Leaders and teachers worked together as key decision-makers on teaching and learning issues. School leader, Andrew Vega, started a listening campaign at the beginning of his tenure as principal—meeting for an hour with every teacher. The goal was to understand existing teacher culture and engage teacher voice on student learning issues. A common theme emerged: teachers wanted more autonomy to make decisions about teaching and learning. Teachers voiced a strong desire to have every teacher serve on the instructional leadership team (ILT), an uncommon practice in the district. Putting a premium on the ILT as a vehicle for teacher voice in decision-making, school leaders allocated the bulk of school-level professional development hours to ILT meeting time. Eventually, teachers owned agenda-setting and facilitation of these meetings—transforming an opportunity for teacher voice into a structure for teacher leadership.
Leaders focused on supporting teachers to improve, and differentiate, classroom practices. New leaders and teachers are struck by the tight-knit school community; collegiality characterizes relationships among teachers. Upon his arrival, the principal began to translate this high degree of community identity among staff into more formalized structures of peer support for teachers’ classroom practice. The goal was explicit: improve classroom pedagogy while simultaneously raising expectations for student learning, so that all students could access rigorous course work. The principal structured a school schedule that created weekly common planning time for teachers, using protocols to focus on teaching and learning issues and to maximize collaboration. School leaders invested resources—time, expertise, and peer-to-peer mentoring—to support teachers. In turn, teachers were motivated to tackle the challenges to ensure all students could learn at the highest levels.
“The teacher leadership and autonomy has been huge. We have more say in decision-making. We’re able to make decisions in the best interest of our students.”