Learning from the Experts: Teachers on School Leadership, Part 2

This month, we're celebrating the release of the first book authored by Teach Plus teacher leaders!

Published by Harvard Education Press, Learning from the Experts: Teacher Leaders on Solving America's Education Challenges is a celebration of teachers as change makers. In it, readers will hear from 17 teacher leaders whose ideas and tenacity are transforming urban classrooms and schools nationwide.

This week, read an excerpt from Chapter Six: Building School Leadership That Facilitates Great Teaching by Allison Frieze and this excerpt from a new essay by Jon Alfuth.

Growing Irreplaceables Part 2:
Develop Successful School Leaders to Keep the Best Educators
Jon Alfuth

I'm blessed to work at the Soulsville Charter School. Our parents are fantastic, our facilities first rate and our students motivated and hard working. Yet it would all fall apart were it not for the excellent administrators that drive our school culture. These leaders keep everything running smoothly and continually push us to the best we are capable of for our kids. They work incredibly hard because at the core, they are dedicated to seeing our students succeed now and in the future. They manage discipline issues, craft professional development opportunities to help us improve our craft and will even cover our classes when asked so that we can observe and learn from our colleagues in other departments during the day. Without them, our school culture would not be what it is.

Having a positive school culture is vital to retaining our best and brightest educators. And a school's leaders are directly responsible for setting and maintaining this culture. School leaders control the staff expectations, the hiring decisions, the size of classes, the amount of non-instructional time available for collegial collaboration, the professional development schedule, the state of educational facilities and the discipline system within a school. Without a strong leader, it is highly unlikely that a high-need school will have the type of climate that attracts high performing, irreplaceable teachers.

In Shelby County, my perception is that recruitment of school leadership typically starts and stays local. Classroom educators are elevated through the ranks of administrators and eventually find themselves leading schools. Some charters and the ASD draw leaders from outside the district, but this seems to be the exception rather than the rule. This is not to say that we do not have some stellar school leaders in Memphis. But if this is our primary pipeline for school leadership in the district, we are sure to miss out on the vast pool of leadership talent that exists outside our city.

If Shelby County is looking to truly improve its ability to retain and recruit irreplaceable educators, we need to start by focusing on our recruitment of strong school leaders for both charter and non-charter schools. We should continue the practice of building potential school leaders from the ranks of highly effective teachers and groomed through several years as administrators and assistant principals, as well as principal positions in smaller schools. They should train with other highly successful leaders in high-need schools. But we also need to look at recruiting school leaders from recognized graduate and alternative certification programs, such as New Leaders for New Schools, and other locations outside the district. We should be actively reaching out to leaders of successful schools in other large urban districts and encouraging them to come here.

We should not only focus on recruiting talent, but evaluating the talent we already have. Tennessee is fortunate in that we have a large amount of existing data that can be used to evaluate administrators. Just as teachers are now evaluated, we can do the same for administrators. And it's time that we acknowledge the fact that while some administrators are excellent, others are not and we can do better. We should go about evaluating school leaders with a mixture of different measures including test scores, school indicators like graduation rate, discipline statistics, ACT scores and qualitative teacher feedback.

Read the rest of Jon's piece on the Bluff City Education blog.

Jon teachers high school geometry at The Soulsville Charter School. In addition to writing and managing Bluff City Education, he has written for the Huffington Post as a member of the Teach Plus National Editorial board, eduwonk.com as a member of Leadership for Educational Equity and Impatient Optimist. Jon is a Teach for America Alumni.

Want more from Learning from the Experts? Read an excerpt from the introduction by Teach Plus CEO Celine Coggins, or an excerpt from Chapter One: Creating and Using Data in Schools by Michelle Morrissey.