“You would not believe the things this teacher does!” said senior early childhood education major Taylor Ivan about one of her teacher mentors. “When I walked into her classroom, I was stunned! She has no desks, guys: No desks! She does everything with all this creative energy!”
Within seconds, the teacher candidate’s unbridled enthusiasm had unintentionally captured the attention of Professor Nancy Latham’s entire class. Before the excitement, the candidates were working on a small group activity to turn an impoverished space into an effective classroom. Having personally seen her mentor create successful learning environments without a single desk, the teacher candidate was eager to share those innovative practices with her classmates.
“The teacher who inspired my student clearly possesses a contagious energy, and that’s something that can positively influence a school,” said Latham, who serves in the School of Teaching and Learning. “By the end of the class we were saying, ‘We have to find a way to take a field trip to that classroom!’”
Empowering talented educators to broaden their impact by formalizing their leadership roles in schools and districts is the purpose of Illinois State’s new teacher leader program. Latham was among the architects of the cross-disciplinary endorsement. The program is a product of faculty collaboration across all academic units in the College of Education.
Teacher leader origins
During Illinois’ principal redesign, the former general administrative (Type-75) certificate was eliminated in lieu of a more prescriptive endorsement.
“An overabundance of Type-75 certificate holders and a desire to better prepare principals for the increasingly complex role of building leader led to the state’s redesign efforts,” said Associate Professor Wendy Troxel, of the Department of Educational Administration and Foundations.
For more than 10 years, however, the Type-75 certificate also served as a veritable catch-all for teachers looking for an expanded leadership role in education outside of school principal. Enter the state’s separate teacher leader endorsement.
“While the state’s requirements for the new principal preparation endorsement are quite prescriptive, the framework for the teacher leader endorsement were much less restrictive,” says Troxel, who chaired the program’s curricular planning committee. “That allowed for a lot of creativity.”
From the beginning, the desire was to engage all levels of the college to create a cohort-model program with a multidisciplinary “collaborative core.”
The 18-hour endorsement can be completed independently or as part of three separate master’s programs offered through the Department of Special Education, School of Teaching and Learning, or Department of Educational Administration and Foundations.
Within two graduate-level courses in general education, the educators will focus on student evaluation as well as coaching and mentoring. From the administrative side, program participants gain experience with site-level leadership, learn how to evaluate professional learning environments at the P–12 level, and develop competencies for practicing culturally responsive leadership. In addition, a special education course targets collaboration across disciplines and learner support systems.
The purpose is to provide them with formal training and leadership coursework in all areas of education.
By developing a greater depth of understanding for each other’s worlds, walls will start to come down in a profession of silos, said Debbie Shelden, associate professor in the Department of Special Education.
“I believe general education teachers who have this experience will not only be more inclined to reach out to special education teachers but possess the competencies to work on problem-solving and change together. The reverse is also true.”
A new role
Superintendents tell Troxel the endorsement will provide teachers with a wide range of leadership opportunities that are often building– or district–specific. Some options include positions such as literacy coach, department chair, special education director, school improvement coach, math leader, designated teacher leader positions, and many others.
For Troxel, the transition to leadership positions is ideal for educators who seek “classroom-out authority,” a term identifying those who want to make an impact beyond their own students. Program graduates will often serve in an influential leadership layer bridging administration and teachers.
“Many teachers are amazing in the classroom, but getting out into the bigger system can be a learned skill,” Troxel said. “The teacher leader program is designed to help teachers to ‘move something’ in their schools by understanding how innovation and systematic improvement occurs, and what processes are needed to develop professionally.”
Illinois State education faculty are also confident the program will facilitate one specific long-term impact: returning power to teachers.
“As teacher leadership begins to be implemented effectively in buildings and districts, I am optimistic that we will start to see teachers get their professional/expert voices back when they face mandates, public policy changes, and public opinion,” Latham said. “It’s an expert voice that has in many ways been silenced. Certainly politically, certainly policy-wise, and certainly from those who have really never spent time in a vibrant classroom.”
While the program empowers teachers seeking leadership opportunities, leadership often seeks educators, if they’re willing to heed the call. Along with most faculty in the college, Latham, Sheldon, and Troxel agree that they did not start their teaching careers with the intention of serving in higher education.
“But along the way someone told me, ‘I think you would be an excellent teacher educator,’” Latham said. “Your colleagues often see something in you that you probably don’t see in yourself,” Troxel adds.
For educators with influential voices who do not consider a larger leadership role, the loss has far-reaching effects.
“In this profession, we do not receive a choice as to whether we will make an impact on the next generation of teachers and students. We’re going to make one whether we like it or not.” Latham said. “The teacher leader program is designed for educators who understand this, and are ready to share their voice to affect positive change.”
For more information, visit Education.IllinoisState.edu/TeacherLeader.
Considering graduate school? Chat with us! Representatives from the College of Education’s graduate programs will also be on-hand during the Education Showcase during Family Weekend on Saturday, September 17.
School of Teaching and Learning
Ryan Brown, associate professor and graduate program director
Department of Special Education
Debbie Shelden, associate professor and graduate program director
Department of Educational Administration and Foundations
Brad Hutchison, P–12 coordinator