Education researchers and developers know a great deal about the systemic variables involved in sustaining school reform—such as assessment and alignment, leadership, curriculum. Where we’ve stumbled—and this is a perennial stumbling block—is on the issue of scale. We get things started schoolwide or districtwide, and we’re unable to create changes on any broader scale. And the stumbling block seems to be teacher learning. We’re asking teachers to undertake complex work that requires dramatic change in their own knowledge of content and methods and in what they do in classrooms with students. [For example, current mathematics standards and curricula encourage teachers to spend much more time probing students’ thinking through discussions, writing assignments, group work, and open–ended assessments. That shift requires a real mastery of key mathematical concepts and strategies.] Most teachers are not prepared to make those changes. Little in their preparation, little in their professional development, has put them in a position to do this kind of work. So we see weak implementation that fades over time.
“Teacher leadership models are emerging as one of the vehicles for fostering teacher learning on a broader scale. These models build in various components to support teacher learning—such as coaching, demonstration teaching, and team teaching in classroom settings. They create a kind of cultural change in a school or district—change in the way teachers understand their work, and change in the ways they learn from and with one another.
“The point isn’t just to go in and reach a lot of teachers. The point is to reach a lot of teachers in ways that actually get at their core beliefs about teaching and learning and fundamentally affect the complex work they do with students in the classroom. In the USI project, we’re exploring the question of what would happen if you could deploy a cadre of 30, 40, or 50 teacher leaders in support of a mathematics and science reform. How would you do that? What effect would it have?”
Originally published on May 31, 2002