Q&A: What is teacher leadership, and why does it matter?


This month, JPEF surprised eleven teachers in Duval County Public Schools with the news that they’ll be headed for the learning experience of their dreams this summer.

The Cindy Edelman Excellence in Teaching Fellowship will allow the teachers to pursue top-notch learning experiences that they can bring back to their classrooms and other teachers in their schools. JPEF is proud to partner with The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida on this opportunity.

At JPEF, we believe investing in teacher leadership has an impact far beyond one teacher’s classroom, and we're seeing that happen in an unprecedented way as schools have moved to home learning because of the coronavirus crisis. To learn more about why this is, we put a few questions to Warren Buck, JPEF’s Director of Teacher Leadership.

Warren, we hear the term ‘teacher leadership’ thrown around a lot -- what does it really mean?

Teacher leaders aren’t necessarily appointed with a formal title - a teacher leader is anyone who takes the initiative to develop their own skills with an eye toward leading colleagues at their school and in their community. Reflective teachers with a growth mindset are constantly looking to improve their craft and are constantly seeking the resources to do so. A teacher leader isn’t waiting for something to happen to them, they are making things happen for their students.

When it comes to changing practices in a school, why do you think it’s important to invest in teachers’ professional learning? 

Teachers are the ones that are working with our kids every moment of every school day. It’s really that simple. Teachers have a million variables that they need to respond to every day. It's not only a very difficult job, but also one that is highly dynamic. They need to have a highly developed toolkit to respond to the unique needs of each learner in front of them every day. I believe we have a moral imperative to make sure they have everything they need to do for our kids.

In Duval County (and across our state and our country) we have a crisis of teacher recruitment and retention. We don’t have enough young people opting for teaching careers, and many of those that do end up leaving the profession. How do you think fellowship opportunities like this help teacher retention?

This kind of fellowship shows that not only do people really care about educators, but they also trust educators enough to design their own development in a way that is specific to their needs. The Edelman Fellowship was a direct statement to teachers that we love it when you think outside of the box! We know that to reach every learner, you need to try some new things. Add something fun to the curriculum. Take a risk! What a great message for aspiring teachers to hear!

Then there is the component of professional development for the schools. I am really looking forward to working with the winners to take what they learned and design professional development experiences for their colleagues at school and across the district. The leadership at Duval County Public Schools has been very supportive of this experience, and we are very excited to see the impact continue to ripple across the district from this first cohort of winners.

What do you think teacher leadership looks like as schools go virtual? What are some examples of teacher leadership you're hearing?

First of all, I just want to take my hat off to all the teachers, administrators and support staff out there that put aside their own personal difficulties to step up in such a meaningful way in such a trying time. It is absolutely inspirational!

Teacher leadership is showing up in a lot of the ways that you would expect: sharing technical skills, resources and best practices as needs arise. We are hearing teachers putting in tons of extra hours for their friends and colleagues, just like they do everyday.

But where true teacher leadership is really shining right now is those teachers that have embraced the growth mindset necessary to thrive in a trial like this. They know there are going to be struggles, they know not everything is going to be perfect, but they are embracing the mistakes as opportunities to get better, to share lessons with colleagues, and most importantly, to model to our kids how important it is to be okay with mistakes, to stay positive and optimistic in even the toughest of times. Our kids are logging on and being led by scores of teachers who are displaying the character that truly defines leadership. 





of public schools in Duval County earned an "A," "B," or "C" in 2021-2022.