Various models exist for involving teacher leaders in education policy and decision making (e.g., Pennington, 2013). Presenters at the convocation examined six in detail, and several others were mentioned. Some of these programs are well established, while others are forging new models for promoting teacher leadership and professional growth.
The Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Program began in 1990 with a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to the Triangle Coalition.1 In 1994, the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Act was signed into law, which gave the U.S. Department of Energy the responsibility for managing the program. The fellowship allows accomplished K-12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) educators to spend 11 months working in a federal agency or in a U.S. congressional office, bringing their extensive knowledge and experience in the classroom to education program or policy efforts. Fellows provide a teacher’s perspective on federally funded programs and policy and contribute to the work of the individual offices in which they are placed, said Anthonette Peña, director of the program at the Triangle Coalition for STEM Education, which administers
the program. Currently, the program’s sponsoring agencies include the U.S. Department of Energy, National Science Foundation (NSF), National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and four fellows are placed in House and Senate offices in the U.S. Congress each year.
Prospective fellows submit applications online in the fall, which are reviewed externally. The applications of the top competitors are sent to the participating federal agencies and sponsors, which do internal evaluations of the applicants and decide whom to bring in for face-to-face interviews. Interviews are generally done in February, with selections in the spring so that the selected fellows can prepare to move to Washington, DC, for the following school year.
The Triangle Coalition provides professional development for the fellows, Peña noted. They get together at least twice a month as a group and collaborate to learn about resources that are available locally through participating agencies and other organizations.
“It’s amazing what these Einstein Fellows can accomplish within one year,” said Peña. According to an evaluation done in 2012–2013, fellows contributed to the work of their offices, grew professionally, and gained resources on which to call in the future. Among the 26 fellows in 2013, 7 out of the 19 fellows who reported their activities following the fellowship returned to the classroom, 4 stayed for a second year, 6 took on a STEM leadership role, and 2 entered full-time doctoral programs. “The paths that Einstein fellows take after their fellowships vary significantly,” said Peña. Some have to resign from their positions to take the fellowship, which can affect their subsequent choices. Others take a leave of absence and are committed to going back. The common denominator, said Peña, is that the fellowship is a catalyst for educators to move on to do “great things,” whether in their original schools, at the district or state level, or at the national level.
The Knowles Science Teaching Foundation Fellowships are designed to improve STEM education by building a network of teachers who are also leaders in the classroom.2 The program supports teachers to be “primary agents of change in the education system,” said the program’s director, Nicole Gillespie. It does this primarily through a five-year fellowship program for beginning high school STEM teachers. It also has a senior fellows program that sustains teachers as leaders and as stewards of the profession over the long term.
The program uses a hybrid model in which fellows come together at least three times a year and also participate in an online community where they can work together. Each teacher receives $4,000 per year for professional development of their choosing. Teachers also receive money for classroom materials and support to apply for National Board Certification and for leadership grants. “We are committed to being open about what teacher leadership looks like,” said Gillespie. “Our baseline definition is that it has to have an impact outside your classroom.”
More than 90 percent of fellows who begin the five-year program complete it. Of the teachers who have completed the program, more than 80 percent are still teaching in K-12 education. More than half of the others are at home caring for children; only three are not in education in some capacity.
The program especially focuses on leadership capacity. “We are deliberately trying to have a broad vision of what leadership means,” said Gillespie.
More than 250 teachers have been fellows across 42 states, and one of the products of the program is the network of fellows. “We are starting to explore the idea of what it means to have a network of teachers. How does this help teachers? How does this help the system more broadly?” said Gillespie. For example, the program has recently encouraged the network to address issues of common interest and drive change from the bottom up.
An evaluation that interviewed the principals of fellows found them to be an informal resource to other teachers in the school or district, to lead or facilitate professional development workshops or seminars, to share ideas or resources, to lead or facilitate teacher study groups, to serve as a mentor or coach, and to observe and provide feedback to other teachers. The vast majority of administrators find the fellows “to be outstanding resources in their schools,” Gillespie noted.
Math for America (MfA) DC was launched in 2008 with the goal of ensuring excellence in mathematics teaching in Washington, DC, public secondary schools through the recruitment, training, and retention of talented mathematics teachers over a five-year period, said the program’s coordinator, Marlena Jones.3 It includes a fellowship program for individuals who have strong backgrounds in mathematics and want to become mathematics educators. They go through an extensive five-year program
that includes earning a master’s degree in mathematics education and teaching in DC secondary schools.
A second program of MfA DC is the MfA Master Teacher Fellowship Program, which began in 2008 and is funded through the MfA headquarters in New York. The program supports five master teachers, including presidential awardees, board-certified teachers, and even the 2014 DC Teacher of the Year, to form a cohort of teachers who can become leaders within their schools and to reach out to teachers outside of their schools on a regional and national level. Master teachers also serve as mentors to the fellows, who in turn are encouraged to become master teachers.
Master teachers have their own set of goals for the level at which they want to work, Jones said, and some are more policy oriented. The program is young and still small, so it has not yet been formally evaluated, but annual evaluations are done as part of the program’s support from the National Science Foundation.
The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) Program was enacted by Congress in 1983 to recognize excellent mathematics and science teaching.4 “It is considered to be the highest recognition a math or science teacher can receive in United States,” said the National Science Foundation’s Nafeesa Owens, who directs the program. The President has the opportunity to recognize 108 awardees, two from each of the 50 states and from four jurisdictions—Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Department of Defense education activity schools, and four territories as a group. NSF administers the program on behalf of the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President.
Awardees are chosen through a rigorous application process. They complete a narrative that addresses five dimensions of outstanding teaching—content knowledge, teaching strategy, assessment and self-reflection of teaching practice, professional development undertaken, and leadership. Their narrative is accompanied by a video of their teaching as well as recommendations from colleagues, information about the student population that they are reaching, and supplementary information about their teaching. Applications are reviewed at the state level and then again at the national level.
Awardees are recognized through a number of events at the White House and in Washington, DC. They meet with the leadership of federal
agencies and Congress and, at the U.S. Department of Education, talk with administrators about activities being implemented in their schools and districts. They also receive $10,000 and a certificate signed by the President.
The program has recognized more than 4,300 awardees. When they return to their schools, said Owens, they serve as “certifiable leaders.” They are on committees, help with curriculum change, and participate in endeavors from the school level to the state level. As part of a leadership community, they connect with other leaders and learn about other fellowship programs, including other opportunities to serve in a leadership capacity. “One of the strongest points that the award affords them is the opportunity to meet other excellent teachers and join a community of alumni who are very active within their schools and throughout the nation,” said Owens.5
One challenge that NSF recognizes is that no formal program currently exists for alumni, said Owens. As a result, the opportunities to which they are exposed remain relatively informal. However, NSF has a working group that is investigating how to formalize the leadership opportunities provided not only to PAEMST awardees but also to other teacher leaders.6
The National Academies’ Teacher Advisory Council (TAC) was the direct product of Bruce Alberts’ interest in STEM education, said Steve Long, who was chair of the TAC at the time of the convocation.7 It was established in 2002, when Alberts was president of the National Academy of Sciences, to provide teachers with a regular voice in education policy making. Its mission is “to increase the usefulness, relevance, and communication of research to educational practice; help the research community develop new research that is informed by practice; provide advice about how other National Academies programs, initiatives, and recommendations can be most effectively implemented in schools; and offer guidance about how the National Academies can best communicate with the teaching community in the United States.”
The membership of the TAC is diverse, representing all levels of K-12 education and a variety of disciplines. In each grade band, it includes
5For an analysis of this program from 1994–2006, see SRI International (2009).
6An early analysis of the work of three organizations that allow for networking of Presidential Awardee alumni/ae (Council of Presidential Awardees in Mathematics, Association of Presidential Awardees in Science Teaching, and the Society of Elementary Presidential Awardees) is available in Education Development Center, Inc. (1999).
at least one national board-certified teacher, and others are recipients of Presidential awards or other recognitions. All teachers on the TAC have to spend at least half their time in the classroom, which “gives a lot of weight to what’s going on,” said Long. “The Teacher Advisory Council brings that wisdom of practice from classroom teacher leaders who are there.” The TAC compensates school districts for the cost of substitutes to allow its members to participate in Council meetings and other events.
TAC has collaborated with a wide variety of organizations both within the National Academies and outside. It also works closely with the Einstein fellows. “We refer to each other as cousins because we have so much in common,” said Long.
Council members have set up networks among themselves, and the TAC model has been adopted or adapted by state-level teacher advisory councils in California8 and Michigan.9 Some TAC members are trying to help establish state-level teacher advisory councils in their home states. The Council has organized or has been associated with a number of workshops and other activities related to teachers and teaching within the National Academies (National Research Council, 2006, 2007, 2014, in preparation;10 National Research Council and National Academy of Engineering, 2012).
Long noted some issues that the Council as a whole and individual members face. For example, because they are all classroom teachers, when some TAC members leave Washington and return to the day-to-day realities of teaching, it can be “hard to carry the excitement and vision we get in these meetings back into our daily lives,” said Long. The group also lacks visibility, he said, which can hinder its ability to work with others.
The Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program11 is administered by the International Institute of Education (IIE) under a corporative agreement with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The program is just six years old, said Holly Emert, who leads the program at IIE, but it has been growing quickly. It is open
10Committee on Strengthening Science Education Through a Teacher Learning Continuum, in association with the NRC Board on Science Education. Available: http://sites.nationalacademies.org/DBASSE/BOSE/CurrentProjects/DBASSE_072083 [September 2014].
11Additional information is available at http://www.iie.org/Programs/Fulbright-Awards-In-Teaching [September 2014].
not only to K-12 teachers, but also to guidance counselors, media specialists, gifted and talented coordinators, special education coordinators, and other K-12 educators. “It’s quite rare to find programs that aren’t just for classroom teachers,” said Emert.
The program funds U.S. educators to go abroad for three to six months, along with teachers from other countries to come to the United States. U.S. educators take one to two courses at a host university, typically in pedagogy or in the study of educational systems. They also visit local schools to observe classes, guest-lecture, and gather project data, leading to a capstone project of direct relevance to their teaching. Emert also listed examples of a broad array of STEM-related projects supported by the program in 2013–2014 that involved visits by teachers from the United States to Finland, Israel, Mexico, and South Africa, along with teachers from Singapore and India who undertook projects in the United States. The other participating countries in 2013–2014 included Chile, Morocco, New Zealand, Palestinian Territories (U.S. teachers only), South Korea (U.S. teachers only), and the United Kingdom (U.S. teachers only).
As benefits to teachers, Emert listed the following:
- Cross-cultural understanding and skills
- Professional development
- Observation and study of international best practices in education
- Sharing of professional expertise with host country teachers and students
- Development of leadership skills
- Development of educator and research networks.
As benefits to schools, she listed the following:
- Integration of global perspectives and methods into classroom practice
- Increased global awareness of students and staff
- Increased ability to work with culturally diverse populations
- Development of cross-national school partnerships.
The program supports 20 to 40 U.S. teachers each year, so it is highly competitive, Emert said. “It gives us the luxury of choosing the most well-developed applications, people who can take what they learn abroad and apply it when they come back,” she said. The program encourages teachers to make what they have learned sustainable, “not just to apply it to their classroom but to go farther.” It requires that applicants have completed at least five years in the classroom and have gone beyond their usual classroom duties. That may mean building curricula, giving
national or state presentations, serving as department chair, or instituting a reform that goes beyond the classroom experience.
Emert concluded by mentioning some of the challenges for the program. It provides no funding for long-term substitutes, so participants have to take a leave of absence with or, far more often, without pay. Also, participants have to leave the country, which is not possible for everyone. Connecting alumni of the program is another challenge, though the State Department does support an alumni group for Fulbright scholars in general.12 Finally, participants have expressed a desire for mentors to help them bring what they have learned back to the U.S. education system.
Convocation participants mentioned several other professional development options that can build leadership skills. For example, Cindy Hasselbring cited scientific research as a way to develop needed skills and knowledge. Similarly, Ida Chow, Society for Developmental Biology, noted that many professional societies offer opportunities for teachers to engage in professional development activities.
Donald McKinney, Philadelphia Education Fund, described the value of teacher leadership in teacher-led networks designed to create communities of practice. Through such networks, teachers can meet on a regular basis to determine what their students need, how to adjust their instruction to meet those needs, and how to use the resources available to them for professional development. “Teachers know the needs [of their students] best, and they therefore should be both the determiners and the leaders of the professional development that is offered in a school district,” McKinney said.
Jay Labov pointed to California, where the California Council on Science and Technology has established a highly successful fellowship program for Ph.D. recipients to go to Sacramento and work in various capacities in the state government.13 A similar fellowship program is being considered for teachers so that they could work on K-12 education issues that are important in the state. Such programs represent, said Labov, an “inexpensive and yet potentially highly effective model for doing things at the state level.”
A prominent topic in the discussion session was how to increase the receptiveness of other teachers and administrators to the potential that teachers bring back to schools once they have had a leadership experience out of the classroom. Long pointed out that other teachers and administrators can feel threatened by someone returning to the classroom from elsewhere. They may be jealous of a teacher leader, or they may perceive that knowledge is power and that someone else has therefore become more powerful. Alternately, they may hold a teacher who has had such an experience in greater respect. “It is often difficult to judge which reaction you are going to get from which group or which person,” Long said.
Emert observed that these kinds of reactions are one reason why the Fulbright program seeks to build strong networks among participants. Educators returning to a school need to know that some of their colleagues will react positively and some negatively. “Work with those you can,” she said. “That’s how you encourage change in the school.”
Gillespie pointed out that the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation Fellowship does not take teachers out of the classroom. Nevertheless, the program has learned to build structures that teachers can replicate in their schools. For example, it has a heavy focus on practitioner enquiry and professional learning communities. Even small changes, such as Friday pizza lunches for teachers to discuss student learning, can have substantial effects, she said.
Peña noted that the Einstein Fellowship Program has instituted an overnight post-fellowship transition retreat where each cohort of fellows discusses how to leverage its experiences in the fellows’ home communities. “This two-day retreat has made significant impact on the long-term goals of the fellowship,” she said.
Marilyn Suiter, NSF, brought up a critical issue in fostering and supporting STEM teacher leaders: how to ensure diversity among teacher leaders in terms of ethnicity, gender, and disability. Emert responded that because the Fulbright Program is a government program, it has a mandate to find a diverse pool of scholars. It therefore makes a concerted effort to achieve ethnic, gender, geographic, and other forms of diversity. For example, it works with professional organizations representing minority groups that are underrepresented in STEM fields. It also seeks out individuals who work in schools with underserved populations. Similarly, Long noted that the Teacher Advisory Council tries “to make sure that we have as much diversity within the group as possible to represent all the different viewpoints that we can.”