The Intersection

Teacher-Leaders: A New Solution to Many Pressing Issues in North Carolina Education

February 12, 2016


Every industry or organization has its challenges, and public education is no different – especially in North Carolina. Our students are falling further and further behind when compared to their counterparts globally. And when one looks at the achievement gap that exists with students of color within the United States, this is a dilemma ripe for dramatic action and change. As we know, there is no silver bullet for these complex issues. Fortunately, the solutions do not need to be complex. Simple, calculated and actionable solutions, designed to have a dramatic impact, can pay big dividends.

As an example, we all know that the largest within-school factor for students’ success is the quality of their teachers. This is a logical conclusion considering the amount of time teachers spend with their students each school day. However, we have seen the importance of the teaching role minimized or undervalued, which is certainly one of the sore spots in public education today. With issues surrounding pay, recruitment, retention, job satisfaction, impactful professional development, effective college preparation, declining enrollment of college students choosing education majors, and an aging workforce, why should we expect student achievement results to take a measurable turn upwards? How do we improve the teaching profession to create better outcomes for students?

LIFTAt Project L.I.F.T., a public/private partnership with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, we are looking at new ways to make that dramatic change. One of our most significant and impactful innovations is creating the role of the teacher-leader. Through the support of Public Impact, Project L.I.F.T. has created a sustainable career pathway that brings new life to the teaching profession by addressing or alleviating many of the issues described above.

These new teacher-leader positions now pay enough for teachers to provide for a family or to avoid working two jobs. We have seen job satisfaction and retention of teachers in these roles increase dramatically, and have seen the same results with newer teachers being supported by these teacher-leaders. With these positions in place, all teachers, especially novice and beginning teachers, have a dedicated leader who can give significant support to their growth, development and effectiveness in the classroom. Teacher-leaders are accountable for the success of the teachers they support and the students in these classrooms. Not only do teacher-leaders provide coaching, job-embedded professional development, and strategic planning, they also teach small groups of students, co-teach, and model lessons.

The success of the teacher-leader roles at Project L.I.F.T. is a significant factor in our ability to attract and keep talent. We still need to improve retention, but we see an encouraging shift: instead of leaving the profession altogether, teachers are leaving us for job promotions that they were able to secure through our training. We are beginning to see more new teachers stick with the profession because of the support they receive, rather than resigning and pursuing much less stressful jobs with comparable pay. They are able to experience success and support because of the teacher-leaders assigned to them.

With a career pathway that pays well and can be earned through success rather than tenure, it is my expectation that more college students will see education as a viable major in college. These teacher-leader roles now allow the teaching profession to be on par with other industries, with the comparable compensation and career advancement opportunities they can offer.

I firmly believe that with a teacher-leader career pathway, the future looks much brighter for teachers and the students who depend on them.

(Swartz was a panelist and resource expert on leveraging teacher leaders at The Hunt Institute’s December 2016 Holshouser Legislators Retreat: Education for a Stronger North Carolina | Policy, Implementation, and Results. )

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