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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


The teachers we surveyed identify three types of contributions the CSMPs make to the development and support of their leadership: 1) content of leadership, 2) confidence and skill as leaders, and 3) opportunity to exercise leadership. We discuss each of these below.

1) Content of leadership

Within this section, we discuss three ways in which CSMP experiences contribute to the content of these teachers’ leadership. By "content," we mean the actual discipline concepts, pedagogical practices, and materials that these teachers say they share with colleagues, as well as the types of learning experiences they create for other teachers.

Knowledge that develops effective practice

Þ In CSMP programs and experiences, these teachers develop their own practical skills, enhance their discipline knowledge, and sharpen their professional judgement as classroom teachers. Their practical skills, knowledge and judgement form the basis of their leadership.

These teachers draw from the many sources of knowledge they encounter in CSMP programs to build up their own areas of teaching specialization. They do this by continually experimenting in their own classrooms with the wide range of students they teach. CSMP experiences thus enable effective teachers to forge the content for their leadership out of the content of their own classroom practices.

As two participants said:

CSMP in math has given me the necessary experiences to become an effective mathematics teacher. In addition, I use my students’ work and my experiences in the classroom to help my colleagues become more effective math teachers.

The Project has helped me teach all students and give them access to a rich and rigorous curriculum. As a teacher leader, I have modeled those strategies which I feel are most effective.

In the following comment, a teacher also points out that leadership opportunities feed back into her classroom practice in a symbiotic fashion:

I would not present a concept unless I was actually practicing it. The more leadership, the more positive impact in my classroom.

Teacher leadership as "conduit" for professional development

We asked the teachers to rate the extent to which they receive specific kinds of learning opportunities in CSMP programs, and then share those same opportunities with their colleagues through their leadership activities. In effect, we were asking about the substance of the "multiplier effect": to what extent do teacher leaders believe they are serving as "conduits" for professional development, transferring to others what they have gained?

Þ These teachers say they take the knowledge and skills they gain in CSMP activities and pass them along to their colleagues.

What CSMPs teacher leaders receive from CSMP experiences, and what they share with their colleagues

Percentages represent teachers who marked 4 or 5 on a scale where "1" = "Not in my experience" and "5" = "Very true of my experience."

Researcher Andy Hargreaves claims that "policy funding and logistical support for teacher networks of professional development" are a key factor in "knowledge dissemination" important to reform (p. 117)10. A core assumption of the CSMP model is that teacher leaders spread knowledge from core CSMP programs to sizable numbers of teachers through their leadership activities. We believe the pattern in these teachers’ reports provides some grounding for this assumption.

The graph above also shows that these teachers do not share all of what they gain with equal consistency. They are more likely to share concrete teaching strategies, for example, than techniques for expanding classroom assessment to include higher levels of thinking. Earlier, we showed that these teachers have less well-developed ability to assess students’ high-level critical understanding, so it makes sense that they are less likely to report having shared those strategies with their colleagues. Only when they have made new approaches "their own" with their students do they have real capacity to share them with others. One implication of this finding is that teacher leaders — if they are to serve as sources of professional development for their colleagues — require ongoing support for their own development as teachers.

Nature of professional development experience

Part of what teacher leaders experience in core CSMP institutes goes beyond specific concepts and strategies. CSMPs strive to create learning experiences that foster collegiality, critical reflection, and appreciation of "big picture" issues in school reform11. We wanted to find out the extent to which these teachers create similar qualities of experience in activities they lead for other teachers.

Þ In general, these teachers try to recreate the kinds of experiences they encounter in CSMP programs when they provide leadership opportunities for their colleagues. In the activities they lead, these teachers are slightly more likely to emphasize student work, and slightly less likely to emphasize critical reflection and broad re-thinking of curriculum and practice.

What teacher leaders experience in CSMP programs, and what experiences they provide for their colleagues

Percentages represent teachers who marked 4 or 5 on a scale where "1" = "Not in my experience" and "5" = "Very true of my experience."

Similar to the previous finding, these teachers seem to provide slightly more "real classroom" experiences for their colleagues than they experience in core institutes. Also, in CSMP core programs, these teacher leaders seem to have encountered a somewhat richer climate for critical reflection and re-thinking of curriculum than what they say they provide for their colleagues in the schools. That said, however, it is important to note that more than four out of five of these teachers leaders say they do provide their colleagues with opportunities for reflection, curriculum development, and professional community.

Teachers we surveyed say there is consistency in what they experience in core CSMP institutes and what they provide in workshops and other activities they conduct in the schools. These reports provide some evidence that the CSMPs’ "multiplier effect" model provides professional development that is both cost-effective and high quality12. As Judith Warren Little suggests, "Policymakers require a way of making sense of costs — or more persuasively, investments... Investments [in teachers’ professional development] are more defensible if they can ... be credibly tied to a ripple effect." (p. 145)13 Our survey results suggest that teacher leaders make a real attempt to reproduce their own CSMP experiences with fidelity and integrity.

2) Confidence and skill as leaders

In our survey, we did not ask questions about confidence-building. However, the teachers’ many written comments made it evident that the self confidence they gained through CSMP participation was a critically important component of their leadership.

Þ In CSMP programs, these teachers receive validation for good practice and gain skills in leadership. These experiences foster a sense of confidence which is crucial to these teachers’ capacity to serve their profession as leaders.

Teachers identified two major sources of increased confidence. 1) They felt more confident about the quality of what they could offer colleagues because the CSMPs had supported them in critically examining their teaching approaches. Also, the collective professional judgement of the CSMP community gave validity to their best practices. 2) CSMP programs had supported them in developing leadership, in particular, the special skills of teaching their colleagues effectively. CSMPs has provided demonstrations, modeling, coaching, and other strategies.

These comments convey the role of CSMPs in building confidence:

The California Arts Project helps teachers to re-vitalize their practice by providing new knowledge, new strategies, and new colleagues. By gaining confidence in their own abilities, teachers can then share their knowledge with other colleagues.

The Project has shaped my classroom and leadership practices, and has given me the confidence and expertise to assume leadership roles upon occasion.

Involvement in the California Arts Project made me confident that my skills and knowledge were validated by the work of the Project and were worth sharing with others. This led to a variety of leadership roles from district- to state-level sharing of my experience.

For these teachers, effectiveness in teaching students is fundamental to good leadership, but it is not sufficient to motivate the actual practice of leadership. Part of the individual capacity for leadership is confidence and skill in teaching colleagues. These teachers say the CSMPs provide both the knowledge-building opportunities and the experience of professional community which help develop that confidence and skill.

We believe these teachers’ reports provide evidence of the strength of the CSMPs’ model for teacher leadership development.14 Judith Warren Little suggests that good leadership development emphasizes teachers’ capacity to draw from their own teaching knowledge for an audience of teachers: "One [policy] challenge is to introduce capable teachers to a new [leadership] role. ...Training programs for new teacher leaders ensure that leaders have something to offer by helping them recognize, organize, and display their knowledge and skill to others. They ensure that new leaders work as successfully with colleagues as with students."15 Our survey results suggest that CSMP programs can address the challenge of introducing capable teachers to leadership roles.

3) Opportunity to exercise leadership

Without opportunity to exercise leadership, effective teachers have no outlet for their knowledge and skills. In their written comments, teachers identified ways CSMP site leaders enabled them to put their knowledge and skills into action beyond their classroom (and school) walls.

Þ CSMP site leaders contribute to the leadership of these teachers by creating specific opportunities within site programs and the schools, and also by actively encouraging teachers to seek leadership opportunities on their own.

Site directors formally invite these teachers to coordinate and teach in site-sponsored activities, such as summer programs and contracted workshop series. Sites also link teacher leaders to specific opportunities initiated by schools and other agencies, such as committees, task forces, and so on. More informally, these teachers say that site leaders encourage them to seek out leadership roles opportunistically, such as mentor teacher positions, chairships of departments or committees, and so on. Also, some teachers report that their own schools and districts seek them out as leaders after their participation in the CSMPs.

The teachers described CSMP leadership opportunities this way:

The California Science Project has encouraged me and equipped me for teaching science in my own classroom, becoming a district mentor, and taking a leadership role in science curriculum assessment.

My experience in the Project has empowered me as a teacher-leader in my district. I've been called upon to coordinate meetings for new teachers, lead a WASC accreditation team, and serve as both a master and mentor teacher.

Again, teachers we surveyed made the point that these leadership opportunities also enrich their teaching. One teacher’s description reflects the symbiotic relationship between teaching and leadership:

The Project gave me the impetus and continuing support for changing my instructional practices. It opened opportunities for me to work on CLAS, Portfolio Field-test Project, New Standards Project, Math Demo Program, PQR Consultant, Math mentor, Goals 2000 Committee and Instructional Resources Evaluation Panel. In each of these leadership roles I learn and share my experiences with students.


These teachers report that CSMP experiences build their individual leadership capacity by supporting development of their knowledge and skill as classroom teachers, and fostering their skill and confidence as leaders. The CSMPs contribute more broadly to effective classroom practice by creating opportunities for sites’ most effective teachers to share their best practices with other teachers, and by encouraging them to serve in other roles in their schools.

These teachers make a real effort to pass along to their colleagues the same kinds of knowledge and skills they gain in CSMP programs. This suggests that the CSMPs can develop capacity to provide high quality professional development to substantial numbers of teachers through a "multiplier effect."


10 Hargreaves, A. (1996). Transforming Knowledge: Blurring the Boundaries between Research, Policy, and Practice. In Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis: 18:2, pp. 105-122.

11 For a fuller discussion, see Inverness Research Associates' report: Evaluating Professional Development: An Exploration of the Quality (and Qualities) of the California Subject Matter Projects. February 1998.

12 For a discussion of the quality and qualities of CSMP summer institutes, see Inverness Research Associates' report: Evaluating Professional Development: An Exploration of the Quality (and Qualities) of the California Subject Matter Projects. That study suggests that institutes tend to be of higher quality, overall, than programs which sites sponsor in schools.

13 Little, J.W. (1993). Teachers' Professional Development in a Climate of Educational Reform. In Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis: 15:2, pp. 129-151.

14 For more in-depth information about teachers' perspectives on CSMP development and support of teacher leadership, see: The Nature of Teacher Leadership: Lessons Learned from the California Subject Matter Projects. June 1997. Inverness Research Associates.

15 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. 103.

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