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Bill Would Designate Some Classroom Standouts as ‘Teacher Leaders’

Educators, policy makers surveyed by NJ Spotlight offer views on how proposed position should be defined

teacher leader

The state Senate has passed a bill, S-165, that creates a new credential that recognizes K-12 teachers who take a leadership role without leaving the classroom and becoming an administrator or supervisor.

There are many questions about the bill, passed last week, which now goes to Gov. Chris Christie, including exactly the title would mean, and what requirements – and possible salary hike – would come with the designation. The legislation calls for an advisory board to develop the criteria.

In the meantime, NJ Spotlight asked a few people who know something about education and leadership for their opinion of how a “teacher leader” should be defined. Their responses follow:

State Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic), a prime sponsor of the bill and an Atlantic City teacher: “To me, a teacher leader is someone who ‘goes the extra mile’ to help other teachers with less experience make a profound difference in their students’ lives. In an urban district like Atlantic City, schools are at the center of an at-risk child’s educational and recreational life and play a significant role in the prospects of his or her future success. Experienced teachers can assist younger colleagues with ways to meaningfully connect with and mentor students so they can achieve optimal results in the long term.”

Emil Carafa, principal, Washington School, Lodi: “Teachers support other teachers in a variety of ways inside and outside the classroom. This endorsement will support the teacher leader in a shared leadership environment. This will enable teachers who want to do more in their role as a teacher, but not remove them from the classroom setting. They can gain leadership skills and continue in their role as teacher. I have had the opportunity to work with a variety of teachers in the Educator Leaders Cadre. These teachers love their work in the classroom, but they wish to share and contribute more to the educational community in their schools without leaving the classroom. The teacher leader endorsement will enable them to build and support a positive, collaborative climate and school culture.”

David Yastremski, instructional coach and teacher, Ridge High School, Bernards Township Public Schools: “Teacher leaders continuously work to reimagine, redefine, and retool their classroom practices. Never settling because of time, resources, or standardized tests, teacher leaders want more for their students and demand even more from themselves. Further, teacher leaders seek creative and collaborative outlets to engage their colleagues in influential ways. They are the mentors, coaches, advocates and advisors that drive a greater sense of pride in the profession, not just in their own classroom but for their entire school community.”

Wendell Steinhauer, president, New Jersey Education Association: “I see a teacher leader as a talented, experienced teacher who is adept at sharing his or her knowledge with colleagues. A teacher leader facilitates discussions about teaching practice and leads the school community in designing and implementing new approaches to teaching and learning. The most distinctive element, though, is that a teacher leader is someone whose primary work is still rooted in the classroom. The teacher leader is foremost a practitioner who really understands both the obstacles and opportunities that classroom teachers experience.”

Patricia Wright, executive director, NJ Principals and Supervisors Association: “We see teacher leaders filing a variety of roles that teachers currently hold such as mentor, coach or Facilitator of a professional learning community team. The endorsement allows teachers to gain leadership skills while remaining in the classroom. Shared leadership is a key component of a positive school culture.”

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