What's Working: Teacher Engagement and Teacher Leadership

In the field of education, the question of how to keep students engaged is a persistent one. Engaged students learn more, retain more, and show more lasting gains, but cultivating engaged students requires a process of continual readjustment and refining. Engaging students can be far easier when enabled by the equally important elements of teacher engagement, leadership and support.

The learning gains possible when these factors are in play are particularly important as teachers in 43 states work with their peers to implement Common Core standards. In order for teachers to fully understand, embrace and teach to these more rigorous standards, they need to connect with and learn from one another, and to have leadership roles both inside and outside of school.

Teacher Engagement

At the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we fund over 40 networks supporting teacher engagement; they foster the combination of will and skill that are hallmarks of engaged teachers, and also create connections that can encourage the spread of engaged teaching across districts, states and regions.

One such example is Facing History and Ourselves, a nonprofit education and professional development organization that uses interactive examinations of racism, prejudice and antisemitism to promote a more humane, informed citizenry.

Teachers can access workshops, courses, seminars and webinars to improve their teaching of issues like democracy and civic engagement, global immigration, and race in U.S. history by creating case studies that include first-person narratives, historical documents and literature.

A study by Columbia Teachers College found 90 percent of teachers who participated in Facing History and Ourselves said it exposed them to new teaching methods and content, and increased their positive feelings toward teaching. Ninety-nine percent said they would recommend it to a colleague.

Another example is Teacher2Teacher (T2T), a growing community where teachers connect online including Twitter and Facebook to share resources, learn from one another, and solve the big problems that no one can solve alone.

Today the T2T community is over 700K teachers working together to provide motivation for what is a tough and isolating job; model effective practices; and provide ways for teachers to improve their practice.

They include participants like Colleen Rose, an art teacher who wanted to integrate literacy into her classroom;

The responses that Colleen's T2T tweet generated were primarily from English teachers, so this interaction expanded Colleen's network. The next time she has a question, there are 6 more teachers in her network to ask - and a growing library of teacher-recommended resources for teachers like Colleen.

Teacher Leadership

We see teacher engagement working across the country, and we also see teacher leadership as a way to engage and retain teachers. In Denver, since 2013-14 the district has been implementing differentiated teacher roles to support collaboration and strong teacher teams. These roles -- including leadership roles that allow teachers to spend half of the day in class, and half providing colleague's instructional leadership supporting the professional growth of each team member -- will be in 115 Denver schools by 2016-17.

The program's goals are to: support teacher growth via actionable feedback and teacher coaching; strengthen teams in schools and increase peer-to-peer knowledge sharing; and attract and keep great teachers in the classroom and profession.

To date, 89% of those teachers report their practice has improved as a result of working with a Team Lead, and 98% of Team Leads believe they are growing as leaders because of the responsibilities of that role.

Through these examples and many others, we've seen powerful evidence that teacher engagement through strong educator communities can elevate teacher leaders. Good teachers have always been able to help others imagine what's possible - and we're committed to ensuring that teachers themselves can benefit from helping each other imagine as well.