JPEF's Teacher Leadership Initiative helps teachers bring best practices to their classrooms.
This school year, the Jacksonville Public Education Fund launched the Teacher Leadership Initiative, a new strategic initiative that builds on JPEF’s many years supporting teacher leaders in public schools. The Teacher Leadership Initiative brings select Teachers of the Year together in a fellowship that provides them world-class professional learning, peer coaching with a local public school teacher, and support to implement action research projects in their classrooms. The strategic initiative is designed to help teachers bring best practices to their classrooms, making an even deeper impact and helping pilot practices that can then be scaled up across their school and the district.
With applications now open for next year’s Teacher Leadership Initiative, we sat down with Warren Buck, JPEF Director of Teacher Leadership, to learn more about the pilot year and what he’s looking forward to next year.
You have a lot of experience as a teacher and as a principal in public schools. Tell us about your vision for the Teacher Leadership Initiative and why you think it's such an important opportunity for teachers.
The Teacher Leadership Initiative is based in a foundational belief that teachers have the greatest direct impact on the success of our students and should be trusted and equipped to solve their own challenges in the classroom. We strive to teach our fellows the process of inquiry -- which is a methodological approach to bringing best practices into the classroom -- in a deep and lasting way that provides them with a proven method to drive their own professional development. Additionally, we want to provide them rigorous and engaging content that helps push their growth and the collaborative environment to process that content with like-minded professionals.
Why do you think this kind of opportunity matters to teacher retention in our schools?
Study after study shows that excellent teachers want a chance to grow, lead, and learn in a way that they see as relevant to them and their students. The Teacher Leadership Initiative provides them with the kind of accelerated development that engages teachers as life-long learners while emphasizing choice and differentiation to ensure that the work that the teacher is doing is highly relevant to them.
What are some of the things the teachers are learning this year? How have they responded to these topics?
The beauty of the inquiry-based approach to professional learning is that it emphasizes equitable teaching at its heart and our programming has emphasized that vision. Inquiry is a process that drives teachers to meet the needs of every student and provides them with a method to do so in a scientific way. The content of the Teacher Leadership Initiative has also been completely driven by the work that the teachers want to do. Our Group Leads work directly with the teachers on their projects and then communicate with experts JPEF has partnered with to decide the most impactful content for the upcoming session. As a result of this approach, we have been able to ensure fresh content that helps teachers where they are at, like working on equity audits in their classrooms, learning about how to work with fixed mindsets, evaluating the rigor of their lessons, integrating arts into the curriculum, and a whole host more. We even have one teacher working with an app developer on a project that will hopefully help all autistic students in Duval County!
This was the first year of the Teacher Leadership Initiative, and it's been significantly disrupted by COVID. What have we learned through this year's program that will inform how we structure the program next year?
The biggest lesson we have learned is that it is okay to slow down, or even push pause, when the situation dictates. With all the challenges our teachers are facing this year, we realized that it would be a serious missed opportunity to not invite this cohort of fellows back to participate in the Teacher Leadership Initiative again next year and we look forward to continuing our work with them along with a new cohort of amazing teachers.
We have also been deeply inspired by what happens when you provide teachers with coaching that directly meets their needs and when you attempt to connect them with resources they seek out for their work. So, we are tweaking the Teacher Leadership Initiative to emphasize the coaching relationship more and we are working feverishly to bring in the resources our teachers are asking for. That our teachers are asking for research articles, books, online classes, and other learning resources might surprise some, but our great teachers truly embody the title of Lifelong Learner.
This is the second year JPEF has hosted a Regional Teacher Leadership Summit with Clay and St Johns. How did this idea come about, and what are your goals with it based on what you know teachers are going through right now?
The idea started with the basic premise that the more great minds you get in a room together, the more problems you can solve. Seeking to work with surrounding counties seemed like an obvious solution to broaden the experiences and skills that we could put together to help everyone learn more. The first year we focused on trauma-informed teaching, which was something we knew from our survey data that our teachers were very interested in. It was a tremendous success and we started eagerly planning the 2021 event almost immediately.
As we started planning this year we discussed the topic of how to teach difficult or controversial topics, which would have been very relevant, to say the least. But, as we worked on the plan, we realized that it would also be very difficult and possibly emotionally draining -- and that kind of content just did not line up with what we were hearing the teachers needed. So, we pivoted to a day of inspiration and joy! We found an amazing, inspirational speaker and lined up a wide variety of fun breakout sessions for teachers to pick so that they could interact with one another and just enjoy the company of other amazing teachers. We had a tremendous day together -- lots of laughs, a couple of good tears, and a bunch of re-charged batteries for the stretch run!
What are some of the most promising results you're seeing from this work? What impact are teachers having in their schools?
The results that we are seeing are three-fold and have us very optimistic about the future of the Teacher Leadership Initiative. The first layer of results that we are seeing is that over 90 percent of the cohort has continued to attend all the sessions that have been offered and have been developing their individual toolkits. For example, we have had a teacher who has modified her math curriculum to reflect more real-world applications of the students' work. Another teacher has revamped her classroom management system to be more reflective of the trauma-informed practices she has learned.
The next layer of impact we are seeing is from the teachers in the cohort who have leadership roles in their school, either formal or informal, and have started implementing some of the tools they have learned about in the Teacher Leadership Initiative. One teacher is leading his grade level to conduct equity audits of both their in-person and virtual classes. Pulling together the skills they have learned about leading and coaching others with this research-backed tool has been very impactful for all their students.
The last layer has an eye on the future. Teachers in the Teacher Leadership Initiative this year will be invited to participate again next year and they are already serving as our best recruiters in filling out the rest of the cohort. As with any “product,” word-of-mouth is the best sales tool and is reflective of a high-quality product. The idea of this level of learning spreading through schools is very encouraging!