as a leader, which is the discipline they consider their specialty. In other words, we asked them to report from the basis of their teaching strengths. Our assumption throughout this study is that the perspectives of expert teachers are critically important to the quality of professional development provided by the CSMPs, and to our evaluation of that professional development.

Organization of this report

This report has three major sections. The Executive Summary contains an overview of major findings, as well as our conclusions. In the second section (following this introduction), CSMP Contributions to Teacher Leaders’ Classroom Practice, we discuss evidence about these teachers’ classroom practices, including CSMP contributions to teaching effectiveness. In the third section, CSMP Contributions To Teacher Leadership, we present evidence of contributions of the CSMPs to these teachers’ leadership. Following these is a brief section, Concluding Thoughts, and finally, the Appendices, which include a summary of findings of our earlier studies of teacher leadership, the survey form, additional survey data, and the respondents’ written comments.


1 According to Judith Warren Little, "It is increasingly implausible that we could improve the performance of schools... without promoting leadership in teaching by teachers." See Little, J.W. (1988). Assessing the Prospects for Teacher Leadership. In Lieberman, A. (Ed.), Building a Professional Culture in Schools. New York: Teachers College Press, p. 78.

2 See Inverness Research Associates reports: The Nature of Teacher Leadership: Lessons Learned From the CSMPs. June 1997; and The Work of CSMP Teacher Leaders: A Summary of Key Findings From a Statewide Survey. June 1997.

3 See Appendix D for the survey items.

4 See Appendix B for descriptions of the survey distribution process and the full breakdown of the characteristics of teachers who responded.

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