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New Report: Give Teacher Leaders Formal Roles to Improve Instruction

As part of NIET's new Teach Factor initiative, Unleashing Teacher Leadership outlines how giving teacher leaders responsibility, accountability and authority to drive instruction can accelerate student learning.

Washington, D.C.—While national organizations and state policymakers have placed greater attention on teacher leadership over the past decade, educators on the whole are not provided with the authority, support or tools to dramatically affect instructional skill and student performance. Today, the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET)—a nonprofit with two decades of expertise helping states, districts and schools develop career pathways for teachers—released the report, Unleashing Teacher Leadership: How Formal Teacher Leader Roles Improve Instruction.

Research has shown, and NIET's experience confirms, that school-based strategies can improve teaching and accelerate learning when they offer teacher participation in structured collaborative learning, job-embedded professional development and coaching, and growth-oriented evaluation that includes more frequent feedback based on classroom observations.

Today's report offers ten recommendations for maximizing investments in formal instructional teacher leadership roles:

1. Design formal teacher leadership responsibilities to encompass all of the main schoolwide systems for improving instruction. Formal instructional leadership roles for teachers should be designed to focus on addressing the most pressing need in education—the gap in school-level capacity to systematically and reliably improve teaching and student learning.

2. Leverage teacher leadership to create coherence across major instructional improvement initiatives. Many of NIET's school system partners have found that formal instructional teacher leadership roles offer a strategic opportunity to quell the cacophony and create more coherence. Teacher leaders can go first, field-testing new strategies in real classrooms with real students, and they can leverage school-based professional development to help teachers integrate new strategies into their own classroom practice.

3. Establish multiple, interconnected leadership positions to increase opportunity, reach and impact. Decision-makers should consider creating multiple, interconnected teacher leadership roles that are sequenced in a career ladder. Among other benefits, such an approach creates more opportunities for expert teachers to take on formal instructional leadership roles. It also expands schoolwide instructional leadership capacity in ways that enable more teachers to benefit from the focused, job-embedded support teacher leaders provide.

4. Emphasize that formal instructional teacher leadership roles enhance, rather than limit, opportunities for all staff to engage in leadership. Research and experience have shown that leadership is not a zero-sum quantity in schools, and formal instructional teacher leadership positions enhance, rather than limit, opportunities for administrators and for all other teachers to engage in leadership.

5. Select teacher leaders who have the right set of accomplishments, skills and dispositions to succeed. Formal instructional teacher leadership roles are not honorifics bestowed on more senior teachers with long experience in a particular district or school. They are highly demanding positions that require exceptional levels of expertise and a deep commitment to the unique nature of "hybrid" leadership.

6. Provide teacher leaders with training and ongoing support focused on specific job responsibilities. Teachers who take on formal instructional leadership roles require specialized training and ongoing support to fulfill new responsibilities they will not have encountered before. The most effective training and support will be targeted to specific responsibilities of the role—whether leading collaborative teams or conducting formal observations to provide instructional feedback.

7. Empower teacher leaders by adopting common tools and protocols, including a research-based instructional framework or rubric. Far from stifling creativity or stymieing initiative, such tools provide teacher leaders with critical scaffolding for doing their jobs well, and they relieve new teacher leaders from having to "reinvent the wheel."

8. Create and protect release time during the week for teacher leaders to lead, and give them enough time to build trust and long-term relationships that enable success. Teacher leaders need sufficient, predictable and dedicated release time to fulfill their specific job responsibilities every day and every week.

9. Make more strategic use of existing resources to fund formal teacher leadership positions. NIET's partner districts have found they can pay for formal teacher leadership positions even when dedicated state or federal funds are not available if they can make more strategic use of their existing resources.

10. Place teacher leaders at the school level, but expect districts to play a key role in sustaining and leveraging teacher leadership for maximum impact. Formal instructional teacher leadership positions are best embedded at the school level, enabling teacher leaders to build and capitalize on deep relationships with the teachers they lead and support. However, districts play a critical role in establishing, sustaining and leveraging formal teacher leadership to achieve maximum impact.

For the full report on these recommendations, including testimonies from teacher leaders, download the report at

Launched today, NIET's Teach Factor initiative reveals scalable solutions around a factor pivotal to the profession—teacher leadership. The Teach Factor explores formal teacher leadership structures and their impact on teacher and student success as observed through two decades of practice in American schools, illustrated through stories from experienced educators. Learn more about The Teach Factor.

About NIET
Based on the knowledge and experience gained from two decades of on-the-ground implementation with The TAP System for Teacher and Student Advancement, combined with the growing demand for proven reforms in teacher and principal effectiveness, NIET supports schools, districts, universities and states with educator evaluation training, teacher leader certification modules linked to learning platforms and human capital management systems as well as tools and resources for educator preparation. Learn more at

Jana Rausch
Communications Director
310-570-4774 | Office 310-435-9259 Cell